Sometimes, the Associated Press makes you wonder from what planet they are reporting. Sometimes, the facts are simply wrong or confused. Other times, the facts are laid out in such an inflammatory way that people will be able to take from them what they will.
Today, under the headline "Nearly half of US households escape fed income tax," the AP does that by making it seem as though almost half the country freeloads on the other half by avoiding federal taxes all together. If the headline doesn't give the impression that most of us are purposefully evading taxes, the first paragraphs certainly make it seem that way.
Tax Day is a dreaded deadline for millions, but for nearly half of U.S. households it's simply somebody else's problem.
And the next paragraph, while it has a better explanation, still makes it seem like many families aren't chipping in at all. The truth is, 47 percent of families are either at income levels too low to tax, or they qualified for additional credits and deductions.
What is actually true is, of course, more complicated. Further down in the story, the reporter, Stephen Ohlemacher, explains that much of this is because of the Obama administraton's recession-fighting expansions of tax credits for families who make the median income or below, especially if they have children or bought a house. Some of those won't last forever. But Ohlemacher throws in, as an aside, the fact that families do, of course, pay other taxes, like the sales tax, state taxes, and the Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid taxes. Moreoever, sales taxes take up a bigger proportion of income for a family that makes that little, so it's not as if lower-earners are completely free of taxes. Ohlemacher keeps noting that taxes fund programs that "benefit everyone," like infrastructure and education, but those aren't solely paid for by the federal income tax. In fact, local property taxes form the bulk of education spending.
Whenever readers think newspaper reporters have a bias, I always respond that the only real bias is a news-cycle one. Wire reporters have to work on really short deadlines and spend a lot of time making phone calls that are never returned. When you're working in an environment like that, especially if it's on a topic with which you're less familiar, then the first person who calls you back has a lot of power over how the subject is framed, unless you know enough about it yourself. I wonder if that's what happened here, since the first person quoted is from the Heritage Foundation.
'We have 50 percent of people who are getting something for nothing,' said Curtis Dubay, senior tax policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
The bigger problem, for Obama anyway, is that all of these people probably still think they're "overtaxed," like a woman in a North Carolina town hall who asked Obama about the health plan.
[M]any people simply look at the difference between their gross pay and their take-home pay and blame the government for the disparity.
"It's not uncommon for people to think that their Social Security taxes, their 401(k) contributions, their share of employer health premiums, all of that stuff in their mind gets lumped into income taxes," [Clint ] Stretch said.
-- Monica Potts