News Coverage Skews View of Social
Networks deliver liberal talking points
and then the media wonders why support for personal accounts isn’t
by Herman Cain
Â Â Â Â According to the most recent
Washington Post /ABC poll, President Bush’s plan to restructure
the Social Security system has lost public support. What the poll
doesn’t tell you is that the network news has focused so much on the
liberal side of this debate that the result isn’t a surprise. It’s a
Â Â Â Â The Post story stated, “58 percent of those
polled this time said the more they hear about Bush's plan, the less
they like it.” And what are they hearing about Bush’s plan? That
it’s a bad idea, of course. The networks have been beating up the
idea of restructuring Social Security for months.
Â Â Â Â A new study by the Media Research Center’s Free Market
Project finds that the evening news shows delivered liberal talking
points on the Social Security debate more than twice as often as
points from the conservative side advocating restructuring Social
Security. The idea of personal retirement accounts doesn’t stand a
chance with numbers like those.
Â Â Â Â The study looked at the evening news programs on CBS,
ABC, NBC, CNN and Fox between Nov. 15, 2004, and March 15, 2005.
This time frame covered the heart of Bush’s proposal to reform
Social Security from soon after his re-election through the launch
of his “60 stops in 60 days” campaign. The study examined use of
liberal and conservative talking points in Social Security stories
as part of an ongoing analysis of media coverage of this debate.
Â Â Â Â CNN and CBS battled it out for the “honor” of being the
worst. Fifty-six percent of the CBS stories had a liberal leaning
compared to just 20 percent conservative. Over at CNN, it was 61
percent liberal and 22 percent conservative. Although the tally was
close, CBS won by undermining conservative positions whenever
Â Â Â Â Russ Mitchell of “CBS Evening News” wouldn’t even give
the president credit for facts that are indisputable. According to
Mitchell, “Mr. Bush said he’s open to any good idea to fix a system
he claims is heading for bankruptcy.” Bush doesn’t have to “claim”
the system is going bankrupt. According to the Social Security
Administration Trustees, benefits paid to retirees will exceed
payroll taxes collected by 2017. By 2041 the system will be totally
Â Â Â Â Mitchell’s report was the tip of the CBS iceberg. CBS
reporter John Roberts said Bush turned down a “modest increase in
weekly payroll taxes” to save the system. A “modest” increase in
payroll taxes is just another band-aid that has been done 20 times
before, and the system is still headed for bankruptcy.
Â Â Â Â Proponents of increasing payroll taxes claim that 1.89
percent more is needed from each paycheck. That “modest” amount is
equal to a 15 percent increase in our current Social Security tax
burden, but don’t count on CBS to do the math. On several occasions,
they had financial planners try to calculate the possible impact of
personal accounts. Twice, CBS mistakenly had young people retiring
at age 65, even though the age they can retire and receive full
benefits is currently 67. One of the planners CBS spoke with said,
“The human brain has been wired for social interactions, not
analyzing numbers.” CBS needs to do a little more research on the
Social Security system’s future insolvency. This is not advanced
calculus, it is simple arithmetic.
Â Â Â Â CNN had almost as bad of a liberal tilt as CBS.
According to CNN Political Analyst Bill Schneider, “Reducing
guaranteed benefits seems to be part of the president’s solution,
but most Americans think that’s not the solution, that’s the
problem.” The real problem is the media’s refusal to report the fact
that if nothing is done, benefits will be reduced – big time. If
Congress fails to act, they are guaranteeing benefits will be
reduced, taxes will be raised or both. That vital point got lost in
the endless he said/she said debate.
Â Â Â Â The only bright spot in the study was coverage by the
Fox News Channel. Critics like to target Fox for its use of the
slogan “fair and balanced.” Guess what? Their coverage of the issue
was exactly as advertised. Fox registered 30 percent with more
liberal talking points and another 30 percent with more conservative
ones. The remaining stories were neutral. Democratic leaders made
regular appearances promoting their side of the debate. Not exactly
a right-wing bastion, but compared to the left-wing tilt at the
other networks, it must seem like it.
Â Â Â Â Network news should be about accurate information – the
foundation all of us need to consider personal accounts as a way to
fix Social Security. The idea of personal accounts involves personal
accountability. Come to think of it, accountability is a good idea
for TV news. Too bad they don’t embrace it.
Herman Cain, former president and chairman of
Godfather's Pizza, Inc., former senate candidate in Georgia, and
former CEO of the National Restaurant Association, is now the
national chairman of the Media Research Center's Free Market
Project. Dan Gainor is director of the
Free Market Project.
This op-ed ran in Investor’s Business Daily on May 17, 2005.