Ad Age Writer Blames 'Grinch' Drudge for Demise/Delay of 'Christmas Tree Tax'

Kerem Ozkan at Advertising Age is not happy with Matt Drudge for having the nerve to call a USDA-administered fee imposed on growers of Christmas trees a "Christmas Tree Tax" (link is Drudge Archive item containing the referenced headline).

Actually (Ozkan recognizes this), Drudge didn't start it. David Addington at Heritage did. Here are excerpts from Ozkan's not-so-fine whine, during which he inadvertently demonstrates to readers why Drudge's characterization was correct:


How Drudge Became the Grinch That Ruined Christmas for Tree Farmers
After Media Dubbed Self-Imposed Fee a 'Tax,' USDA Forced to Drop Program Meant to Help Industry

In the Drudge Report's world of sensationalist all-caps headlines, it doesn't get much better than "OBAMA'S NEW 'CHRISTMAS TREE TAX.'" In five sparse words, the headline captured pretty much everything Drudge and its readers believe about the current administration, in which big-government liberals would figure out a way to tax Christmas during hard economic times.

The only problem? It wasn't true. The 15-cents-a-tree charge that caused so much commotion earlier in the week was not a tax, and it has little to do with the Obama administration. What the Department of Agriculture actually set forth is a commodity checkoff program: a common means of allowing industry groups to pool their resources for marketing and research purposes. Moreover, the effort was led by the National Christmas Tree Association itself, which touts support from over 70% of the industry.

Familiar campaigns such as "Got Milk?" and "Beef: It's What's for Dinner" are the result of similar checkoff programs -- and a testament to their power. They allow industries to engage in national marketing campaigns that would be impossible at a local level.

... The Heritage Foundation's David Addington introduced the "tax" in a story on Tuesday. The Drudge Report picked it up the next morning. Within hours, the story was getting play on Fox News and the blogosphere.

... Ad Age spoke with three Christmas tree industry insiders, each of whom were incredulous over the developments -- especially considering the effort's been three and a half years in the making. Oregon tree farmer Betty Malone, who is intimately involved with the project, said the team drew inspiration from previous successes funded by voluntary industry contributions. According to data gathered by tree farmers and provided to the USDA, sales of fresh cut Christmas trees decreased by 15 million trees from 37 million trees sold in 1991 down to 22 million trees sold in 2002.

... Despite the success (of a previous voluntary campaign -- Ed.), Ms. Malone said, it's difficult to keep a program going on a voluntary basis. As funding started to dry up around 2007, the group set their sights on a USDA-regulated checkoff.

The 15-cent per tree charge set forth was designed to raise a modest $2 million for a similar national campaign. Because the fee is designed to increase sales and make the industry money, it's unlikely consumers would see any price increases.

How such a successful and commonplace industry practice raised so much opposition mystifies Ms. Malone. "This is a group getting together, pooling their resources for the benefit of the entire industry," she said. "The only connection with government is oversight."

The AdAge post's first commenter set Mr. Ozkan straight:

A government entity that imposes a fee that is not a choice is a tax. If the association did it without the government imposition, this wouldn't have been a Drudge headline.

Exactly.

Politicians bicker back and forth all the time about taxes and "fees" imposed by governments. Almost invariably, any time one side wants to claim that they're only imposing "fees," the other side comes back with the charge that what's involved are really tax increases.

Drudge was certainly aggressive, but definitely not out of line. Cry me a river, Kerem.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.