Thou Shalt Tax Every Sin

     Death and taxes may be the only certainties in life, but journalists’ support for higher taxes is almost as predictable.


     Sin taxes on tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy foods and environmentally unfriendly actions have each garnered media support – sometimes in the name of saving children. Right now, the media are promoting a “bipartisan” bill in Congress that would expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by raising tobacco taxes sky-high.


     “Senate Panel Adds Billions For Health,” announced a headline from the July 20 New York Times. The headline sent a positive message that people’s health would be improved, rather than the honest message that the bill calls for a 156-percent tax increase on cigarettes, and a more than 20,000-percent increase on cigars (up to $10 per cigar).


     Many in the media focused on President Bush’s threatened veto of the bill, from news outlets to “The View” co-host Joy Behar. Behar incorrectly stated on July 18 that Bush had vetoed the bill “that would extend health coverage for 4.1 million children in this country” and attacked him.


     “Now, that is not a compassionate conservative,” remarked Behar. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck asked for more information on the bill, but no one on the show mentioned the bill’s enormous tax increase, which the administration opposes.


     The ladies on “The View” also didn’t mention that the bill would expand SCHIP’s taxpayer funding to cover middle-class families with incomes of up to $83,000 a year.


     But smoking isn’t the only sin the media want to tax. Some journalists favor fat taxes to save people from unhealthy food, and many promote taxes to make the world greener.


Lighting Up


     If Democrats and some Republicans in Congress get their way, the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products will soar – and the media aren’t exactly complaining about it.


     The Los Angeles Times called it “Washington’s most important legislation this year on health coverage.”


     In that 1,027-word story, the LA Times explained the bill and predicted an override of President Bush’s veto – though the bill hasn’t even been voted on by the full Senate.


     But only one 27-word sentence in the July 22 story even mentioned that the funding would be paid for by raising tobacco taxes, and no one opposed to the tax increase was quoted. Not one tobacco company spokesman, cigar shop owner or smoker was included.


     A July 20 LA Times article mentioned that the cigarette tax would increase from 39 cents per pack to $1.00 without presenting it as a 156-percent hike. The paper also severely understated the impact of the more than 20,000-percent increase on cigars, saying it “would more than double.”


    But Drew Newman of the J.C. Newman Cigar Company wrote in a letter to The Washington Post that the cigar tax increase could be as much as 20,412 percent: “from just under 5 cents to a maximum of $10 per cigar.”


     “The effect of such an enormous tax increase would be devastating [on small businesses],” continued Newman in his July 21 letter.


     Some media reports didn’t mention the cigar tax increase, and many didn’t include industry spokespersons or say that an increase on smokers will hurt the poor more than any other federal tax, according to Gerald Prante, a Tax Foundation staff economist.


     “Not only are cigarette-tax payers poorer as a group than the payers of other taxes, but there are also fewer of them,” Prante wrote in a recent editorial.


No Twinkies for You


     Smoking isn’t the only sin the media want to see taxed; another target is unhealthy food. Media support for “fat taxes” has not been as straightforward as it has been for tobacco taxes, but it occasionally comes out.


     CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta was surprised at the amount of opposition to a fat tax on April 12.


     “[T]here was a Gallup poll actually done on this as well and I was actually surprised by the results. Only 10 percent of people in this country think it’s a good idea to have a fat tax,” Gupta said on “American Morning.”


     On March 15, Betsy Stark reported on companies incentivizing healthy behaviors, but made it clear that unhealthy choices are “wrong.”


     “To avoid what’s called the Twinkie tax, workers need to choose healthy foods over unhealthy ones … It’s your choice. But choose wrong and it will cost you,” Stark said on “World News with Charles Gibson.”


     ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN frequently promote a pro-regulatory agenda in food stories, quoting radical left-wing nutritionists like Marion Nestle and groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). But many of these “experts” or “public health officials” are food fascists who support food taxes.


     On Oct. 30, 2006, ABC’s Nancy Cordes included Kelly Brownell. Cordes labeled Brownell a “public health official,” but he is really an anti-industry spokesman who urged “small taxes on soft drinks, candy, gum, and snack foods” in a June 2000 report he co-authored with another food policeman, CSPI’s Michael Jacobson.




     Hardly a news broadcast passes without the latest way to “go green,” so it’s not surprising that the media have also pushed for increased taxes on eco-sins that liberals say contribute to global warming.


     Higher gasoline taxes were supported by CNN’s Allen Wastler on “In the Money” the same day Ali Velshi worried about high gas prices.


     “Put in a tax to make it $4 a gallon right now,” urged Wastler on April 28.


     But that wasn’t the first time CNN promoted higher gas taxes. On the April 25 “American Morning,” then-co-anchor Miles O’Brien said that there “could be a good argument for a gas tax in all of this to help pay for these alternative fuels.”


     Similarly, Washington Post reporter Steve Mufson promoted an increase on Oct. 18, 2006.


     A “simple way to trim U.S. oil imports, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage alternatives to petroleum and ease world energy shortages” would be “raising taxes on gasoline or crude oil,” wrote Mufson.


     Time magazine also promoted paying a carbon tax in its “51 Things You Can Do to Make a Difference” issue about ending global warming.


     “[Even a] 10% flat carbon tax” “may not be enough,” according to Time.