Misunderstandings among political elites are no excuse, however. The misreporting of this story reflects two key weaknesses of political journalism—a lack of policy expertise and a weakness for narrative. Too many journalists don’t understand the tax code or other aspects of budget or fiscal policy especially well. Moreover, they have little incentive to add nuance or detail to their stories given the overwhelming priority given to dramatizing political conflict in entertaining ways. The idea that Obama would raise taxes on all income earned by the wealthy feeds perfectly into the spin from both campaigns. Why complicate things?

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Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. He blogs at brendan-nyhan.com and tweets @BrendanNyhan.