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SO LONG, IT'S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YA! Dee Williams has been misled by talk radio. Gwen Ifill doesn't much care: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, APRIL 15, 2010

Schlafly hammers Collins: People watching last night's Hannity heard the same old song. This was the Fox host's take on that new, red-hot income-tax issue:

HANNITY (4/14/10): Phyllis Schlafy wrote the following on Town Hall today—April 15th, by the way, which is tomorrow, everybody. “Divides America into two equal classes—those who pay for services provided by the government, and”—she uses the term “free-loaders.” And she goes on to say, the worst of it is the bottom 40 percent, 50 percent don't pay any income tax.

This is the link to Schlafy's column. She quickly recites the hottest new point: “The percentage of Americans who will pay no federal income taxes at all for 2009 has risen to 47%.”

In yesterday's New York Times, David Leonhardt correctly noted that this last assertion “has become a popular talking-point on cable television and talk radio” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/14/10). Frequently, our politics is a war built around claims about taxation. This morning, Gail Collins pretends to discuss this topic. In the process, she shows us why our nation's in a big world of hurt.

It's important for people to get real information about our federal tax policies. It's important for people to have real facts presented from different perspectives. From 2001 through 2007, Collins was the editor of the New York Times editorial page. And yet, this is the best she could do at the start of her column:

COLLINS (4/15/10): The Internal Revenue Service needs to get way better at marketing.

Somehow the government tax collectors have let the country get locked into the idea that April 15 is a day of sorrow and misery, the culmination of the dreaded filing of the income tax form.

But, in fact, most people who file get money back. (Cue the horns and balloons.)

And according to one much, much-quoted study by the Tax Policy Center, 47 percent of American households didn't have to pay one cent of income tax for 2009. (Marching bands, confetti.)

Thanks to the tax credits in President Obama's stimulus plan and other programs aimed at helping working families, couples with two kids making up to $50,000 were generally off the hook this year.

Naturally, anti-tax groups held rallies to thank the president for doing so much to reduce the burden on the half of the country least able to pay. Not.

That is stunningly awful:

In the current environment, many people will read that first highlighted statement to mean that “most people” receive more money in tax credits than they pay in taxes. (That they “make a profit” on federal taxes.) This is inaccurate, of course.

In the second highlighted passage, Collins stresses the tax credits in Obama's stimulus plan; from what she writes, many people will mistakenly think that these tax credits must be the main reason for that 47 percent figure. Especially in the current environment, people need to be reminded that policies passed by Presidents Reagan and Bush play a larger role in the fact that so many people don't pay federal income taxes.

Finally, Collins implies that anti-tax groups are somehow contradicting themselves when they don't applaud the current situation. That is completely foolish, like so many things Collins says.

That said, Collins has long been a public fool. She is a clown, a cipher, a public inanity. And she writes twice a week in the New York Times, whose editorial page she recently headed. As she continued, it didn't take long before we reached a claim which looks like flat-out error:

COLLINS (continuing directly): “We need to cut taxes so that our families can keep more of what they earn and produce and our mom-and-pops then, our small businesses, can reinvest according to our own priorities,” said Sarah Palin, at a Tea Party, anti-tax rally in Boston on Wednesday. This was the most coherent thing she had to say about taxation, although there was quite a bit of “Drill, baby, drill!”

According to the Gallup polls, 45 percent of Tea Party supporters have incomes under $50,000. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, Tea Party activists are virtually the only segment of the population in which a majority feels its tax burden is unfair. Clearly, these are not the kind of folks who would cancel their anti-tax rallies just on account of not being taxed.

In fact, 52 percent of “Tea Party supporters” in the New York Times/CBS poll say the income tax they will pay this year is fair. (In the full poll, we can find no separate data for “Tea Party activists.”) This point is made in paragraph 6 of the New York Times front-page news report on this poll, where this response is cited as one of the ways in which Tea Party responses were “like the general public.”

The American public gets dis- and misinformed by Hannity on most nights. The larger problem results when people like Collins start their mincing and clowning. Before she's finished today, the lady can even be found musing about an apocryphal lawyer:

COLLINS: When President Obama gives a domestic policy speech, there's usually a cleaning woman who has no health insurance or a laid-off firefighter invited to come onstage. But on April 15, maybe he could give a hug to a corporate lawyer who pulled down $3 million and gave half of it back.

Does such a corporate lawyer exist? Does anyone really make $3 million, then pay $1.5 million in taxes? (Does she mean in federal taxes?) We don't know the answer to that—in part thanks to nobles like Collins.

Final point, and let's recall the error Collins apparently made about that “tax fairness” issue:

In comedy clubs, people used to make rueful remarks about comedians who arrived late for a show. It's pretty sad, this comment would go, when your work-day starts at 8 PM and you can't get there on time.

Collins' work-week starts on Thursday morning. This week, she had three days to type 700 words—and this was the best she could manage. Modern nations simply can't function with efforts like this from the top.

Special report: Song spun blue!

PART 2—SO LONG, IT'S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YA (permalink): It takes a worried man/To sing a worried song!

So the Kingston Trio informed us, starting around 1960. This week, cable and talk radio hosts are singing a famous new song—and this song concerns federal taxes. Forty-seven percent of households will owe no federal income tax this year, we are repeatedly being told, in a good solid uplifting Group Sing which makes us recall the hootenanny days back at Club 47.

What fun! Everyone has been singing the song about that 47 percent. In the process, some artists have spun this ditty into songs which aren't on-tune at all.

Yesterday, David Leonhardt described this new song as “a popular talking-point on cable television and talk radio.” Of course, Americans citizens hear lots of smack from cable TV and talk radio. It's a big, gigantic problem—a problem the liberal world, and the mainstream press corps, should attempt to address. Tomorrow, we'll return to Leonhardt's column, looking at the way he critiqued this popular new talking-point. Today, let's discuss an American citizen who may have gotten badly misled by another familiar new song.

The person in question is Dee Williams, an 81-year-old Floridian who was interviewed twice, at some length, for Monday evening's NewsHour. In a taped introductory segment, correspondent Betty Ann Bowser interviewed Williams, then pretty much left her for dead:

BOWSER (4/13/10): A typical morning at the Williams' household in Sun City Center can be defined by a warm cup of coffee and a morning newspaper. By mid-morning, 81-year-old Dee and her 80-year-old disabled husband, John, are usually out and about, many mornings heading to the rec center for a workout.

John suffered a fall a few years ago that left him with a brain injury and limited mobility.

[...]

Since then, it's been one medical crisis after another, three heart bypass surgeries and a pacemaker, all paid for by Medicare and their supplemental insurance.

And even though there is nothing in the law that calls for establishing panels that will decide which seniors get health care and which ones don't, Dee believes that will happen.

WILLIAMS: Well, they talk about it on talk radio every day, that there will be a committee that will decide—for some of us older ones that have these huge health problems, they're going to look at the actuarial tables. Is he going to—is he or she going to live long enough to justify this cost?

Because of the things she hears “on talk radio every day,” Williams believes that her 80-year-old husband may be denied health care. Bowser tells us viewers that this belief is wrong, but there is no sign that she ever suggested this possibility to Williams. But good news! Later, Williams sat down, as part of a four-citizen panel, with the NewsHour's fiery, brilliant Gwen Ifill. Surely, Ifill would give her the news! Sorry—in the real world, this is what actually happened:

IFILL: Have you talked to your health care provider, Dee, about what this [health reform] would do? I know that you—you have, may be in line at some point for a pacemaker. Is that something that you think this [health reform law] would affect?

WILLIAMS: Certainly. Certainly.

IFILL: How?

WILLIAMS: Well, my husband has a pacemaker.

IFILL: Mm-hmm.

WILLIAMS: And he was told last year when he got it that if Obamacare health care passes, this would have to go to a committee, and, with all your other existing health problems, they will decide whether this pacemaker would be cost-effective. And I can almost guarantee you, you wouldn't get it.

IFILL: This is the “death panels” we have heard about, or what some people have called it?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I mean, like the—well, you can call it a death panel, whatever you want to, but a committee.

IFILL: A committee that would actually deny you coverage is your concern.

WILLIAMS: More than likely.

IFILL: Dr. Mangat?

What should Ifill have done? If Bowser's earlier assessment is accurate, she was sitting with a classic victim—an older woman who had been badly misled, about life and death matters, by what she hears on talk radio. And not only that: According to what Williams told Ifill, her husband was told, by some unnamed party, that he would probably lose his pacemaker if Obamacare passed. In the face of this remarkable testimony, Ifill did what the keister-covering losers of our upper-class “press corps” will almost always do. She ran off and hid in the woods, bowing to talk radio's power:

She didn't ask Williams who told her husband that he would lose his pacemaker. (Was it her “health care provider?” Her insurance company?) She didn't ask Williams why she thinks that what she hears on talk radio is accurate. She didn't repeat what her own correspondent, Bowser, had said—that there are no “death panels” in the new law. Instead, she gutlessly threw to Mangat, who was just another member of the four-citizen panel. In exasperation, Mangat said Williams' belief was false—and the whole matter died right there.

What should an actual journalist do? If Bowser knows what she's talking about, Williams is a classic victim. She has been badly misled by talk radio; according to Bowser's report, Williams joined the Tea Party movement last year because of the things she has heard. But who gives a flying frack about Williams? Fiery liberals call her a “tea-bagger;” Ifill isn't willing to tell her that the wonderful folk she hears on talk radio may have filled her head full of crap. Ifill isn't even willing to ask her who told her husband that his pacemaker would be removed! You see, life is easier for people like Ifill when talk radio's power goes unchallenged. Ifill's highly comfortable life continues apace:

She doesn't get name-called by Rush and Sean. She doesn't get a million trash-talking e-mails. She doesn't have to take any heat! Result? Dee Williams can fry.

Who will tell Dee Williams the truth? Monday night, Ifill sang a familiar song: So long, it's been good to know ya.

Tomorrow: Mr. O straightens out Coburn