Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Former PolitiFact writer Robert Farley still spreading misinformation at Factcheck.org

Writer Robert Farley worked at PolitiFact before catching on with the more respectable Annenberg Fact Check (factcheck.org).

I've hoped that Farley would step up his game.  But the folks at Annenberg are, after all, liberally biased, so it's no surprise that Farley continues to fact check in a style similar to that he used at PolitiFact.

Our case in point:
A new ad from the Obama campaign claims that Mitt Romney “paid only 14 percent in taxes—probably less than you.” That depends. Romney paid a federal income tax rate that is higher than the income tax rate paid by 97 percent of tax filers. But if you include a combination of income taxes and payroll taxes — which make up the bulk of federal taxes for most taxpayers — the ad is accurate.
Liberal fact checkers tend to ignore a key evidence while fact checking claims about comparative income tax rates:  a report from the Congressional Budget Office that estimates effective tax rates while factoring in the effects of corporate taxes.  The tendency to ignore the CBO's report occurs despite the fact that fact checkers tend to believe the CBO almost without reservation, the classic example coming from the CBO's static analyses of the Affordable Care Act.

Google "effective tax rates" and the CBO report is right there (now on the second page of hits after a long time on the first page).  The report reveals that very high income earners pay much higher federal tax rates than liberal fact checkers claim.  Farley actually hints at the truth, perhaps without fully realizing it.

Farley (bold emphasis added):
There are all sorts of ways to slice tax data. According to the administration’s Economic Report of the President, the median effective tax rate for the middle 20 percent of U.S. taxpayers in 2012 is 13.3 percent when you include income, payroll and corporate taxes (Table 3-1). That also puts the ad’s claim in the right ballpark. But in order to get there, you have to compare Romney’s income tax only to the rates others pay in combined income, payroll and corporate taxes.
The second of the two sentences in bold makes false the claim that many people pay a greater effective rate of federal income tax (payroll taxes included) with corporate income taxes included in the mix.  Farley buries the key sentence with the lead-in "That also puts the ad's claim in the right ballpark."  The story ends up with one sentence that strongly upsets the argument about Romney's supposed low income tax rate, set in an arrangement that camouflages it sufficiently so that few are likely to recognize its meaning. 

Take a gander at Table 3-1:

click image for enlarged view
The bottom line across from "Top 1 percent" represents something of a bell curve showing the effective tax rates for the top 1 percent of earners.  It's likely that Romney pays a rate somewhere near the middle, though apparently he also gives a great deal of money to charity, which decreases his tax bill because of the charitable deduction.  One has to hunt on the chart to find effective tax rates higher than the median rate for the top 1 percent (29.6 percent). 

Yet here's the kicker quote/paraphrase Farley uses to wrap up:
No matter how you slice it, Toder said, Romney’s tax rate is very low for someone with his level of income. The average income tax rate for the top 0.1 percent (which is where Romney falls) is 23.6 percent.
Slice us up some of that horse hockey, Farley.

Fact checking is in a sad state.  But a least Annenberg Fact Check is still better than PolitiFact.

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