Propaganda as journalism | Arkansas Blog

Propaganda as journalism



A page-one article in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette refers to the expiration of the estate tax. "Just buried death tax set to haunt planners," said the headline. (My emphasis.)

Death tax. This represents the full integration of Republican-invented political propaganda into the supposed value-free world of straight newspapering. (Here's some commentary on the invention of the phrase by a Republican strategist.)

There is no tax on death in the United States. There IS a tax, applicable to less than 1 percent of all estates (a few hundred of the thousands of deaths in Arkansas each year), on estates valued at more than $3.5 million (or $7 million for a married couple).

Add this to the many ways in which the Democrat-Gazette shapes news coverage to reflect the editor's political outlooks. The ban on mention of seatbealts in fatal crashes. The "purportedlys" around effects of greenhouse gases. The lack of mention of potential harm from tanning beds. Orval Faubus as a peacemaker. David O. Dodd, the transcendent figure of Arkansas history.

By the way, the article about the estate tax confuses the way the former estate tax law operated. It said:

For instance, under the old rules governing capital gains taxation, if someone bought a stock at $10 a share, and saw the value of that stock rise to $100 at the time of his death, his heirs would need to pay taxes on only the original $10 value if they sold the stock.

Not so. The old law applied what was called a stepped-up basis to property inherited from an estate. Property was valued at the amount it was worth when left to an heir, no matter its original, typically much lower, original cost. If sold later by the heir, the property was taxed, as a capital gain, on the difference between the stepped-up basis and the sale price. That mythical stock would be taxed at the difference between $100 and the sale price.

And, again, remember that these tax scenarios only applied to people with taxable estates, a tiny number.

The U.S. is filled with people, thanks to the "death tax" fiction, who fear Uncle Sam is going to slap a tax on everything they own when they die. It isn't true. It is true now, thanks to Republicans, that ALL property inherited by anyone, when sold, is subject to a capital gains tax assessed on the original cost of the property, NOT on the value of the asset when transferred at death. Under the old law, the stepped-up basis applied to everyone, even those exempt from estate taxation. (CORRECTION: I'm reminded by the D-G correction in Saturday's paper that the "stepped-up basis" is retained for $1.3 million of capital assets inherited in 2010.)

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