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3/1/2006 6:02:27 AM

Updated 02/24/06

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Social Security’s Retirement Date Long Passed
70th anniversary marked by media spin on reforming the system.

By Dan Gainor
August 15, 2005

     Sunday marked the 70th birthday of a program that is fast running out of money and that Congress lacks the will to fix. By Social Security’s own age measurements, that means it’s five years past retirement. But journalists and politicians marked the event with a rah-rah attitude.

     The Aug. 14 Washington Post led off with a story by Jonathan Weisman, illustrated by two separate anti-reform photos taken at the FDR memorial, under the headline “Happy 70th Birthday, Social Security.” The Business section followed with a defense of the status quo by “Color of Money” columnist Michelle Singletary. The New York Times chimed in on Aug. 15 with a column by left-wing economist Paul Krugman that contained multiple misrepresentations.

     Here’s a quick summary of the coverage:

  • Each picture tells a thousand words: In the case of the Post’s Weisman story, readers got 2,000 words, all against Social Security reform. The top picture was of people holding signs from “Americans United to Protect Social Security,” a group that opposes changing the system. The next photo captured a view of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt statue at his memorial in D.C. and was used by reform opponents to invoke the Roosevelt legacy to promote the program.
  • Most successful?: Krugman started off with a claim that Social Security is the nation’s “most successful government program.” Krugman’s idea of success is a program that is a Ponzi scheme built on the backs of an ever-declining number of workers. Without comparing every single department, it’s still easy to remind Krugman that the American military has kept the United States safe from foreign conquerors – even the Nazis and imperial Japanese in World War II.
  • Krugman’s biggest falsehood: According to the skewed view of the Times’ economist, “a few months ago the conventional wisdom was that President Bush would get his way on Social Security.” Even for Krugman, this is an amazing falsehood. For decades, Social Security has been known as the “third rail of American politics” because anyone who dared touch it would be electrocuted. To claim Bush was going to get his way when Democrats hold enough Senate seats to filibuster anything is outright spin.
  • Krugman’s second biggest falsehood: Krugman added that “the punditocracy” was “very much in favor of privatization.” Unless he means a few talking heads on the Sunday news shows, Krugman is out of touch. A Free Market Project analysis of Social Security news coverage on the five major networks found reporting biased toward the left by a margin of 2 to 1. Not exactly support for reform.
  • Consider these facts: Post columnist and NPR regular, Michelle Singletary brought her own liberal spin to the anniversary. After telling readers about how her grandmother and brother had received benefits, she proceeded to list several facts about the program. Among these was that “More than nine out of 10 people age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits.” However, she followed with “Without Social Security benefits, 46.8 percent of Americans age 65 and older would have incomes below the poverty line.” She should have said that nearly all seniors receive Social Security whether they need it or not and, clearly, 53.2 percent don’t need it to stay out of poverty.
  • Smoke and mirrors: Singletary devoted a good chunk of her column to disability benefits, which are not  being addressed by any prominent reform plan.
  • All I want for Christmas: Weisman’s article quoted Rep. Anne M. Northrup (R-Ky.) outlining the dream she has for reform: “The plan I support for strengthening Social Security would not increase taxes, it would guaranteed promised benefits, and it would make Social Security permanently solvent.” With economic leadership like that, it’s easy to see why reform plans have failed.


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