NPR, CBS Play Up Romney's 'Provocative' Warren Buffett Tax Rate

NPR harped on Mitt Romney's "provocative tax detail" on Wednesday's Morning Edition, highlighting that the GOP presidential candidate "disclosed he's in the same low tax bracket as the billionaire [Warren] Buffett." Correspondent Scott Horsley later used clips from President Obama to accent liberals' class warfare spin about the rich paying a lower tax rate than "millionaires and billionaires."

On CBS This Morning, correspondent Jan Crawford also referenced the Buffett tax issue eight minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour, during a report on the Republican presidential race in South Carolina. She used the same label as the NPR journalist: "He [Romney] revealed that he pays a relatively low rate on his investment income. That's the same low rate that billionaire Warren Buffett pays."

At the beginning of his report, Horsley played up that the former Massachusetts governor "came around to the idea of releasing his tax returns- very slowly." He concluded the segment with a montage of Obama sound bites and left-leaning talking points about taxation. The NPR correspondent even cited the DNC at the very end:

MITT ROMNEY: What's the effective rate I've been paying? Well, it's probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything, because my last ten years, I've- my income comes overwhelmingly from investments.

HORSLEY: And investment income gets special treatment under the federal tax code. Here's how it works: middle-class workers collecting wages or salaries pay a top tax rate of 25 to 28 percent. Upper-income workers might pay as much as 35 percent. But people like Romney, who make their money off investments, never pay more than 15 percent in taxes, no matter how much money they earn. The idea behind this favorable tax treatment is to encourage more investment, in hopes of making society richer. But it can also raise questions of fairness, questions President Obama has been highlighting for months.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is wrong that, in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker, who earns $50,000, should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.

HORSLEY: The issue was famously raised by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who complains he pays taxes at a lower rate than his own secretary. Mr. Obama suggested last fall the tax code be modified, so wealthy investors would pay rates at least as high as ordinary workers.

OBAMA: Middle-class families shouldn't pay higher taxes than millionaires and billionaires. That's pretty straightforward.

HORSLEY: Straightforward or not, Mr. Obama's proposed 'Buffett principle' has, so far, gone nowhere. But it's likely to get another airing from the White House, now that Romney has disclosed he's in the same low tax bracket as the billionaire Buffett.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich wants to go in the opposite direction, and make investment income completely tax free. That would be a huge windfall for wealthy investors.... Romney said yesterday not all of his money comes from investments, and not all of it is taxed at the special 15 percent rate.

ROMNEY: I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away, and then, I get speakers fees from time to time, but not very much. (laughs)

HORSLEY: The Democratic National Committee points out in 2010, Romney's speaking fees topped $374,000.

And people wonder why conservatives rail against NPR.

Free market advocates would reply to the radio network's liberal arguments by noting that investment income is already taxed at least once (see the chart at Stocks and bonds are purchased with income that was taxed after it was earned. Investors receive dividends from corporations from their after-tax profits. Other taxes come in with additional transactions.

Back on CBS This Morning, anchor Charlie Rose raised the Romney tax return issue during an interview of former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, which began just after the Crawford report aired. When Barbour pushed back a bit, Rose condescended in return:

ROSE: There's also the question of Governor Romney finally, at least, announcing his tax rate, but not releasing his tax returns. Should he, and should he release his tax returns before the vote on Saturday?

BARBOUR: Well, first of all, politicians, candidates shouldn't just do something because the press is trying to force them to-

ROSE: It's about the voters, not the press, Governor. You know that.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.