Embedded Reporters In The Class War

by dday

In Gary Kamiya's article on the death of newspapers that I cited the other day, he lamented that the "ideal of journalistic objectivity and fairness" would be a casualty of the decline of print journalism and news reporting.

I don't know if I agree with that. First of all, the "ideal of objectivity" is a relatively recent phenomenon - newspapers were house organs for party politics, and then perhaps more ideologically rigid and powerful, right up through the Hearst era. And to this day, I'm not sure if this ideal is anything more than a facile hope than an actual practice. Human beings have feelings and beliefs and those show up in the context of what they write. They are shaped by their perspectives. And on the subject of economics, their perspective is from the perch of the upper class, particularly those media celebrities who pretend they are men and women of the people, but who aren't good enough actors to hide that they don't want to see their taxes go up under the Obama budget.

Barack Obama has proposed a budget that, among other things, would reduce taxes on over 90 percent of the population and increase taxes on around 2 percent of the population. Flipping through the Sunday talk shows, it’s striking to see how uniformly wealthy media celebrities think it makes sense to characterize this is a “tax increase” or “raising taxes” and to leap immediately to a discussion of what the impact of these “higher taxes” will be. I think that the majority of people whose taxes are set to go down might be more interested in learning about the impact of lower taxes.

We've seen this all weekend, both on the air and in print. The phrase "class warfare" is thrown around liberally. The perspective of the 2 percent who would see their taxes rise is given far more exposure than the perspective of the 90 percent who would see those taxes fall. Even while the LA Times article strives for balance and does give room to the economic argument that reducing inequality often leads to prosperity, the tone of the article is that class warfare is being waged and the burden of proof is on Obama to explain why the wealthy have to get gouged.

This is why I don't really believe the argument that Rick Santelli's rant was a pre-planned scam (though there's certainly a lot of evidence and I wouldn't be surprised) - or rather, the argument that it HAD to be, that there is no other explanation. Santelli and his ilk have a particular perspective - they are media stars with a stake in the outcome. I don't see anyone saying that Chip Reid and his pals' questioning of Robert Gibbs the other day was pre-planned. It's just the way they think. They want to keep their money.

Reid: On jobs, which is the big complaint up on Capitol Hill right now from Republicans, that this plan is a job-killer. I mean, the $787 billion plan was all about jobs, more than anything else. And now you have a plan in place that -- how can you possibly tax people making people over $250,000 something like $667 billion over the next ten years and not have a downward effect on jobs?

Gibbs: Well, Chip, how did it work in 1994 and 1995 and 1996 and 1997?

Reid: Well, I guess the argument would be, imagine if they didn't have those taxes... how much better it would have been.

Gibbs: Well, isn't it interesting that there's always some little slip? ... There isn't a member of Congress, if they were to file a single-taxpayer form, who makes above $200,000 a year.

Jake Tapper: There are a lot of millionaires up there.

Gibbs: Well, that's true, but not on their income. I mean, I think it's interesting as people listen to those complaining about some aspects of the budget, I think it's just interesting to note. I think the President was pretty clear on Tuesday. We are talking about people who earn in excess of a quarter of a million dollars a year.

Reid: And a huge percentage of those people are small business owners.

Gibbs: Some of them are, sure. Some of them are big business owners. Some of them are home run hitters in Major League Baseball. Some of them run kickoffs back for a living. Some of them are the President of the United States.

Q (off mike): -- create jobs?

Gibbs: Certainly some of them, that's what their job is. But I would reject this overall premise that when we're asking for tax fairness from the American people, that this is going to kill jobs. I guess if I follow the logic of the Republicans on Capitol Hill, how do you explain last month's unemployment figures? (Pause.) Under current tax rates? 550,000 jobs.

Reid: (Long pause) It's a unique moment.

Gibbs: (Laughs heartily) Apparently, it always is.... The president ran specifically on the promises that are contained in what he believes is a blueprint and a vision for our future. And that's what the the American people, that's the result they rendered in November [...]

Question: Critics of the budget blueprint that has been put out today charge that this is a form of wealth redistribution. Even the New York Times in its front page story, fourth paragraph, talks about the idea of wealth redistribution. How do you respond to that?

Gibbs: The same way I did to the other questions: that the president campaigned on explicitly promising that he would cut taxes for 95% of working Americans if he was elected president. We did that in the reinvestment and recovery plan, and those tax cuts are also contained within this budget. The president also said that for families that make more than a quarter of a million dollars, $250,000, are likely to see their tax rates revert back to the way they were for most of the 90s. That's also in this budget. The President believes we have a plan that will lead to long term economic growth, sustained long term economic growth, while making those important investments. That's what this budget blueprint does, that's what he campaigned on, instituting fairness -- more fairness in our system, and that's what he's done.

As Sean Quinn noted one reporter saying after the briefing, "Did you notice all the questions about taxes came from reporters making over $250,000 a year, especially the TV guys?"

Jamison Foser tackled this today, especially the way in which the media acted like this was a brand new idea and not a central part of the President's campaign platform:

What sparked this sudden concern about "class warfare"? President Obama indicated that in order to fund things like health care, the very wealthiest Americans (individuals who make more than $200,000 and families making more than $250,000) might have to pay slightly more in taxes, via the expiration of President Bush's tax cuts for those earners. Under this plan, the wealthiest Americans (again, those making more than $200,000) would be subject to the same income tax rate they paid in the 1990s -- when, it should be remembered, the rich got richer and the economy did quite well.

If this plan -- raising taxes slightly on people who make more than $200,000 a year in order to pay for things like health care for people who don't -- sounds familiar, it's because Obama campaigned on it for roughly two years. Conservatives, amplified by the news media, ridiculed it with labels like "socialism" and "class warfare" and used all kinds of scary rhetoric. And the American people voted for it anyway.

So it's a bit odd to see all this media angst over the idea that Barack Obama's plans to do something he said he would do -- and something the American public supported.

The class war has always been one-sided - there are those with enough money and power to have a voice in the debate, and those who don't. And the media's position in this debate is squarely on the side of the rich, because it's not only the sole perspective they hear, it's the sole perspective they have.