NYT Promotes Confusion Over Budget

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Wednesday, 05 December 2012 04:58

Politicians often try to obscure unpopular proposals in euphemisms. Reporters are not supposed to help them in this effort.

The NYT failed badly in this respect when it told readers:

"Republicans would demand deep concessions on spending and changes to Medicare and Social Security as a price to raise the debt ceiling a few weeks later."

Of course the Republicans are pushing for cuts to Medicare and Social Security, not generic "changes." They want the government to pay less money and for beneficiaries to get less money. The NYT should be pointing out this fact, not helping Republicans to conceal an agenda that polls consistently show is hugely unpopular even among Republican voters.

The piece also likely confused readers when it told readers that if Congress takes no action on the estate tax:

"estate taxes would rise to Clinton-era levels, with inheritances over $1 million taxed at 55 percent."

The 55 percent tax rate would only apply to the portion of the estate over $1 million. The vast majority of estates that would be subject to this tax would only be slightly over $1 million, which would mean that even if nothing is done, the amount of tax liability they would face would be quite limited. Since most people have difficulty understanding the concept of a marginal tax rate, it is likely that many readers would think that the whole estate would be taxed at this 55 percent rate if they exceeded $1 million.