Yes, But: NBC and CBS Try to Undermine Romney’s Accurate Observation 47% Escape Income Tax

NBC and CBS felt compelled Tuesday night to fact check Mitt Romney’s assertion “47 percent of Americans pay no income tax” and both had to acknowledge his accuracy, but then tried to undermine Romney’s point. Noting the statistic had become “Tea Party mantra,” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell allowed “it’s true that approximately 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income taxes, as Mitt Romney said, but,” she quickly added, “not because they are living off of the 53 percent.”

Over on CBS, Anthony Mason relayed how “Roberton Williams with the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says, to be precise, 46.4 percent of Americans pay no federal tax. But,” Mason insisted, “it’s more complicated than that.”

Mason gave a soundbite to Williams for a non-correction effort to explain away Romney’s concern: “Sixty percent of them are working and pay federal payroll taxes, the taxes that support Social Security and Medicare, so they’re not deadbeats that are not on the tax roll at all.”

NBC’s Mitchell treated the sometimes right of center David Brooks as a fount of wisdom, highlighting his attempt to discredit Romney:

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: “Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq War veteran who goes to the VA? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college?” Brooks concluded that the people who receive most of the government spending are not big government lovers, but Republicans, senior citizens, mostly white men with high school degrees. In other words, according to most surveys, they are Romney supporters.

CBS’s Mason admitted “nearly half of all Americans -- 49 percent -- now receive some form of government benefits such as Social Security, food stamps, unemployment, Medicare, or Medicaid,” but Romney’s overall point about a growing number of Americans getting more from government than they put in went unexplored by Mitchell and Mason. As the Tax Foundation’s Will Freeland noted in a Tuesday post:

The middle income quintile now receives more in average benefits than it pays in average taxes, after paying net federal taxes (taxes minus transfer benefits) of at least 10% for all of the 1980s and 1990s....

When total federal spending (not just transfer benefits) is considered along with federal taxes, we similarly see that the bottom 60 percent of families received more in government benefits and services than the group paid in federal taxes. Specifically, these 60 percent of families were projected to receive $826 billion more in benefits from total federal spending than they were projected to pay in total federal taxes.

Earlier: “Taranto Discredits Media ‘Fact Checkers,’ Shows How They Amplify the Media’s Liberal Bias

From the September 18 NBC Nightly News, closed-captioning corrected against the video by the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Romney’s remarks about that 47 percent who pay no income tax set off an immediate flurry of fact checking. And tonight, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell has our “Reality Check.”

ANDREA MITCHELL: It started a year ago as a conservative reaction to Occupy Wall Street’s battle cry that they were the 99 percent. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson declared he was the 53 percent, taxpayers subsidizing people, in his words, “so they can hang out on Wall Street and complain.” Others chimed in. It quickly became a Tea Party mantra.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN): Today only 53 percent of Americans pay federal income tax; 47 percent of Americans pay nothing.

MITCHELL: What are the facts? It’s true that approximately 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income taxes as Mitt Romney said. But not because they are living off of the 53 percent.
                       
ROBERTSON WILLIAMS, TAX POLICY CENTER: In fact, about 60 percent of people who don’t pay federal income taxes have jobs. And nearly half the rest are elderly, who are retired. They had jobs and they’re now no longer working. These are hardly people who are sitting around living off the government dole.

MITCHELL: They say 44 percent who don’t pay federal income taxes are elderly, retirees living on Social Security. Another 30 percent get child tax credits and other tax benefits favored by Republicans. A smaller percentage are the very rich, benefiting from special tax breaks for investment income.

Responding to Romney today, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq War veteran who goes to the VA? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college?” Brooks concluded that the people who receive most of the government spending are not big government lovers, but Republicans, senior citizens, mostly white men with high school degrees. In other words, according to most surveys, they are Romney supporters. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.

CBS Evening News:

SCOTT PELLEY: The tape made us wonder who the 47 percent are who don’t pay federal income taxes. Anthony Mason has been digging into that.

ANTHONY MASON: When Governor Romney says 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax, is he on the money?

ROBERTSON WILLIAMS, TAX POLICY CENTER: Well, it’s roughly accurate. We say last year 46 percent of Americans paid no income tax. So Governor Romney's just about right.

MASON: Roberton Williams with the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says, to be precise, 46.4 percent of Americans pay no federal tax. But it’s more complicated than that.

WILLIAMS: Sixty percent of them are working and pay federal payroll taxes, the taxes that support Social Security and Medicare, so they’re not deadbeats that are not on the tax roll at all.

MASON: Many of those not paying federal tax are poor. More than half have annual incomes of less than $16,812. More than 80 percent have incomes under $33,542. And many -- about a quarter -- are also elderly and rely on Social Security. At the fund-raising dinner, Governor
Romney described a group of Americans addicted to government handouts.

MITT ROMNEY: -who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it, that that’s an entitlement

MASON: In fact, nearly half of all Americans -- 49 percent -- now receive some form of government benefits such as Social Security, food stamps, unemployment, Medicare, or Medicaid. In North Carolina, 63-year-old Betty Russell, recently retired from a medical devices
company, is counting on Medicare....

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center