The New York Times Quantitative Propaganda

Neil IrwinIn general, I’ve liked Neil Irwin’s work over the years. So I didn’t think much when I saw last week that he had written an article entitled, Why Americans Don’t Want to Soak the Rich. I think I may have given up on trying to understand what Americans do and don’t want to do. It changes from day to day and is incoherent regardless. But the word “soak” stopped me anyway. That’s a pejorative. I want to tax the rich a whole lot more, but I wouldn’t call it “soaking the rich.” So I figured the article didn’t have much to offer in terms of actual insight. What I most definitely did not think was that the article would be downright deceptive.

But when I saw that Jim Naureckas at FAIR had questioned the article, I took notice, Why Don’t Americans Want to “Soak the Rich”? It’s a Trick Question. What he means by that is that polling going back decades indicates a constant and high level of support for taxing the rich more. What was going on?

It turns out that Irwin’s article is not about polling data, but about two studies, which actually don’t shed much light at all about why Americans think any which way. The studies are vaguely interesting, but generally not so much so that they would be discussed in The New York Times. At first, I thought it was just a question of a bad headline for an article that didn’t back it up. But that isn’t true. Neil Irwin was indeed trying to make the case that Americans are less inclined to support taxing the rich. Check out this slippery move:

Over that same period, though, Americans’ views on whether the government should work to redistribute income — to tax the rich, for example, and funnel the proceeds to the poor and working class — have, depending on which survey answers you look at, either been little changed, or shifted toward greater skepticism about redistribution.

In other words, Americans’ desire to soak the rich has diminished even as the rich have more wealth available that could, theoretically, be soaked.

I’ll get to the first paragraph in a moment. But note how he shifts from the data being inconsistent to “Americans’ desire to soak the rich has diminished”! This article was not written as an opinion piece. It was part of The Upshot blog — The Times’ answer to Wonk Blog and (now) Vox. What I think we see here is something I talk about a lot: an upper-middle (or upper) class journalist who is so isolated that he doesn’t see his own economic conservatism as anything but “objective.”

Jim NaureckasAs for the first paragraph, Naureckas goes into some detail to show that indeed, there has been no drop in the desire of Americans to tax the rich. There was a little blip in 2010-2011 when “less than 60 percent said they thought the rich were not paying enough federal taxes.” Maybe Irwin is looking at surveys that ended in 2011. But those two years were the only years since 1992 in which support dipped below 60%. Check out the whole article because it has a lot of interesting data that totally refutes Irwin’s careless claim.

This makes me angry. This is the supposed liberal “newspaper of record.” And this article works as propaganda for the rich. It says to people, “Americans don’t want to tax the rich; you’re an American; right?!” Of course it works on a subconscious level where people simply pick up the idea that Americans don’t want to tax the rich. It is a way of narrowing the field of debate so that the idea of a 50% — much less a 70% or 91% — top marginal tax rate is just unthinkable. This is truly shameful.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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