News media help those who want to cut important programs to outshout those who want to raise taxes.

Am I a delusional paranoid liberal, seeing a conspiracy in every corner?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten the subjective impression that our elected officials and other leaders on all levels of government were inundating the marketplace of ideas (AKA the news media) with demands and plans to cut budgets, especially in the areas of education, social service programs and health care. I perceive seeing very little mention of raising taxes in the media as a means to address budget deficits, even though taxes on the wealthy are at a historic low. 

How could it be, I have wondered to myself, that no one is talking about raising taxes? 

Then I remember that when “60 Minutes” and Vanity Fair released a survey showing that 61% of Americans wanted to raise taxes on the wealthy to address our budget woes, it made it into a mere 44 online media, according to Google News.  Not among these brave few media outlets were the Wall Street Journal, nor the New York Times. 

In other words, it’s the will of the people to raise taxes on the wealthy. But it seems as if the news media, our elected officials and our think tank gurus are ignoring the people’s will.

Does my impression stem from my biases as an aging progressive feeling abused by the right wing?  Or is our national marketplace of ideas working to keep taxes low on the wealthy while cutting important government programs, even if that means greater unemployment, more human suffering and a continued deterioration of our infrastructure of bridges, roads, mass transit systems and schools?

As Kai Ryssdal, American Public Radio’s cheery purveyor of smiley-face capitalism likes to say, “Let’s do the numbers!”

Google News reports that over the past month, roughly February 9-March 9, 2011, there were 8,827 distinct stories in online news media that mentioned the term “cut spending.”  There were only 4,059 stories that mentioned the term “raise taxes.”

But it’s worse than that.  I estimate that on average, every story that mentioned “cut spending” was on 1,428 websites or online media outlets; stories mentioning “raise taxes,” by contrast, made it onto an average of only 80 websites or online media outlets each.

Here’s the methodology I used to determine the number of times that each story appeared: Each search revealed dozens of pages of stories.  I counted the number of media running the 20 stories on the first two pages.  I disregarded the top total for each search term and took the average total of the other 19.

Here are a few more interesting comparisons, all of which show that whatever our elected officials, economic experts, think-tank scholars are saying, reporters and editors actively seek to fill deficit reduction discussion with talk of spending cuts, with almost near silence about raising taxes:

  • On the first two pages of the search results, nine of the 20 stories about cutting spending appeared in more than 1,000 Internet locations; for raising taxes, it was only one.
  • The headline of the most widely-disseminated story to mention raising taxes was the wishy-washy “Obama plans to cut taxes, and raise them, too” and was in 11,090 places. No other story about raising taxes was in even 700 places.  By contrast, the headline of the most widely-disseminated story to mention cutting spending was the very aggressive “Boehner to Obama: Cut spending more,” which also made it to 11,090 places.
  • If you extrapolate the results of the first 20 pages over the entirety of all the stories that Google News reports for both of these search terms over the past month, we find that someone could have seen stories about cutting government spending about 12.6 million times.  Do the same math for raising taxes and you get a total of about 325,000 stories over the past month.  In other words, for every story in which the idea of raising taxes is mentioned, there are probably about 39 mentioning the idea of cutting spending.

39 to one! Think about it!  For example, imagine being in a room.  On one side of the room one person sings as loud as she can and on the other side of the room 39 people sing a different song, again as loud as they cam.  Who would you hear?

One could argue that the results are biased because of the stories in the large number of wacky right-wing websites and groups, all funded by a number of very wealthy people, the most notorious of whom currently are the Koch brothers.  First of all, not that many of those right-wing publications are on the list of media from which Google News pulls its stories.  And the bias created by those that do make the list just proves the broader point that money now controls the outcome of most elections. 

So my impression was accurate, and the news media is for the most part in bed with those who want to cut spending on needed programs, ignoring the will and best interests of the vast majority of people.

One comment on “News media help those who want to cut important programs to outshout those who want to raise taxes.
  1. Andy Cohen says:

    An interesting report. As a person who believes budget cuts are short term moves which do little to correct long-term problems I agree with some sentiment here. I’ll even credit the methodology, but I do take some issue with the idea of the media being “in bed” with the cutters. It assumes intent. I’d challenge you found far more “spending cut” stories as a vast majority of American politicians consider the words “revenue increase” to be a political poison pill. While many may believe revenue is the answer, few will allow themselves to be quoted admitting such a fact. So with little “official” voice for revenue increases, the media must turn to secondary sources to get that sentiment. It’s certainly a viable option, but a responsible journalist must also consider to whom they’re lending the megaphone. I would say the discrepancy you point out is much more a result of a lack of viable sources to herald the revenue cause…rather than a guilefully subtle move to drown out an opinion.

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