In my local paper, the Monterey County Herald, this morning, on the front page above the fold is the following headline: “GOP may approve payroll tax hike.” It was a shocking headline and the story, by Charles Babington of the Associated Press, confirmed my shock. But that’s not the point I want to emphasize because I’m sure various bloggers will be all over this in the next hours and days.

Instead, I want to point out something extremely rare about the story. In the 5h paragraph (the 3rd paragraph of the Seattle Times version that I found on the web), Babington writes the following:

The policy [the Social Security tax cut on employees] helps the 46 percent of all Americans who owe no federal income taxes but who pay a “payroll tax” on practically every dime they earn.

Why is that striking? In the last 10 years, with all the debate about the Bush tax cuts, when can you remember an AP story that said forthrightly, in the first few paragraphs, no less, that almost half of all Americans pay no income tax? That’s a point many of us have made in response to claims that the Bush tax cut didn’t do enough for low-income people. We have pointed out that it’s hard to cut income taxes for people who–pay no income tax. We’ve had little mainstream media support for this obvious claim.

So why does Babington mention it now? I leave that as an exercise for the reader.