NewsHour and the One Percent
PBS newscast presents the upside of inequality
With protesters around the country speaking out against income inequality, public television’s flagship newscast made time on October 26 for the pro-inequality side to be heard, featuring a guest who invoked a phony Abraham Lincoln quote to make his case.
NewsHour anchor Jeffrey Brown explained that in the segment, correspondent Paul Solman "gets a contrarian view, suggesting inequality in a free market system may not be as bad as advertised."
The guest was New York University law school professor Richard Epstein, who presented a John Stossel-style view of the economy: "Inequality creates an incentive for people to produce and to create wealth," raising taxes on the wealthy would harm the economy, and the "fundamental truth is the tax system is more redistributive than it was before… and the regulatory burden on the economy is vastly greater." PBS should have disclosed that Epstein is also a director at Global Economics Group, a corporate consulting firm that advises on issues like financial regulation and employment law.
When asked if the top one percent have too much control over the political system, Epstein replied:
Of course they have a disproportionate impact, but that doesn’t mean that they control it. They also ought to have it.
The last thing you would want to do in any kind of sensible society is to have a set of rules in which one man/one vote dictates over every issue.
The piece closes with Epstein invoking Abraham Lincoln:
I’m going to quote Abraham Lincoln, because I like to do that–which is, he said, quite rightly, that you do not make the poor rich by making the rich poor.
The NewsHour should, at the very least, tell its viewers that this quote is a well-traveled hoax. It’s been falsely attributed to Lincoln for the better part of a century, and has been debunked almost as long. The New York Times (8/19/92) and CNN (8/19/92) pointed out that Lincoln hadn’t said those words when Ronald Reagan misquoted him in a 1992 speech. In 1996, Rush Limbaugh admitted that he too had falsely attributed the quote to Lincoln (Extra!, 4/10).
Even better, the NewsHour could explain to viewers why it’s so eager to present segments that portray economic inequality as no big deal. Brown’s introduction called this a "contrarian" view, but defending inequality is hardly contrarian in elite media–including on the NewsHour.
On September 21 Solman presented a segment featuring American University economics professor Robert Lerman, who was critical of a previous NewsHour broadcast for apparently being too one-sided: "It would be nice if there was more equality, but let’s not overdo it." Lerman’s point was that seniors enjoy vast riches in the form of Social Security and Medicare (FAIR Blog, 9/23/11). The segment included a visit to a nursing home, where Solman informed one resident that "Medicare is like a stash of wealth that you’re now drawing on."
Public broadcasting is supposed to be dedicated to showcasing viewpoints that "would otherwise go unheard" in commercial media. Voices championing inequality are heard loud and clear in the corporate media; public television should be doing something different.