The Washington Post visits Club 47!


An astoundingly bungled report: On the Washington Post’s web site, Philip Rucker has offered this astonishing news report. The report concerns Mitt Romney’s remarks about folk who don’t pay income taxes.

Why does constant massive confusion characterize our public discourse? In part, it’s because of astonishing news reporting like the passage which follows.

This passage starts about midway through Rucker’s hopelessly bungled report. Note the uncorrected statement by a New Hampshire voter:
RUCKER (9/18/12): Romney hastily called a news conference here Monday night to try to diffuse the controversy. He acknowledged having made the remarks and stood by them, although he conceded that they were “not elegantly stated” and that he had been “speaking off the cuff in response to a question.” Romney called for the release of the full video, and Mother Jones said they would do so later Tuesday afternoon.

At a rally for GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan on Tuesday morning, some supporters said that Romney’s remarks were right on.

“The 47 percent—they’re not paying any taxes, so they don’t have any incentive to support him,” Jim Pacocha, a 70-year-old retiree from southern New Hampshire, said when asked about the remarks Romney made at a fundraiser in May.

“Once it gets past the tipping point, we’re going to be as bad as any European, socialist country,” he added.

Romney said his comments underscored the contrast between the two candidates’ divergent visions for the nation.

“This is ultimately a question about direction for the country: Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits or do you believe instead in a free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?” he told reporters. He added that his is a “free-people, free-enterprise, free-market, consumer-driven approach.”
Incredible. Rucker quotes a New Hampshire man making a major misstatement. “The 47 percent—they’re not paying any taxes?” Surely, Rucker must know that this statement is flatly inaccurate.

But so what? The statement sits in the middle of the Washington Post’s featured news report on this topic. At no point in his report does Rucker make any attempt to offer any background information about Romney’s statement—or about the inaccurate way the New Hampshire man reprocessed it.

At no point does Rucker make any attempt to correct that New Hampshire man’s error. People reading Rucker's report aren't told that this statement is wrong.

Indeed, Rucker doesn’t even quote Romney’s statement about the 47 percent. Instead, he quotes a New Hampshire retiree offering an inaccurate version of what Romney said!

Duh. As every journalist must know by now, it isn’t true that 47 percent “aren’t paying any taxes.” It isn’t true that 47 percent aren’t paying any federal taxes.

At WonkBlog, the actual facts of this matter are being explained in a series of posts. But Philip Rucker’s news report is featured at the top of the front page of the Washington Post’s web site, accompanied by a color photo of Romney himself.

In this high-profile report, Rucker quotes a man making a bogus statement—and the statement goes uncorrected! In fairness, if you fumble all around on the Post's web site, you can eventually figure out that the man's statement is wrong.

Can Rucker possibly be that incompetent? Does Rucker have an editor? On Sunday, the New York Times’ new public editor devoted her column to a fumbling attempt to figure out what sorts of facts must be included in news reports.

Under any circumstance, Rucker should have included some basic information about how many people pay what sorts of federal taxes. Instead, he quoted a man making a flatly false statement—and he never corrected it!

Who are these people? Where do they come from? Are they flesh and blood of this earth?

We’ve asked these questions many times. The life-form they’re calling “Philip Rucker” makes us ask them again.

A note concerning the politics of a very dangerous fact: It’s true: In 2011, almost forty-seven percent of adults paid no federal income tax.

Absent careful explanation, that is a very dangerous fact. Last night, the children kept repeating the fact on MSNBC as they danced on Romney’s grave for the three hundredth time.

That is a very dangerous fact. If you don’t explain it every time, it can do a great deal of political harm.

We thought the children were careless last night. Rucker is from Planet Zarkon.

Final note: We assume this astounding report will be corrected at some point. As of 2:37 P.M., Rucker's report contains no account of what Romney said except Pachoca's bungled statement. There is correction of Pachoca's statement—absolutely no explanation of why his statement is wrong.


  1. We assume the report won't be corrected--although we'd be glad to be proven wrong.

    By the way, was Pacocha part of the 47 percent?

  2. Pay no federal income tax ..... Or ....... Owed no federal income tax

  3. Something else journalists need to write about is how accurate or inaccurate the term "moocher" or "freeloader" is. A person might be on Medicaid one year after not being on Medicaid the previous five years, during which time they paid federal and state taxes. Medicaid is funded partly by federal and partly by state dollars. So they might be on Medicaid but still paying state taxes, so they are not "mooching" that portion of aid. Not that I agree with the term mooching's the safety net and it would be unAmerican not to have it.

    The right wing tends to view government benefits in such an individualistic way - you paid this much into the system, how much are you getting out of the system. In terms of the safety net this is clearly a bad way to look at it. But you can certain make the argument that a lot of low-income people getting government benefits HAVE paid into the system already, will transition out of benefits, and will pay into the system again.

  4. This graph does a pretty good job of showing WHY we have people paying no federal income taxes:

    They're OLD. They spent their lifetimes working and paying taxes.

    They're young and have small children. Their future will be a long middle age of working and paying taxes.

  5. At first I thought that "moocher" might be just a tad racist - Cab Calloway, Minnie, The Cotton Club and all that - so I was comforted to find that it originally meant "to keep coins in one's nightcap".

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