CON AIRS! Conservative bias rules the SS debate. Matthews, Kay and Kurtz make it clear:
FRIDAY, JANUARY 7, 2005
OK, WE WERE SEMI-WRONG: OK, well admit we were semi-wrong in trashing Kevin Drums motives last week. We prefer not to mind-read about individuals and we mind-read big-time in that instance.
But no, we really werent wrong on the merits. Heres another e-mail on the subject:
E-MAIL: I think that you went a bit overboard in blasting Kevin Drum's editorial. You were technically right that Clinton and Gore had not taken the lead on saying SS was an issue. But I got what he was saying—that "Heh, even Democrats have incorrectly subscribed to this incorrect notion that Social Security is in trouble" meme—and that those Democrats were wrong. Social Security isn't in trouble, sheesh—it's the only part of the Federal budget which remotely in balance right now!!The mailer engages in mind-reading too, and hes charitable in his account of what Drums piece said. But we dont like to mind-read individuals, and our posts were egregious examples of an undesirable practice.
However, back to the facts: Clinton and Gore played essentially no role in persuading a generation that SS wouldnt be there for them. And yes, its absurd to write an unflattering account of how that occurred which mentions them and no one else. Here at THE HOWLER, were sick of seeing Republicans dump crazy claims on Clinton/Gores head. Its inexcusable when libs and Dems do it. We were wrong to trash Kevins motives (hes doing some very good work on SS). But as a matter of fairness and integrity, the casual slanders of Clinton and Gore really must come to an end.
CON AIRS: If you have friends who still believe that the press corps is driven by liberal bias, you might invite them to take a look at the privatization debate.
Lets start with a pundit who favors the right, Foxs blunderbuss, Bill OReilly. Mr. Os work continues to devolve into blatant self-parody. On Tuesday night, he began his show with a pious memo about SS:
OREILLY (1/4/05): Telling the whole truth. That is the subject of this evening's Talking Points Memo.The program would be totally voluntary? Since Bush still hasnt presented a plan, there is no way to reach such an (unlikely) judgment. But so what? After telling the whole truth about two other topics, Mr. O finished up his silly clowning:
OREILLY: And that's the whole truth. Now you can make up your mind about Social Security, foreign aid and Alberto Gonzales. As always, Talking Points isn't trying to persuade you. As Jack Webb used to say, we just want the facts, ma'am.Now you can make up your mind, he said—again displaying the clowning inanity that increasingly defines our public debate. For the record, telling the whole truth about Social Security takes about 25 words on Fox. Yes, thats a case of screaming inanity—but it surely cant be called liberal bias.
But you dont have to go to conservative Fox that to see Big Scribes pimping privatization. Lets review the panel from Sundays Chris Matthews Show—an utterly vacuous five-member gang which included only one conservative.
How do major mainstream pundits discuss Bushs ideas for SS? Simple! They take turns reciting the doomsday views of disinformed, know-nothing voters. Another blunderbuss kicked things off, then threw to the hopeless Katty Kay:
MATTHEWS (1/2/05): Younger people in their—you've seen these polls, where more young people in their 20s and 30s believe in UFOs than they believe their money's going to be there when they're 65. Is—youre laughing. Go ahead, Katty!Matthews recited an RNC script, invoking Frank Luntzs 1993 poll of disinformed younger voters. And guess what? If you think BBC scribes are a cut above, you havent yet seen hopeless Katty:
KAY (continuing directly): Extraordinary poll!Is Kay in the grip of liberal bias? She simply called Luntzs poll extraordinary, making no effort to note the fact that its young respondents were grossly ill-informed. After that, she quickly said that Bushs proposal is the way to fix the system. (Somewhere between 2 to $4 trillion it's going to cost to fix the system, she added.) Whatever this is, this is not liberal bias. Nor was such bias on display when Matthews explained the sense of urgency around the Bush proposal:
MATTHEWS: Here's the urgency. Pretty soon you'll have two people working for one retiree. That means a person has to kick in 50 percent of somebody else's retirement check every day when they go to work.Another alarmist RNC spin-point, offered without any context or challenge. Soon Tucker Carlson, the panels sole official conservative, felt the need to recite the point about what young people think:
CARLSON: I want to say two things. One, young people are affected by this. They don't vote in the way that older people do, A, and B, I don't think they're as—I mean, perhaps they ought to be because it affects them. I do think they assume, people under 40 assume they're not going to see the money anyway. I don't think they're vested.One more time, Carlson recited the disinformed view—young people assume SS wont be there for them. This view was recited again and again, in a panel of five major journalists. But none of the panelists ever pointed out that this Luntz-driven view is utterly silly. Sam Donaldson and Campbell Brown also stared into air as this silly claim drove the debate. And no one challenged the days basic frame—that Bushs proposal was a reform that would fix the troubled system. Whatever was driving this hapless debate, it surely was not liberal bias.
But then, lets review one more Major Pundit, the Washington Posts Howard Kurtz. Does liberal bias drive Kurtz on SS? Take a look at the views he expressed in an on-line column this week:
KURTZ (1/5/05): Prediction: The Social Security debate is going to turn pretty ugly pretty fast...Is Kurtz driven by liberal bias? In fact, he perfectly states the conservative view (the difficulties of SS have been swept under the rug). The liberal view is just the opposite, of course; liberals believe that a phony crisis has been ginned, up, largely when journalists keep reciting that inane, ancient poll by Frank Luntz. Is Kurtz in the grip of liberal bias? He betrays just the opposite view.
So readers, deliver the word to your friends. In this, as in so many debates, conservative spin-points seem to rule the discussion. And whats the greatest such spin-point of all? What else? The claim that scribes like Matthews/Kurtz/Kay are driven by that vile liberal bias!
AMAZING ADVANCES: Amazing! A Thursday post by the APs Leigh Strope correctly describes the amount of money workers will be allowed to invest under Bushs SS proposal:
STROPE (1/6/05): The administration is focusing on a proposal that would let workers divert two-thirds of their payroll taxes into investment accounts, up to an annual limit of $1,000 to $1,300, an administration official told The Associated Press on Tuesday.Why is that presentation amazing? Because on Tuesday, in his initial report, Strope got this simple fact wrong:
STROPE (1/4/05): The Bush administration is focusing on a Social Security proposal that would allow younger workers to invest up to 4 percent of their payroll taxes in private accounts, with contributions limited to about $1,000 to $1,300 a year, an official said Tuesday.Amazing, isnt it? On Tuesday, workers were investing up to four percent of their payroll taxes. By Thursday, instead of four percent, they were investing two-thirds!
As weve noted, this is a bone-simple part of the Bush SS plan, but Strope—who has been reporting this topic for years—still couldnt state it correctly on Tuesday. Thursdays formulation is basically accurate. Lets hope the construction prevails.
Note: To see Media Matters on Strope, click here. And here is a letter from David Cay Johnston to Romenesko on this matter (scroll down). Johnston scolds the AP for making this blunder. But uh-oh! As weve noted, Johnstons New York Times colleague, Edmund Andrews, typed the same groaner last month.
And yes—the claim that were diverting a small portion of payroll taxes is reassuring disinformation, crafted long ago by your GOP masters. Does liberal bias rule the press on SS? After years of reporting this topic, Strope and Andrews (and the Posts Jeff Birnbaum) still hadnt gotten the word.