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Free Market Project

3/7/2006 12:44:27 AM

Updated 02/24/06

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Media Jump on Social Security “Cuts” to Obscure Details of Bush Plan

Washington Post, New York Times herald “benefit cuts” while news networks dismiss President Bush’s sales pitch.

By Charles Simpson
April 29
, 2005

     In the walkup to President Bush’s April 28, 2005, news conference, both ABC’s Terry Moran and CBS News’ John Roberts stated that Bush was planning to cut Social Security benefits for wealthier Americans. However, even after the president made his objectives clear, the next morning’s Washington Post claimed "Bush Social Security Plan Would Cut Future Benefits," while the New York Times announced "Bush Cites Plan That Would Cut Social Security Benefits." Actually, that isn’t the case.

     During his introductory remarks, the president proposed “a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off.” The Wall Street Journal on April 29, 2005, explained how he would accomplish that goal: "Under his proposal to adjust benefit levels, low-income workers would continue, as they do under current law, to have their initial retirement benefits linked to the growth of wages in the economy. But the wealthiest seniors would have their initial benefits tied to price inflation, which generally rises more slowly than wages."

     Wages grow faster than inflation, so this means Bush is advocating an increase in benefits for lower-income workers. The fact that higher earners don't get the same increase doesn't constitute a cut – it just means their benefits will stay the same. This proposed benefit arrangement is designed to help Social Security's long-term solvency problem.

     On ABC’s “World News Tonight” April 28, 2005, Moran took two clips out of context and used them to make it appear the president was contradicting himself. In the first clip, the president told retirees that his plan will not change their benefits, which Moran called “reassuring seniors.” Then, in a voice over in the second clip, Moran claimed the President was “painting a dire picture” by warning of Social Security’s pending insolvency during another publicity stop.

     In a later segment, substitute anchor Elizabeth Vargas asked former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, “And Terry just said the president is looking to jump-start the debate and the talk on these two issues. Can he succeed?”

     Stephanopoulos poured on the cynicism: “I don’t think so. Not likely, Elizabeth. This will address the issues of Republicans who said they want to see more details, a plan from the president. And it will put more pressure on Democrats to come up with a plan on their own. But, as Terry said, the Democrats are united against this idea of private accounts …And as long as it’s on the table, I think you’re gonna have a stalemate in the Congress.”

     CBS also handicapped the president’s chances on the April 28 broadcast. John Roberts on the “CBS Evening News” led off his report saying, “President Bush has been trying to build a more solid line to voters by holding press conferences every month of his second term. But tonight’s request for prime-time coverage to a massive audience is an indication that he’s run into some serious problems in communicating his agenda.”

     If the president has had a hard time reaching out to the public, it could be because of slanted coverage like that. The Free Market Project’s latest special report, Biased Accounts: Networks Guarantee Liberal View of Social Security,” discusses in detail how the media have crusaded against the President’s reforms.


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