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How You Can Have a Billion-Dollar Income in America and Pay No Taxes

Tax journalist David Cay Johnston explains what's so rotten about our taxation system and the distribution of wealth in this country.

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TM: You've also written about the role the media plays in this. This current system seems only possible with a failed media.

DCJ: I think it would go on even if the media were doing their job. Having said that, the media have done a crummy job for a couple of key reasons. First of all, most news is "he said" journalism. When you read that the president or John Boehner said something yesterday, that's one thing, but whether the journalist understands what it meant is a whole different question.

TM: And whether he checked if it were true or accurate is yet another.

DCJ: The first rule of journalism is check it out, The second rule is cross-check and cross-check, not just until you know all sides of the story, but until you also know where that story belongs, its importance and relative connection to other things. Those two rules have been breaking down as we have seen huge cuts in media.

Increasingly we're seeing coverage and unskeptical acceptance of talking points. Dean Baker runs a blog Web site called Beat the Press where every day he cites stories in the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, that have economic nonsense in them.

The far right understand that if you can polish an idea, you can sell it. Fifty years ago young men put Brylcreem in their hair because grease was supposed to make you sexy. They smoked cigarettes because ads said, "Four out of five doctors recommend Lucky Strike."

Absolute lies serve as ideological and economic marketing to help the already rich make themselves richer. Most journalists do not understand numbers and very few of them have ever taken even one course in public policy or statistics, so they get bamboozled every day of the week.

The odds have changed tremendously. The last time I checked there were 35,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, and a bunch of people who aren't registered. There are literally several tens of thousands of people in DC whose job is to influence congressmen and regulatory agencies. The tiny number of reporters out there are totally outgunned. On the other hand, they're also not skeptical enough. Journalists need to remember their job is to be skeptical. All around the world, in every lecture I give, I say, "First rule of journalism, check it out. If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

Interviewer Terrence McNally hosts Free Forum on KPFK 90.7FM, Los Angeles and WBA I99.5FM, New York (streaming at and Visit for podcasts of all interviews and more.

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