NWA Times shooting the messenger – Updated

This is rich. NWA Times attacks “liberal bloggers” for quoting their own report. Last week, Arkansas Media Watch pointed out a Northwest Arkansas Times report (copy of cutout below the fold) according to which Senator Mark Pryor had made the wrong and insulting statement:

Pryor said various tax breaks have created a system in which 45 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes. “It’s hard to have a fair tax system where only about half the people are paying,” he said.

This blog pointed out that most Americans do pay taxes (payroll taxes, gas and sales taxes etc.), even those too poor to pay federal income taxes. The issue of wrong or misleading statements about tax fairness has been in the air lately. Pryor’s Senate colleague John Boozman is on record with a similar wrong statement: “51 percent of the public don’t pay any federal taxes”. A recent, well researched New York Times editorial pointed out the fallacy in these claims.

Arkansas Media Watch has not only criticized the two Senators for making inaccurate statements, but also the local media for letting them get away with inaccurate statements. Pryor’s office has now maintained that Pryor was misquoted. Arkansas Media Watch has contacted NWA Times (editors Greg Harton and Lisa Thompson and publisher Rusty Turner) twice (on August 24 and 29) and requested clarification. No response.

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Pryor on taxes

UPDATE, April 17, 2012: While Senator Pryor’s office in the below statement claims that Pryor is concerned about millionaires not paying their fair share in taxes (“It is maddening that hundreds of millionaires pay virtually no federal income taxes, and this should change”), Pryor recently joined Senate Republicans in voting down President Obama’s proposal for a minimum tax on income millionaires (the “Buffett rule”). What does Pryor really stand for? A fairer tax system, or tax privileges for the super rich? His actions unambiguously point to the second.

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Michael Teague from the office of Senator Pryor emailed Arkansas Media Watch a clarification regarding Pryor’s remarks about tax fairness. Full text below the fold. It is essentially the same account as recently given by John Brummett: Pryor allegedly was misquoted.

AMW has asked NWA Times editor Greg Harton and journalist Larry Henry for confirmation what Pryor actually said and they have not responded. This is not reassuring. The newspaper pretends to have a policy of correcting any factual mistakes. So far this hasn’t happened. Let’s hope that the newspaper takes the incident seriously and is more careful in its future reporting.

On the other hand, Pryor’s clarification still raises some issues. Pryor expresses concern “that 1,470 taxpayers who earned $1 million or more paid no federal income taxes in 2009″. But a statement like “It’s hard to have a fair tax system where only about half the people are paying”, assuming it is meant to only refer to the federal income tax, seems to imply that more of the working poor and the elderly should be paying income taxes. Or does Pryor think half the people are millionaires? When you care about tax fairness, why would you single out just one component of the tax system? Why discuss only “the inequities in the federal income tax system, [as opposed to] city, state or even sales or excise taxes” – not to mention federal payroll taxes?

The full statement from Mark Pryor’s office below the fold:

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NWA Times doing its homework – sort of

Only nine (9) days after Max Brantley on August 18 published a court transcript embarrassing former drug court judge Mary Ann Gunn, the Northwest Arkansas Times has published the transcript and followed up with an article of its own and then a critical column by local columnist Brenda Blagg. Here is Brantley’s response.

What NWA Times doesn’t mention at all, however, is that they recently uncritically supported Gunn in an editorial in which they claimed that no harm was ever done by broadcasting drug court proceedings on television. The transcript showing that Gunn at least in one case tried to coerce a defendant into agreeing to be on television against her will embarrassed these editors as much as Gunn – and one hopes they’ll be more careful in future to do their journalistic homework before going public embracing this or that local celebrity.

UPDATE: NWA Times on August 31 followed up with a strong editorial rebuke of Judge Gunn, concluding: “Gunn’s actions were an abuse of both power and public trust.”. (Brantley’s response)

UPDATE 2: John Brummett interviews Gunn.

Brummett to Pryor’s defense

Arkansas Media Watch has attracted some attention for pointing out, and refuting, false claims by both Arkansas Senators about half the population allegedly not paying taxes. At least Senator Pryor has been forced to backtrack, claiming through his aide Michael Teague to have been misquoted. The somewhat clumsy attempt at damage control was executed by Democratic-leaning columnist John Brummett in the Northwest Arkansas Times. As a result, there are now two versions of Pryor’s remarks both reported in the same newspaper. If Pryor was indeed misquoted, NWA Times, which claims to abide by a factual accuracy policy, needs to publish a correction. If not, it needs to publish a correction.

UPDATE: NWA Times editors now deny that the newspaper said what it said.

We’ll have more to say on this issue. For the moment, let’s take a breath and note that blogs can indeed have an impact. The local media are paying attention and are sometimes – too rarely – forced to correct themselves or report some under-reported issue. Politicians are sometimes forced to react. This blog’s posts about Pryor‘s and Boozman‘s wrong and insulting remarks have been noted and expanded on by Arkansas Blog, Blue Arkansas, Fayetteville Free Thinkers, and even quoted (if selectively) by an avowed right-wing blog. And when you google “Senator Boozman” or “Senator Pryor”, Arkansas Media Watch ranks third in both cases. Fortunately, our Senators can still count on the corporate media to cover their behinds.

Senator Pryor insults half his constituents

Northwest Arkansas Times today reports on remarks made by Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor at a Rogers Rotary Club luncheon (article cutout below the fold):

Pryor said various tax breaks have created a system in which 45 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes. “It’s hard to have a fair tax system where only about half the people are paying,” he said.

This is a whopper. After Pryor’s colleague Boozman wrongly declared half Americans don’t pay federal taxes, the nominally Democratic Senator found a way to frame himself as even more politically extreme by claiming that half Americans don’t pay any taxes, which is of course completely false and an insult to a significant portion of Pryor’s voters and constituents. With political leaders like Boozman and Pryor, who either don’t have the slightest clue about how the tax system works (which consists of income taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, etc. etc.) or are deliberately lying, prospects for any economic recovery in the United States are all but non-existent and a double-dip recession, if not depression, is looming on the horizon. One has to conclude that the leaders Americans have elected to help solve their problems live in a fantasy world completely disconnected from the reality ordinary (and tax-paying) people experience day by day.

The NWA Times reporter, Larry Henry, has nothing to say to correct Pryor’s wildly inaccurate statements. Unfortunately we don’t have a mass media in this country any more that has the integrity and courage to challenge politicians on their lies, hold them accountable, and act as a corrective and a check on their power. This is maybe the really scary part of it because in a functioning democracy with a media system that does its job, Washington insiders like Boozman and Pryor would be in trouble.

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Senator Boozman insults half his constituents

Arkansas Senator John Boozman appeared yesterday on KUAF’s Ozarks At Large show discussing taxes and the budget with Talk Business producer Roby Brock (the Boozman segment starts around 7:45). At one point he declares that he would reject any tax increase on the rich even if every dollar in new taxes were “offset” by 10 dollars in spending cuts. Nothing surprising there. Boozman also claims that the tax burden on US businesses is “second only to Japan” in the world (not true but Boozman does mention the issue of tax loopholes), that “the majority” (50-60%) of those filing in the highest federal tax bracket are small business owners (false), and that US federal spending “historically” has been around 19% of GDP (Reagan spent between 21.2% and 23.5%).

By far the most brazen distortion out of the Senator’s mouth comes in response to a question about taxing billionaires, at 10:15 in the podcast:

“51 percent of the public don’t pay any federal taxes right now.”

This of course is not true. Boozman meant to say that half the public don’t pay federal income taxes. This would still be highly misleading. The federal income tax is by design a progressive tax which mostly falls on earners of mid and high incomes, based on the principle that everybody should contribute according to their means. But all working people in America pay significant amounts in federal payroll taxes (which fund Social Security and Medicare), federal gas taxes (which fund interstate highway construction and maintenance), and others including state and local sales and income taxes. Most of these taxes disproportionately burden low income workers. For example, incomes above about $106,800 are exempt from payroll taxes! As a result, as documented in an earlier post, the US tax system taken as a whole is not progressive at all: the rich pay about the same overall tax rate as the poor.

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