Buttressing Buffett: For 10 Years, the Liberal Media Championed Billionaire's Tax Increase Agenda

President Barack Obama's nicknaming his new tax increases on the wealthy the "Warren Buffett rule" is fitting since the billionaire has spent a decade campaigning for a tax hike, a campaign his friends in the liberal media have been more than willing to join. For over 10 years the media promoted Buffett's complaint that the wealthy in America don't pay enough in taxes, spurred on by a Buffett's anecdote that he pays less in taxes than his receptionist. 

But even the AP has pointed out, the idea that secretaries pay more in taxes than their bosses is inaccurate. A review of IRS 2009 tax tables (Link to Excel spreadsheet) shows that those making under $100,000/year pay an average of no more than 12.3% of their income in taxes, while those making above $500,000 pay an average of no less than 26.3% of their income in taxes. However, this fact hasn't stopped the liberal media from happily advancing Buffett's call to soak his fellow rich.

As early as February 14, 2001 ABC's Good Morning America was championing Buffet's cause when Antonio Mora hailed: "President Bush's call to repeal the tax on large estates is reportedly under fire from some of America's richest people. The New York Times reports the group -- including Warren Buffett, David Rockefeller and Bill Gates's father -- is urging Congress not to repeal taxes on estates and gifts. They say repeal would enrich the heirs of billionaires, while hurting families who struggle to make ends meet."

Then a few hours later, on that same day, NBC Nightly News Tom Brokaw highlighted: "A surprise for Washington policy makers in another area tonight: Some of America's wealthiest citizens and best known are launching a major campaign against eliminating the estate tax, the so-called death taxes that can keep a great deal of wealth from being passed on to their heirs. Why would they do that? NBC's David Gregory is at the White House tonight."   

The next evening then anchor Peter Jennings of ABC's World News Tonight introduced a Betsy Stark story this way: "President Bush wishes to repeal the estate tax, which people pay when they inherit pretty significant amounts of money. But now more than 200 of the wealthiest people in the country have begun a campaign to keep the tax in place."

Stark picked up: "Billionaire George Soros, billionaire Warren Buffett, several Rockefellers, and other icons of American wealth are telling George Bush, 'Thanks, but no thanks.' They are running this newspaper ad saying they want to pay estate taxes because not to do so would be bad for our democracy, our economy, and our society.'"

Fast forward to 2003 and Ted Koppel, on the May 21 Nightline, offered viewers the following tease:

Koppel: "So you'd think the second richest man in the world would support ending tax on stock dividends. Think again."

Buffett: "I have a hard time reconciling that with my idea of what America's all about."

Koppel: "Tonight, a conversation with Warren Buffett."

Koppel then introduced Buffett:

"He has doubts about the President's tax cut plan. In particular, he considers the plan to eliminate taxes on dividends 'voodoo economics.' He said so only yesterday. Mister Buffett's criticism may be a case of 'too little, too late.' Only this afternoon, House and Senate tax writers struck an agreement on a $350 billion tax cut, which Republican leaders now reportedly believe they can pass in the House and Senate before the Memorial Day holiday. Still, they haven't passed it yet. And before they do, we thought you might like to hear from the man they call the 'sage of Omaha.' That's where Warren Buffett lives and works, although he joins us tonight from Redmond, Washington."

On the May 23 Today show, then co-anchor Katie Couric recited Buffett’s talking to points to then Commerce Secretary Don Evans:

"Well, as you well know, there are a lot of critics out there who don't agree with you. Tom Daschle for example said, 'it gives away billions to those who need it least and does very little for those who need it most.' Perhaps that's not so surprising since this has been along party lines, but people like Warren Buffett have said, 'what it has put in motion is clear. If enacted, these changes would further tilt the tax scales towards the rich.' He further goes on to say in a Washington Post editorial: 'Overall, it's hard to conceive of anything sillier than the schedule the Senate has laid out. Indeed, the first President Bush had a name for such activities: voodoo economics. The manipulation of enactment and sunset dates of tax changes is Enron-style accounting and a Congress that has recently demanded honest corporate numbers should now look hard at its own practices.'"

Not to be left out of the discussion Newsweek's Jonathan Alter chimed in with his May 30, 2003 piece headlined: "Whacking the Waitresses: And the other effects of George W. Bush's war on the poor."

Alter, claimed "that working people mostly got the shaft," and then credited Buffett: "It took a billionaire, Warren Buffett, to point out that the Bush tax plan was 'class warfare.' Too many of the rest of us have acted as if the Bush administration's severe tilt toward the rich was an opinion instead of a fact."




Moving up to 2007 and on the October 29 NBC Nightly News Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw took turns praising Buffett's quest to soak the rich in taxes.

Williams teased: "Not fair, one of the world's richest men tells Tom Brokaw the taxes he pays aren't fair, meaning: Why is his tax rate so low?"

Then Brokaw asserted: "It is well known that Warren Buffett is a contrary billionaire. Unlike most of his fellow billionaires, he believes that they should be paying a higher tax rate Buffett sees a fundamental injustice that he says touches all Americans." Buffett insisted: "The taxation system has tilted toward the rich and away from the middle class in the last ten years." Brokaw then set him up to relay an anecdote about his secretary paying more in taxes than he does: "In your own office...you pay a much lower tax rate with all of your wealth than, say, a receptionist does."

After the interview excerpt Brokaw further explained Buffett's mission:

"He thinks that it's just an unjustifiable system because the payroll tax is the tax rate that most of the people pay on ordinary income. He gets the capital gains tax. He thinks a lot of that should be bumped up. And as for that charge that investors will stop working if they get taxed with a higher rate, he says he remembers when capital gains were 40 percent, people didn't go home at 3:00 in the afternoon and say, 'I'm going to a movie, I've paid too much in taxes already.' He doesn't think it'll have a big effect on the economy. Pretty controversial."

Williams added: "Yeah, it's a brave campaign."

On the November 15, 2007 edition of ABC's Good Morning America Buffett was actually compared to Robin Hood, as seen in the following excerpt:

BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Good morning. Imagine a billionaire paying less than his receptionist, as far as percentages go. Buffett wanted to know, who hands over more of their income to the IRS, a billionaire or receptionist? So, he did a simple experiment, using himself and his staff as guinea pigs. He compared how much he pays, in terms of a percentage of his salary, to what his employees pay. And what Buffett uncovered touched off a battle of the billionaires.

BUFFETT: Equality of opportunity has been on the decline.

ABC GRAPHIC: Taxing The Rich: Warren Buffett: "Tax Me More"

GOLODRYGA: Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, the second richest man in America has a bone to pick with the tax collector.           

BUFFETT: Frankly, an economy where my receptionist pays a lot higher tax rate than I do does not strike me as a just economy.   

GOLODRYGA: He crunched the numbers. Buffett pays 18 percent to the feds. His receptionist, like the rest of his staff, pays nearly twice that, 33 percent. A lopsided equation that put Buffett in a Robin Hood frame of mind.

By the time candidate Obama in 2008 named Buffett to be one of his economic advisers, the media was firmly on board. Cokie Roberts, on the September 21 edition of ABC's This Week, reassured viewers: "I mean, the Obama advisers, with, looking at Bob Rubin and Warren Buffett and Paul Volcker in there, you know, you do feel a sense of security there."

During a September 15, 2009 Good Morning America interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, ABC's Diane Sawyer repeated a Buffett line to him, saying that the stimulus was like "half a Viagra" and pressed "if it means another stimulus, another half of Viagra, you'll do it?" 

When Buffett, once again trotted out his old trope that secretaries paid more in taxes than their bosses, in the form of a New York Times op-ed, Sawyer trumpeted it on the August 15, 2011 World News: "Billionaires on notice. Is it time for the mega-rich to pay at least the same tax rate as their secretaries? And if they did pay their fair share, would it fix America's schools or roads?"

Her colleague George Stephanopoulos, on the August 17, 2011 Good Morning America, then threw the words of Buffett in Donald Trump's face: "Warren Buffett made another splash, saying it's not right, he a billionaire, pays 17 percent in taxes when his secretaries and receptionists pay more. Isn't he right about that?"

After 10 years of the liberal media promoting Buffet's tax hike agenda, it is no surprise that President Obama would use Buffett's name now to sell his latest attempt to increase the burden on America's job producers.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.