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Media want to protect Elizabeth Warren from questions about her plan to raise taxes


Poor Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Cruel and unfair moderators asked her repeatedly Tuesday evening during a 2020 Democratic primary debate whether she will raise taxes on the middle class to fund her astronomically expensive “Medicare for all” proposal. The moderators even simplified the question for her at one point by asking her to respond with a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Warren dodged the question each time, even prompting her opponents to call her out.

In a normal world, this would be a black eye for the Massachusetts lawmaker. In a normal world, the media would be drawing more attention to Warren’s duplicitous nonanswers. But we don’t live in a normal world. Certain members of our very brave and honest news media have responded instead to the debate question by accusing Tuesday’s moderators of being … unfair?

“The ‘make Elizabeth Warren say she would raise taxes on the middle class’ question should be a credibility killer. For the journalists who keep asking it,” complained media critic and New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen.

Rosen, interestingly, had said in 2012 that “everyone knows” that then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s tax proposal is mathematically impossible and that it is merely a matter of how “we live with the fiction.” Guess the math doesn’t matter anymore.

Huffington Post editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen said elsewhere of the Democratic debate questions for Warren: “‘Will you raise middle-class taxes’ is a lazy, gotcha question based on untested premises. A fairer question would be to ask candidates to explain how they’d convince voters of the tax tradeoff’s benefits.”

Quick question: Do you think “tax tradeoff” will catch on and take the place of “tax increase in America’s future vocabulary?

Polgreen added in a follow-up, “You could ask: How will you pay for Medicare For All? You don’t need to frame it in a way that’s ready made for attack ads. Warren’s answer isn’t sufficient, but a better question would put her more firmly on the spot. Like I said, I’m not defending Warren’s answer. I’m saying the question flows from a fundamentally partisan premise.”

So now it’s partisan to ask whether a given plan involves raising taxes.

Then there is Washington Post media columnist and former New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who said that the debate could have been “much, much better” had the moderators framed “the (apparently unavoidable) question about universal health care and how to fund it in a non-gotcha way.”

“Journalists are kindly doing President Trump’s work for him when they insist on trying to pin down Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), the new front-runner, to declare she’d raise taxes to fund Medicare-for-all,” Sullivan writes. “Of course, it’s legitimate to dig into the costs, but not in a way that creates a nice GOP campaign ad, and misses the larger lens of overall costs. (Warren, notably, refused to take the bait.)”

“Will you raise taxes?” is one of the most basic questions that can be asked of any public official at any level, municipal, state, or federal. It’s not only a legitimate question, it’s an important question. Warren was asked and dodged it repeatedly. But rather than ding the candidate who boasts she has a plan for everything for dodging the simplest of campaign questions, certain media critics and news editors have decided instead that the question itself is unfair and unworthy of a response.

This is an almost note-for-note repeat of how certain newsrooms ran defense for Warren last week after questions were raised about her claim that she was fired in the 1970s for being “visibly pregnant.” The trick is to attack both the question and the person who poses it as illegitimate.

Mark my words: This will be the media formula for protecting Warren going forward.

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