Rates Unchanged, Yet CBS Insists 'Battle Over Tax Cuts' Means 'Cuts for High-Income Earners' and Middle Class

Matching the distortion documented in a MRC study posted Tuesday, though under the Obama-congressional GOP compromise income tax rates will remain unchanged for all, fill-in CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor introduced a story by characterizing a "battle over tax cuts" and how at a White House news conference President Obama "said agreeing to cuts for high-income earners was the only way to get middle-class cuts." Except neither group is getting any income tax "cut" and the agreement simply forestalls a hefty tax hike.

Over on ABC, World News anchor Diane Sawyer's tease presumed "tax cuts" were under consideration when the alternative to the deal to extend them was not a cut but a tax rate increase: "Talking tough. President Obama tackles his Democratic critics and says Republicans held the middle class tax cuts hostage."

Other coverage Tuesday night used some variation of "extension of the Bush tax cuts" or "extending the Bush tax cuts," which at least provided a clue to ill-informed viewers that there were no new cuts on the table, just extending the existing policy.

From Sunday, with video: "Kyl Repeatedly Corrects Schieffer: No Tax 'Cuts' for Rich, Just Extending Existing Rates; Schieffer: 'I Gotcha'"

Glor set up the story on the Tuesday, December 7 CBS Evening News:

Now to a still-developing story tonight, the battle over tax cuts. The President today also called a news conference and defended the deal he made with Republicans. He said agreeing to cuts for high-income earners was the only way to get middle-class cuts. He accused Republicans of holding the middle-class cuts hostage, but he still hasn't convinced fellow Democrats. Bill Plante is at the White House tonight.

"By 6-to-1 Margin, Networks Paint Debate Over 'Tax Cuts,' Not Raising Rates," the MRC's Kyle Drennen documented:

...[T]he broadcast networks have insisted on framing the debate as about "tax cuts" and "tax breaks," not about forestalling a tax increase that could jeopardize the weak recovery.

MRC analysts reviewed all 23 ABC, CBS and NBC evening news stories about the tax debate from the start of the lame-duck session of Congress on November 15 through December 5, just before the GOP and Obama struck their deal. Network reporters used the phrase "tax cut" a total of 71 times to characterize the issue at hand. CBS's Nancy Cordes, for example, talked about "the battle over the Bush tax cuts" on the November 15 Evening News. Two nights later, NBC's Chuck Todd related a new poll showing how "49 percent say don't give the wealthy these tax cuts" - as if the "the wealthy" would be getting some new gift from the government. In contrast, the more accurate term "tax increase" or a synonymous phrase (e.g. tax hike, tax rise) was used only 11 times, or less than one-sixth as often as the phrase "tax cut" was employed. On the December 2 World News, for instance, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer reported how Democrats had voted to "let taxes rise for the wealthiest Americans." In addition, the network evening news broadcasts used the more neutral description of extending the current "tax rate" a total of 8 times in the same period...

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.