Anderson Cooper Makes Big Gaffe At GOP Debate In Las Vegas

Biggest Gaffe Of The Night At Las Vegas Debate

Here's a matter that I missed commenting on but wanted to circle back to once the debate was over. What was the biggest gaffe of tonight's debate? Well, it didn't come from one of the candidates. Rather, it came from CNN's Anderson Cooper, in this question to Michele Bachmann:

MR. COOPER: Congresswoman Bachmann, you also said at the last debate that everyone should pay something. Does that mean that you would raise taxes on the 47 percent of Americans who currently don't pay taxes?

There are plenty of fact-checkers around, and I don't really consider it part of my job here to think about where candidates messed up, especially since a lot of their factually incorrect statements are just playing to their audience, and you sort of have to expect a lot of that. But Anderson Cooper, the CNN moderator, has no excuse: his claim that 47% of American pay no taxes was inexcusable. Just terrible. The correct stat is that 47% of US households don't pay federal income taxes, which is very different. It's bad when politicians get basic factual stuff wrong; it's terrible when CNN does. To me at least, the debate had a clear loser, and it was Anderson Cooper and CNN for that question.

Ezra Klein -- who correctly points out that everyone who is exempt from federal income taxes still pays "payroll tax and state and local taxes and sales taxes and various government user fees," directs us to this study from the Tax Policy Center, which provides some basic, pertinent information in its abstract:

About 46 percent of American households will pay no federal individual income tax in 2011, roughly half of them because of structural features of the income tax that provide basic exemptions for subsistence level income and for dependents. The other half are nontaxable because tax expenditures--special provisions of the tax code that benefit selected taxpayers or activities--wipe out tax liabilities and, in the case of refundable credits, result in net payments from the government. Most important of those tax expenditures are provisions that benefit senior citizens and low-income working families with children.

Given that the impact of Herman Cain's 999 plan on those who currently pay no federal income tax had to have been an essential part of preparing for tonight's debate, this screw-up from Cooper is especially galling.

-- Jason Linkins

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