GE Pays Zero, NBC Reports Zero, Owner of the Press Has Zero Obligation to Report Its Zero

by Mike Wendy on March 31, 2011

It was reported last week that GE – one of America’s largest companies – had record profits last year, yet paid not a single dime of federal tax.

I should say, it was reported by most news outlets except GE’s flagship outlet, NBC, as this American Thinker story details.

With 900 accountants, and a 24,000-page IRS 1040, one should probably expect such “avoidance” tactics from any similarly-situated behemoth.  Besides, U.S corporate taxes are among the highest in the developed world (when they’re paid, of course).  Moreover, if a politician or two can avoid their own tax liabilities – without creating one job – why can’t a multinational company with 304,000 employees do it, too?

Consequently, the tax avoidance aspect of the story doesn’t really interest me.

Rather, what does interest me is the media avoidance aspect of the story by the company.  Aside from GE’s blatant hypocrisy (I mean, plentiful tax revenues enable GE’s immense government sales opportunities, after all), the lack of reporting highlights one of the true beauties of the First Amendment.  That is – the Right works to the benefit of the owner of the press, allowing him to speak, or not, as he sees fit, free as possible from government interference.

NBC didn’t report GE’s (its parent) windfall, er, tax bill.  It chose not to speak in this case.  So what.  Fox, ABC and a host of others quickly pounced on the omission.  GE looks foolish (I don’t think the exercise is what one might call a  “brand-builder”) but, again, so what.  That’s their problem.

Change the channel if you don’t like it.

Of course, some Washington policymakers and interest groups fret about such a choice.  They want to impose government speech mandates on speakers like GE, or on the Internet, because they surmise those media, through “free” airwaves, past government R&D support, and their “importance” to our way of life, among a litany of other “reasons,” justify turning the First Amendment on its head.

In their view, the core value of the First Amendment is not the promotion of individual liberty free from the thumb of government, but rather to promote speech “important” to all of us for our self-governance.  Accordingly, if “essential bottlenecks” fail at providing that sustenance, the government should step in and decide who, or what type, or where or how that speech should occur to rectify “the problem.”   For the collective-whole over the rights of any individual.

Of course, the real problem here is: “Congress shall make no law…”

Man, that’s a tough one for policymakers to swallow.  Thankfully – though the First Amendment is littered with exceptions – it’s one channel that can’t easily be switched off.

Certainly, government is well within its right to demand that companies like GE pay their fair share of taxes.  Sometimes, as we see, it’s “0.”  Yet, Uncle Sam can compel taxation based on our income-generating activities.  I don’t like those levies, but they’re a defined, Article 1 power government clearly possesses.

Uncle Sam and policymakers should grant the same deference to individuals – even when they are large companies – as it relates to the First Amendment.  Our liberties, and society which benefits from them, are better served where government limits on our speech are the exception, not the rule.  Exceedingly rare, not mundane.

As has been oft quoted, the power to tax involves the power to destroy.  The First Amendment should not be turned into a tax on our speech.



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