Time Helps Jerry Brown Sell False Image as 'Budget Hawk' Who 'Never Raised Taxes'

Jerry Brown was known as "Governor Moonbeam" in the 1970s, and ran for president from the left three times (to the left of Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980, and to the left of Bill Clinton in 1992). But now that he's running for governor again, Time magazine is trying to convince its readers he's really a centrist. In the August 2 magazine, reporter Karl Taro Greenfeld helpfully laid out Brown's case that he's a penny-pinching budget hawk:

He was never as eccentric as his Governor Moonbeam reputation would suggest. He was a budget hawk before that term was fashionable: he rejected the governor's mansion to live in a Sacramento apartment, was chauffered in a in a Plymouth Galaxy instead of a limousine and declined his own pay raises.

That's a weird passage: rejecting all the ritzy trappings of power is eccentric. But offering these small, symbolic poses does not make you a budget hawk. In trying to score Republican opponent Meg Whitman's ads, Factcheck.org recounted a 1992 story from the liberal New York Times:

Because the state constitution grants the governor the power to veto appropriations, Mr. Brown was eventually able to slash $2 billion from various budgets. But overall, state spending increased by nearly 120 percent during the Brown years after Proposition 13.

The New York Times story channeled liberal complaints that although Brown opposed Prop 13 -- a popular property-tax cut revolt -- he should have figured out a less dramatic tax-relief plan. The tax cut-hating national media repeatedly blamed Prop 13 for everything wrong in California -- including collapsed highway overpasses after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake

Time's Greenfeld (whose own website touts him as a "longtime writer and editor for The Nation" as well as Time) also brought in Brown's wife (and campaign worker) Anne Gust to attempt to dispel the leftist Moonbeam image and project him as a centrist on taxes:

"That was all a bit overstated. He was very focused on the environment, the budget. He knew that budget inside and out, to the point where it drove people crazy. And he never raised [income and property] taxes," Gust says.  

Gust told Time "he never raised taxes." So why did Time add the qualifying brackets instead of suggest that Gust was lying about Brown's record? Let's go back to Factcheck.org: when Whitman claimed Brown raised taxes by billions of dollars, they agreed that was factual:

The ad’s charge that Brown supported "billions in new taxes" as governor — $7 billion according to a graphic that appears on screen — rests on a quarter-cent increase in the state’s 6 percent sales tax that he proposed in 1981, and a bill he signed that year that raised the state tax on gas by 2 cents a gallon. The sales tax hike, the "first tax he has ever proposed," according to a 1981 article in The Economist, was estimated to raise $5 billion over 10 years to help fund local police departments and finance an expansion of the state’s prison system. And The Los Angeles Times said that the gas tax increase — estimated to bring in $2.5 billion in revenue — was implemented "to keep the state’s highway system from going broke."

Time readers deserve overall numbers on taxes and spending, not bizarre claims that you're a "budget hawk" because you refused to live in the governor's mansion -- which the state continued to pay for, regardless. Time looks like they're more interested in reinventing the image of Democrats rather than being factual with readers.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis