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Caveat lector

BY THE TON! Where do we go to get real facts? The U.S. has a bad need for SpinWatch:


DESPERATELY SEEKING SPINWATCH: So where can we go to get our Tax Facts? Some readers have directed us to the IRS web-site—to this link, for example. And we don’t doubt that all kinds of data are available somewhere, for people prepared to fight to find them. But where does the average person go to get some basic Tax Facts? We hear spin-points being mouthed every day—but where do we go to find out if they’re true? We need a central location of basic Tax Facts, indexed to the ongoing Spin Wars.

Of course, our need for SpinWatch is widespread and unending. Increasingly, our discourse turns on spin, not on facts, and mainstream news orgs seem content with the depressing situation. At any given point in time, various spin-points are widespread in the discourse—but are rarely addressed in the press. Newspapers run AdWatch features during campaigns, but haven’t yet begun to offered corresponding features examining points of current spin. Are dividends subject to “double taxation?” Do the top one percent really pay 37? In recent weeks, these spin-points have been voiced far and wide—and have generally gone unexplored in the press.

(Of course, there are no simple solutions. When the New York Times did decide to limn “double taxation,” it produced the confusing Daniel Altman piece which we discussed all this week.)

What’s the truth about our tax system? How much do the top one percent earn? How much do they pay in federal taxes? How much do they pay in all taxes—federal, state, local? And how progressive is our system over a lifetime, when entitlement payments are also factored in?

There’s no easy way to answer these questions—but right now, our big news orgs aren’t really trying. Our public discourse runs on spin—and our big news orgs don’t seem to notice.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: We were desperately seeking data. Enjoy each exciting installment:

PART 1: Hannity shed wet tears for the wealthy. Then along came that chart in the Times.

PART 2: How much tax do the rich really pay? We read Altman—and things got unclear.

PART 3: Is the tax code already flat? HOWLER readers are highly kerflubbled.

PART 4: We badly need a source of Tax Facts. But who in the world will provide it?

The Daily update

NO BLOOD FOR WATER! Did Saddam Hussein really “gas his own people?” It has been a popular spin-point for years. Today, a writer on the New York Times op-ed page says that the tale may be bunk. According to former CIA analyst Stephen Pelletiere, a United States Defense Intelligence Agency report “asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds” in the much-cited incident, “not Iraqi gas.”

Is Pelletiere right? We don’t have a clue. But we did emit a low, mordant chuckle at this part of his column:

PELLETIERRE: These facts have long been in the public domain but, extraordinarily, as often as the Halabja affair is cited, they are rarely mentioned. A much-discussed article in The New Yorker last March did not make reference to the Defense Intelligence Agency report or consider that Iranian gas might have killed the Kurds. On the rare occasions the report is brought up, there is usually speculation, with no proof, that it was skewed out of American political favoritism toward Iraq in its war against Iran.
Remember—the press corps tells you the stories it likes. Has even Halabja been hopelessly spun? We’re not sure. But where can we turn to get a SpinWatch? Our press runs on spin, not on facts.

Pelletierre makes another claim—the US may covet Iraq’s oil less than its water. Are we waging war to get the Baath water? We don’t know, but as an effort at spin management, this piece would surely have worked much better if Pelletierre had simply left this point out.