Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

The “Parade” of Misrepresented Presidential Tax Proposals

Parade Tax articleToday’s issue of Parade, the fish-wrap magazine included gratis in my and many Sunday newspapers, included an article entitled: How Much Would You Pay in Taxes?

It purports to be a non-partisan evaluation of how the two presidential candidates’ tax proposals would affect citizens of various income levels, but it is an example of either sloppy journalism or very clever misrepresentation.

From the Parade website, below (and here) is the full text of the article:Parade article

Note that the huge headline in the magazine asks how much you’d pay. The small print below the candidates’ photos, however, lists how much you’d save. It is likely, therefore, that the casual Parade reader (is there any other kind?) who earns under $111,600 would be looking to see how much she’d pay…and when she sees that all the numbers in the Obama column proposal are larger than those in the McCain column, she might assume that Obama’s tax proposal will confiscate more of her money.

It gets worse.

For the highest income levels (at the bottom of the article), the Obama column switches to how much you’d pay, making it entirely incommensurate with the McCain column’s how much you’d save. Depending upon how carefully you’d analyzed the data, you might assume that Obama’s plan would save the highest-income taxpayers even more that McCain’s. Of course the opposite is true.

Parade logoWhat should author Rebecca Davis O’Brien have done?

First, title the article How Much Would You Save in Taxes?

Second, put the bottom three Obama numbers in a different color, or a different font, or in a different column, clearly marked as payments, not savings.

Math literacy. A rarity in journalism.

3 Comments

  1. Emily says:

    Is it that author Rebecca Davis O’Brien was trying to pull one over on us, or that she just lacks understanding of audience interpretation and is simply regurgitating collected data? I cannot tell.

  2. Abi says:

    I’d LIKE to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she lacks understanding of audience interpretation, but lately it’s not so wise to err on the side of optimism it seems… and that’s sad.

  3. Lanny says:

    Hard to tell what Rebecca Davis O’Brien had in mind. I didn’t see the shift in Obama’s column header at first and suspected the worst. Then I thought it was Rebecca Davis O’Brien trying to make Obama look bad. Finally, I saw it for what it was…and came up with the same suggestions as Steve.

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