Published July 28, 2014
So I’m reading a story over the weekend about this ongoing Veterans Administration mess, and the back-and-forth over bridging the House and Senate fixes for the beleaguered agency.
Spoiler alert -- apparently, it’s over money. Republicans are blocking it because they don’t think an extra $18 billion is the answer. Democrats are not blocking it, because they think even with a $158 billion budget, another $18 billion is the answer.
They’re close to settling their differences, but once again did you notice the difference in the media’s take on their stands? Republicans bad. Democrats good. More money good. Holding back that money bad.
If I had a dime for every time someone in the mainstream or even business media said more dimes were the answer – well, I’d have a lot of dimes. Billions upon billions of them.
The fact that politicians make careers out of spending our money is one thing. The fact that the media judges their success on who’s willing to spend more is quite another. But it continues what I’ve come to discover is a sad and predictable pattern of politically correct actions that are routinely promoted in the press, all the press.
Think about it. Pick a publication, any publication. Pick a broadcast, almost any broadcast. Companies that are preparing for climate change, wise. Companies that aren’t, whack jobs.
Chief executives who give a lot to charity, good. Chief executives who don’t give to the right charities, bad. So, rich guys donating to schools in Africa, profound; rich guys donating to charter schools in America, let’s just say “not” profound.
Billionaires big on fixing our immigration mess, brilliant. Billionaires like Michael Bloomberg who feel the same but draw the line when it comes to Israel fiercely defending its border, not so brilliant.
Companies that take advantage of arcane tax rules that allow them to shift profits abroad, evil. An American government that came up with those rules and made them perfectly legal, just as it did the most prohibitive tax rates on the planet…not so evil.
Companies seizing on these inversion rules, pathetic. Companies that can’t seize on them and instead lose money hand over fist here…patriotic. So Walgreen (WAG) considering shifting its headquarters overseas, all but pond scum. Apple (AAPL), producing more than 100 million iPhone screens in Asia, all but given a pass.
Companies that promote equal pay, heralded, as long as the folks at the White House heralding them, don’t have to be a model for them. The gender gap is alive and well there, but that doesn’t stop anyone on Pennsylvania Avenue from lecturing anyone and everyone…everywhere.
A conservative billionaire trying to make a bid for Time Warner (TWX) risks forcing his political views on the world. A more liberally-bent Comcast (CMCSA) doing the same in reverse when it bought NBC, not so much.
Too much. Too often. Too predictable. None of this is to say we shouldn’t apply tough standards when judging chief executives or their companies. All I’m calling for are consistent standards.
That applies to Washington coverage as well. If Republicans are deemed intransigent on budget deals because they’re dead-set against spending, aren’t Democrats just as intransigent on budget deals because they’re dead-set against cutting spending?
How can a shutdown be Republicans’ fault if they’re against busting the budget, but not Democrats if they’re against “not” busting the budget? I’m not here to say one side is right and the other wrong…I am here to say it takes two sides to tango and not acknowledging that IS wrong.
Yet in coverage of all things green, we invariably see stories through the prism of red or blue – and more often than not, more blue than red.
We live in a world where climate change doubters are dumb, and climate change alarmists are darlings.
But little more than four decades ago, it was just the reverse. Magazine covers and TV documentaries in the late 1970s and early 1980s were bemoaning the approaching “global freeze.” Some even predicted a coming ice age. To argue their findings was considered heresy then, just as much as arguing the Earth warming up is heresy now.
Oftentimes, the business media gloms onto the same talking points as the mainstream media – all the more disturbing when you consider the business media presumably knows at least the numbers better, and the historical data better.
Again, that’s not to say one side is right, and the other wrong, but why can’t we apply the same exacting standards to all? A classic example was in the last presidential campaign, when the mainstream media went after Mitt Romney for his infamous 47% remark – his supposedly dismissive take on the nearly half of all Americans who are not paying federal income taxes or getting some kind of government support, and that it was unlikely they’d ever vote Republican.
Naturally, the press went to town, and even Romney himself would later tell me in his first major interview after the backlash, that his remarks were “inelegant.” But far more telling was the business press reaction that pretty much followed in lockstep with their mainstream counterparts. Most business journalists just as zealously condemned the remarks, but few bothered looking into whether there was any legitimacy to those remarks.
Indeed, nearly half of all Americans do not pay income taxes. Some, of course, for very good reason – they’re veterans, or retired, or both. But even allowing for these understandable exceptions, how had the pool of non-taxpaying Americans grown from about 20% in the 1980s, to nearly 50% now? I explored that very subject in exhaustive detail on all my various Fox shows – not to dismiss the groups offended by Romney’s remarks, but how they had grown to be so large in the first place.
We came to discover that a good many came via changes in the tax code – some dating back to Ronald Reagan – that effectively doubled, and in some cases, tripled the allowances and write-offs some Americans could claim.
Our point was and is the same – ask not who’s offended by this gradual erosion of the overall tax base – ask instead how it’s gotten to the point that nearly half of all Americans aren’t even included in the tax base. That puts a disproportionate onus on a select few to pay the full freight.
Yet when I likened it to diners going to town at a restaurant, and ordering everything on the menu because another guy was footing the bill, some blogged I was like that rich dude in the Monopoly game, all but telling the poor to go to hell.
That’s the problem with mainstream and business-stream reporting – arguing more than getting to the bottom of the argument. Emotion trumps reason. And dumb often beats data.
So be careful reading the same-old in media stories on pretty much any subject, but particularly money subjects. If it doesn’t add up to fairness for you, it’s not fair, period.