ABC Gushes Over 'Robin Hood' Buffett; Pleads for Higher Taxes

ABC's "Good Morning America" devolved into outright advocacy on Thursday as the morning program openly lobbied for more taxes, misled viewers about how much the wealthy pay and passed off an economic advisor to Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign as an impartial observer. Correspondent Bianna Golodryga filed a report on liberal billionaire Warren Buffett and his assertion that he pays a lower percentage in taxes than his receptionist. GMA co-host Diane Sawyer turned the story into a class warfare campaign as she promised that the show would be battling "on behalf of fairness in taxes." The host lauded Buffett for taking "your side over taxes and fairness." Additionally, Golodryga fawned over the billionaire for advocating that Congress should retain the estate tax, another leftist position.

Video excerpt (2:15): Windows (1.39 MB) plus MP3 audio (1.02 MB).

At no point in the misleading report did any GMA host or reporter mention a fundamental fact: The wealthy already pay a disproportionately high amount of taxes. According to information just released by the IRS, the top one percent of earners paid 39.4 percent of all federal income taxes. The top five percent pay almost 60 percent of federal taxes. Golodryga did, however, make time to compare Buffett to Robin Hood, complete with an onscreen graphic, and harass other billionaires over the salaries of their receptionists. Sawyer claimed that most of these wealthy individuals were "hiding" and that GMA would call them on "[Buffett's] behalf."

Golodryga reported Buffett's argument, that the percentage of his federal taxes, 18 percent, is lower than the percentage of his receptionist, 33 percent. However, she didn't mention that capital gains, which is where Buffett made most of his money, are taxed at a lower rate. Larry Elder, in an article on Townhall.com, exposed both the billionaire's leftist affiliations and his fuzzy math:

Buffett says he earned $46 million in 2006, with a tax rate of 17.7 percent -- all, says Buffett, without attempting to avoid paying higher taxes. But his income clearly places him in the highest federal income tax bracket -- 35 percent -- but the same "non-avoidance" tax rules allow ample deductions and credits. Surely a man like Buffett can claim buckets-full, to say nothing of possible business losses and capital gains inherent in his line of work. So he probably reached the 17.7 percent rate without any monkey business. Fair enough. Whip out your calculator. First, Buffett, on his $46 million a year, paid -- at his 17.7 percent rate -- over $8 million in taxes.

For more, including Elder's analysis of the hypothetical secretary, go here. Golodryga is also the same reporter who claimed on Monday that high gas prices were going to cancel Christmas and stop one Phoenix man from being able to go to church. (Perhaps Buffett should donate some money to him?)

Of course, neither Mr. Elder, nor anyone with a contrary point of view was allowed to appear on GMA. Instead, ABC featured Golodryga calling other wealthy men and attempting to harangue them about their own secretaries. The only criticism of Buffett came in the form of text graphics that appeared onscreen. Even then, Golodryga complained, "So why are they all ganging up on him?"

To answer this question, she spoke with the "tax truth squad." One of these individuals was none of than Gene Sperling, the National Economic Advisor to Bill Clinton and a supporter of Hillary's 2008 campaign. GMA ignored that relevant point and simply identified the leftist group where he's a Senior Fellow, the Center For American Progress. (It's liberal connections also went unmentioned.) At this point, the segment openly advocated for keeping the death tax, or, as liberals call it, the estate tax. Columbia University professor Norman Bartczak, another member of the "tax truth squad," claimed, "...If you asked most Americans if they could pay their taxes after they die, they'd all be happy to do so." However, he didn't mention that this tax is levied on people who have already paid taxes on their assets.

Summing up the leftist bent of the piece, co-host Robin Roberts marveled at what a "good guy" Buffett is. Apparently, in the mind of ABC hosts and reporters, "good" means liberal. And anyone who disagrees with the "good" position isn't worth mentioning.

For more on how Brian Williams and the "NBC Nightly News" gushed over Buffett, go here. Also, for more on Golodryga's distorted coverage, be sure and check out the Business and Media Institute.

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:14am on November 15, follows,

7:00am tease

DIANE SAWYER: And also, how about this? Billionaire businessman Warren Buffett says that he pays a smaller percentage of his taxes than his receptionist does. Is it fair? And he's offered a million dollars to other billionaires if he's wrong. The challenge.

ROBIN ROBERTS: So, we decided to call some other members of the billionaire club to see what they say. [Montage of photos of Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Bloomberg, Marc Cuban and Henry Kravis appear onscreen.] And the results? Well, let's just say we heard a lot of kaching, little dial tones when we tried to reach out to them.

SAWYER: It's true, but we're on the chase there on behalf of fairness in taxes there.

7:14am

SAWYER: Well, a billionaire has taken your side over taxes and fairness. The country's second wealthiest man Warren Buffett, was on Capitol Hill yesterday. And he wants to know why he pays a smaller percentage in taxes than his receptionist. He's even offered $1 million to any of his billionaire pals who prove him wrong about their percentage and their receptionist's percentages. But, mostly, they're in hiding over the issue. So, We decided to make some phone calls too on his behalf. Bianna Golodryga has been on the story. Bianna?

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.

WARREN 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.

WARREN BUFFETT (BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INC.): 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. [Onscreen graphic of Buffett as Robin Hood.]

BUFFETT: I see nothing wrong with those who have been blessed by this society to give a larger portion of their income to the society than somebody that's working very, very hard just to make ends meet.

GOLODRYGA: Now he's challenging the elite members of the Forbes 400 list to do the calculations for themselves. Take their tax rates and compare it to that of their receptionist. It's causing quite a stir among Buffett's fellow billionaires. As we found out when we offered to help them do the math.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (ONSCREEN GRAPHIC SAYS MICHAEL DELL AND THE WORDS DECLINED APPEAR OVER HIS FACE): We must regretfully decline.

(ONSCREEN GRAPHIC SAYS GEORGE STEINBRENNER AND THE WORDS DECLINED APPEAR OVER HIS FACE) Unfortunately, he has decided to decline.

(ONSCREEN GRAPHIC SAYS GEORGE KAISER AND THE WORDS DECLINED APPEAR OVER HIS FACE): He'd like to decline the interview. Thank you anyway.

GOLODRYGA: More than 25 billionaires from Turner to Murdoch, Bloomberg to Cuban, declined to talk. But some of them did sound off to Forbes magazine, suggesting Buffett should "stick to his area of expertise" [Attributed to Kenneth Fisher], calling his ideas "grossly simplistic" [Attributed to Randal J. Kirk], even speculating that maybe Buffett's "going senile." [Attributed to Phillip Ruffin] So why are they all ganging up on him?

WENDY BOUNDS (WALL STREET JOURNAL): I think that the worry is, they go on the record, other people, which other people do, that it puts them in a position to having to cheer lead for something they're not entirely sure they're comfortable with.

GOLODRYGA: We decided to call in the tax truth squad. What about his theory a billionaire should pay a higher tax rate than a receptionist? Is that just grossly simplistic?

PROFESSOR NORMAN BARTCZAK (COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY): I don't think it's a gross over simplification at all.

GENE SPERLING (CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS): The richest families in our country pay a lower tax rate than the people who take care of their children, who teach in their schools, or who would put out a fire if their house were to start to burn.

GOLODRYGA: And what about that 55 percent estate tax billionaires pay when they die? Doesn't that level the playing field?

BARTCZAK: I think if you asked most Americans if they could pay their taxes after they die, they'd all be happy to do so.

GOLODRYGA: And later this week, Congress could vote to repeal the estate tax. A post mortem tax relief Buffett says is virtually worthless.

BUFFETT: You would have to attend 200 funerals to be at one at which the decedent's estate owed a tax.

GOLODRYGA: Buffett says if any billionaire out there can do the math in his own office and prove him wrong then Buffett will donate $1 million to the charity of their choice. So far, three of his closest friends have taken him up on the deal and no one has been given the million dollars just yet. He is and you know what? We were talking about hat estate tax? He doesn't actually have to pay a big one because, of course, he's giving the majority of his money away to charity.

ROBERTS: He's a good guy. All right, Bianna. Thank you so much.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org