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When A Robbery Is Described As A 'Win': How The Media Failed Us In Covering The Tax Bill

The Capitol is seen at dawn as Senate Republicans work to pass their sweeping tax bill this week, in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
The Capitol is seen at dawn as Senate Republicans work to pass their sweeping tax bill this week, in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

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On Saturday morning, as their constituents slept, 51 Republican senators passed a massive bill whose central effects will be to slash taxes for corporations and affluent Americans (i.e. the donor class) while adding more than a trillion dollars to the deficit and causing millions of poor and middle-class Americans to lose their health insurance.

This comes as no shock. The modern GOP — a party of phony populists ruled by a race-baiting demagogue — has been working for decades to further enrich citizens who own private jets and lavish estates.

The real shock, in this case, is the brazen manner in which this legislation was passed: in the dead of night, with no public debate, having unveiled a 480-page bill festooned with handwritten notes that was impossible to read (never mind analyze) in the few hours allotted.

Actually, scratch that.

Protesters shout their disapproval of the Republican tax bill outside the Senate Budget Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Protesters shout their disapproval of the Republican tax bill outside the Senate Budget Committee hearing room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The real shock is the headlines our major news organizations chose to describe these events. Here’s a brief survey:

The New York Times: Senate Republicans Pass Sweeping Tax Bill

The Washington Post: Major Victory for Trump and Party Leaders

Politico: How McConnell Got a Win on Taxes

Associated Press: Trump Says Tax Bill Keeps Getting Better

This is like describing a highway robbery as a “Significant Fiscal Achievement.” Or a mugging as a “Triumphant Seizure.”

When our most respected news organizations craft headlines like this they are aiding and abetting a kleptocracy by covering “politics” like a sport in which the most important thing is which team won.

This isn’t even journalism. It’s the kind of cynical scorekeeping that elevates public relations above public morality.

... our most respected news organizations treated this legislative larceny as just another partisan tussle.

The mission of our Fourth Estate, after all, isn’t to track the fate of politicians or parties. It’s supposed to be the people’s representative in Washington. The question journalists should be asking — and answering — is which actual Americans will win and lose because of this bill.

A more accurate headline would read: GOP Tax Giveway to CEOs Hammers Poor and Sick

Or: GOP Passes Tax Bill Drafted by 6,000 Lobbyists

Or: GOP Tax Bill Shatters Pledge to Reduce Deficit

Or: GOP Uses Tax Bill to Destroy Obamacare

Instead, our most respected news organizations treated this legislative larceny as just another partisan tussle. The result is the normalization of legislative procedures that are plainly immoral and disastrous.

It doesn’t take a veteran political reporter to recognize that the GOP didn’t want anyone (taxpayers, reporters, economists) learning what was in its bill.

After whining for eight years about how the Affordable Care Act — a measure debated for more than 18 months and subject to hundreds of hearings — was rushed through Congress, Republicans put forth a bill that literally contained illegible scribbling in its margins. Other pages were crossed out.

This is the kind of slapdash effort that would earn an F from a professor in a Freshman Comp class. In the Senate, our most deliberative body, this mess got rubberstamped in a matter of hours. Barring an outbreak of conscience, it will become the basis of our fiscal future as a nation.

If someone can explain to me how that represents “a win” for anybody, I’m all ears.

Republicans in Congress have spent the past 16 months trying to ignore the turpitude of the man who occupies the Oval Office, including the mounting evidence that his campaign colluded with our chief foreign adversary.

They did so because they wanted to pursue their “agenda,” one expressly designed by plutocrats and lobbyists to coddle the few and punish the many.

If the most revered outlets in our free press can’t even recognize that as the essential story here, they deserve to be called fake news.

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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is a writer. His new book, "Bad Stories: Toward A Unified Theory of How It All Came Apart," will be out in March 2018. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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