Myths take root as belief only after constant repetition over years. In the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s we believed that government could solve many problems, often with the help of the private sector. Anti-tax sentiment was low, and school districts had no problem raising taxes if need be to support quality public schools. In the 70’s, majorities were against capital punishment and in favor of stricter gun control laws.
All that has changed (and to my mind, for the worse), but it took years of hammering home some basic messages to turn the public on each of these positions, years of engraining these messages into the minds of the public.
To state the obvious, one of the major vehicles for indoctrinating the public is the mass media. Yesterday’s lead story running under the masthead on page one of the Pittsburgh/Greensburg Tribune-Review is a casebook example of how reporters color stories so that what is presented as objective using the tools of objective reporting is really a piece of propaganda.
The headline mouths a distortion: “Americans may be slammed by shocking tax hike.” Now when Congress passed tax cuts and tax breaks in 2001 and 2003, it wrote into the law that these cuts and breaks would expire after 2010. To call the expiration of these temporary measures a tax hike is a misnomer.
BTW, I do not question that the expiration of these measures will shock many taxpayers when it hits their pay stubs, because many Americans just don’t routinely follow the news media or keep up with law changes that affect them.
The writer builds his article on three types of information:
- Details of the temporary measures that will expire, such as child tax credits, capital gains tax reductions and the temporary phase out of the inheritance tax (which The writer calls the “death tax,” even though it is not a tax on the act of dying but on the estates of only the very wealthiest citizens once they have died).
- Quotes from experts at think tanks and associations. The experts give factual statements with no analysis, but all of them are associated with think tanks that are known to be right wing. By virtue of having their experts state part of the factual basis of the article, the right-wing think tanks gain credibility. In a sense, by disengaging them from their typical biased opinion or distorted analysis, the writer “mainstreams” them.
- Other quotes from other people that begin in the bottom two-thirds of the article. It is in these quotes that the writer presents virtually all of the right-wing’s decades-old talking points, even when they don’t make sense.
This chart presents the quotes in caps and small and what the major message is in caps:
|“I’m surprised…Obama’s plan was not to raise taxes. He’s said many things and done the opposite.”/Local citizen||THE DEMOCRAT (Obama) IS BAD|
|“We’re already overwhelmingly overtaxed.”/Small business owner||TAXES ARE TOO HIGH|
|“Tax breaks are not the problem and should be frozen in place….The rate of spending today is out of control…It’s unsustainable and … it’s going to bankrupt the country.”/Prominent business executive||THE GOVERNMENT SPENDS TOO MUCH|
|“Someone needs to announce where we’re going and how we’re going to get there…People won’t like to hear it, but they’re better off hearing it rather than speculating.”/Political economist||GOVERNMENT (the someone) IS NOT DOING ITS JOB|
The writer could have just as easily taken a leftist approach and quoted some experts talking about the need to close the deficit while funding important government programs, or experts saying that we have historically low taxes for any industrialized country after about 1900. Or, he could have taken an even-handed approach and centered the discussion on what experts are saying about specific tax cuts set to expire, alternating the view of those in favor of extending the temporary cuts and those against it.
My point is that every day now for years, we have been bombarded by these right-wing ideas, not just in the wing-nut media, but in the mainstream news media as well. Even when the media gets the facts right, as this article mostly does, the underlying assumptions that are conveyed are the same talking points that Ronald Reagan had on the note cards at which he kept glancing in his debates with President Carter in the 1980 presidential election.
The constant beating of these messages into all of us has moved this country to the right. Sadly, this movement has been correlated with a disintegration of our strong fiscal position, a net transfer of wealth up the economic ladder, a decline in our basic infrastructure, an erosion of civil liberties and a loss of esteem in the rest of the world.