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GLIMMERS: The mysteries of the Buffett Rule!

Posted by Hyuuga Cutezz On 7:47 AM
TUESDAY, APRIL 17, 2012

Did the New York Times ever explain: This morning, the New York Times reports the fact that the Buffett Rule got filibustered in the Senate.

The report even uses the term “filibuster,” though not until late in the exposition. The headline and the opening passages are a great deal less clear.

Just a guess: Many Times readers could not explain how this famous proposal failed. But as we read this morning’s report, we asked ourselves a different question:

If you read the New York Times every day in the past week, did you ever learn what the Buffett Rule actually is?

For us, the problem started last Wednesday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/12). In an editorial, the editors explained the Buffett Rule one way. In a news report, Jackie Calmes explained it quite differently:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (4/11/12): President Obama accomplished two things when he made the case on Tuesday for the so-called Buffett Rule, which would require millionaires to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.

CALMES (4/11/12): The Buffett Rule would set a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for individuals on their annual income above $1 million.
Those formulations are vastly different. According to the editors, a person who earned $1 million would have to pay at least $300,000 in federal taxes under terms of the Buffett Rule. According to Calmes, the Buffett Rule wouldn’t affect the first million dollars of income at all.

If you read the New York Times, did you ever see this matter resolved? Today, you learn that the Buffett Rule went down to defeat. But what the heck was the Buffett Rule?

Did Times readers ever find out?

We’d have to say they did not. In today’s news report, these are the passages in which Jonathan Weisman explains, or tries to explain, what the Buffett Rule actually is:
WEISMAN (4/17/12): Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a move to open debate on the so-called Buffett Rule, ensuring that a measure pressed for months by President Obama and Senate Democrats to ensure that the superrich pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent will not come to a decisive vote.

[...]

Republicans say they like that contrast, and their language ahead of the vote on a motion just to take up the Buffett Rule was harsh and aimed squarely at Mr. Obama, who first proposed a 30-percent tax rate floor for anyone earning at least $1 million a year last September.

[...]

Democrats argued for more fairness in the tax code. Their legislation would establish a 30-percent floor for households earning $1 million a year.
Based on those passages, do you understand what the Buffett Rule was? To us, it sounds like anyone earning at least $1 million would have to pay at least 30 percent of his or her total income in federal taxes. But Weisman never quite got around to a clear, concise account. And for various reasons, we’d be surprised if anyone really proposed such a rule. (One reason: Such a rule would create a major incentive for many people to keep their incomes below $1 million.)

Searching through Nexis, we can find no report in the New York Times in the past week which explained this rule more clearly.

Are you surprised when your greatest newspaper never quite explains such a high-profile matter? Question: If the Times can’t or won’t explain something like this, what does it ever explain?

For the record, we linked last week to Andrew Leonard’s report in Salon, which explained the Buffett Rule quite differently. Are you surprised by what this means?

In our view, we should be surprised by the following fact: Explanation plays almost no role in a great deal of modern “press” culture.

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