Today’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:
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.
What 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.