Misleading Math in the Liberal News

Today, this story ran on NPR’s Morning Edition. In it, a high-paid and self-admitted overworked emergency room doctor that exclusively works overnight shifts bemoaned the potential impact of the Busa era tax cuts expiring. NPR avoided talking openly about the math and went for a dumbed-down story that presents the issue in a misleading way.

Doctor Hamilton Lempert works 40-70 hours a week, in the ER, on the overnight shift. For our purposes we can assume he’s well-paid and recieves bonuses on top of his regular pay because of overtime and incentive pay for both the ER and overnight shift.

This is how NPR covered his taxes:

When he runs his financial information through an online calculator to figure out how his tax bill would change if the Bush-era tax cuts are allowed to expire, he gets a shock.

Lempert would take about a $20,000 tax hit.

That seems like a lot. But given the doctor’s information and what we know about the Bush tax cuts we can assume he earns more than the average American family – more than $250,000.00. We also know the Bush tax cuts range around three to five percent.

So we divide $20,000.00 by .03 and .05 (the range of the tax rate) to estimate his income.

That means Dr. Lempert earns between $400,000.00 (if his taxes increase by five percent) and $666,667.00 (if his taxes increase by three percent).

Which presentation of the data is more reasonable? Does the doctor seem underpaid or overpaid? Yes, $20,000.00 is a lot of money. But so are $400,000.00 and $600,000.00 dollars. Maybe the doctor didn’t want to give his income, but NPR could easily have surmised a range for his income.

Instead, they scrub the income. That’s tantamount to reporting how outrageous Mitt Romney’s taxes would increase if his went from 15 percent to where most Americans pay around 23 percent. The presidential candidate would face an increase of $1.6 million on his taxes, or if you prefer zeros: $1,600,000.00.

Boo-fucking-hoo. Let’s hear him whine about putting off vacation or a new car like the good doctor.

In fairness, NPR reached out to a tax expert who put a nice cap on it, although I don’t think this is anywhere near as clear as just stating his income.

Virtually everyone in his income category will see their taxes rise in average about $14,000,” says Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “That’s about a 5 percent reduction in their after-tax income, and 5 percent is something that even at that income level [is] noticeable.


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