MediaWatch: June 1991

Vol. Five No. 6

More Statistical Spin Control

TIMES DEFENDS THE DEMOCRATS. Last year, reporters forwarded the Democrats' claims that Reaganomics made the rich richer and the poor poorer, and cited statistics from the Democrat-controlled Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Last month, when Congressman Dick Armey (R-TX) circulated a report discrediting those statistics, his report was covered in only one major newspaper story.

Armey's report showed that CBO has overstated the income of the rich by failing to index capital gains income for inflation or include net capital losses over $3,000. In fact, CBO hugely overestimated capital gains income in 1989 by $75 billion. Armey asked that the Green Book, an annual economic report by the House Ways and Means Committee, be amended to alert policy makers to CBO's flawed methods.

But New York Times reporter Jason DeParle, who came to the Times from the neoliberal Washington Monthly, spent a May 26 "Week in Review" story trivializing Armey's findings: "Among the Congressman's complaints is that Table 19 on page 1,306 should at the very least have included an asterisk." The Times underlined its attack on Armey with the headline "Richer Rich, Poorer Poor, And a Fatter Green Book." The Census Bureau shatters that cliche: since 1983, the poor have also gotten richer.

DeParle reassured readers that "Mr. Armey's attack on the Green Book's intellectual integrity has not attracted a large following." In support, DeParle quoted Marvin Kosters of the American Enterprise Institute. That's interesting: Kosters told MediaWatch he had not seen the Armey report, but said "Armey's arguments are correct." DeParle ended by quoting another conservative, Lawrence Mead of New York University. Mead told DeParle: "I'm not saying the numbers [in the Green Book] are wrong. It's a very important source." But Mead told MediaWatch he hadn't seen the Armey report, and when asked about CBO's treatment of capital gains, he said "I don't know about that."

CITIES' SLICKER SPENDERS. With many of the nation's cities, especially those run by liberal Democrats, in severe economic distress, who do reporters blame? Ronald Reagan, of course. CNN got the ball rolling in a May 12 World News segment. "Many U.S. cities have the budget blues these days," anchor Brian Christie began, "and while they have their hand out to Washington, Uncle Sam apparently has his back turned."

Reporter Pam Olsen's story only included comments from five Democratic officials, including New York Mayor David Dinkins, who complained that the federal share of New York's budget had dropped from 20 percent in 1980 to ten percent now. "Ever since the Reagan Administration cities have been getting fewer and fewer federal dollars," Olsen asserted. But CNN's May 29 Crossfire revealed that big city budgets have increased 96 percent since 1980, nearly twice the inflation rate. In a Cato Institute study, Stephen Moore noted that federal aid to states and cities jumped seven percent in 1990 and nine percent in 1991.

But on the May 29 Today, NBC's Katherine Couric returned to the usual suspect: "Cuts in urban aid began in the Reagan Administration. How much should former President Reagan shoulder the blame?"