CNN’S DEFINITION OF ‘AVERAGE’…. One of the great secrets of this year’s presidential campaign is that Barack Obama and John McCain have both released relatively detailed tax plans, and Obama’s tax breaks for the middle-class are significantly bigger than the Republican’s.

It doesn’t help at all when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, as part of his coverage of the Democratic convention, does a segment with retired basketball player Charles Barkley on the “average tax change” on incomes above $161,000, but leaves the 95% of Americans who make less out of the picture, both figuratively and literally.

Watching the clip, it was as if Blitzer just thought it’d be fun if he could get a multi-millionaire athlete to complain about Obama’s intention to raise taxes on the very wealthy. Barkley, a former Republican, didn’t take the bait: “Well, I think that if you’re rich — I thank God I’ve been very successful — if you’re rich, you’re always going to be rich. If we pay more in taxes, I got no problem with that. If you’re making that kind of money, a couple hundred thousand dollars here or there are not going to change your life.”

Barkley’s answer notwithstanding, CNN showed the “average tax change” for exactly four groups of incomes: those who make more than $2.9 million annually, more than $603,000, between $227,000 and $603,000, and those between $161,000 and $227,000. That’s not exactly a comprehensive look at the “average.”

Blitzer’s chart left out the entire middle-class, and just as importantly, the fact that those making $112,000 or less would actually get a bigger break from Obama than McCain. Given that McCain is running mendacious ads about Obama’s desire to “raise taxes,” it seems like the kind of detail a news network might want to mention, so the public will have all the facts.

To be fair, earlier in the summer, CNN did a brief segment that actually did a good job on the details. But airing an accurate report on taxes on an early morning in June, and then airing a misleading report on taxes during the Democratic convention, doesn’t amount to quality reporting.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.