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STRETCHING THE TRUTH! George Bush lied in Josh Wright’s face. And David Gregory knew not to tell you: // link // print // previous // next //

STRETCHING THE TRUTH: Is it news when a president baldly deceives a panel of decent, average Americans? To the Washington press corps, that just isn’t news—if the president’s name is George Bush. On Tuesday morning, Bush baldly misstated elementary facts about Social Security at his hyped public forum (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/12/05). Indeed, how contemptuous was Bush’s performance? In yesterday’s post, we left out the part when he lied in the face of a 27-year-old dairy farmer from Utah. The young dairy farmer’s name is Josh Wright. Try to believe that Bush said it:
BUSH (12/11/05): If nothing happens, at your age, [Social Security] will be bust by the time it comes time for you to retire. That's why we have a person in the mid-20s here, beside the fact the guy's got a pretty good sense of humor. (Light laughter.)

If nothing takes place; if Congress says, "Oh, don't worry, we'll just push it down the road, you know; why do we need to deal with it; there's no crisis;” if nothing happens and we don't start moving on it now, by the time Josh gets to retirement age, the system will be flat broke. And that's not right, it doesn't seem like to me. Seems like people who have been elected to office must say, "We want it to be wholesome and healthy," like it has been for other generations.

But of course, Social Security will not be “flat broke” by the time Josh Wright retires. According to the CBO, what will Social Security really be doing when Wright retires? The system will be paying full guaranteed benefits—benefits that will be much larger than the benefits being paid today! Even according to the projections of the Social Security trustees—projections based on extremely gloomy assumptions about economic growth—Josh Wright will get larger benefits than his grandfather gets today. Bush invited Wright to fly in from Utah. Then he sat with young Wright on a bright public stage, and lied right in his face.

But is it news when a president acts this way, about a humongous budget proposal? Not at NBC News, it isn’t. At NBC, David Gregory (pet name: “Stretch”) reported on the president’s forum. And you know how men like Gregory play it. Gregory sat there and watched the president lie, right in the face of that young Utah farmer. But when “Stretch” went on the air that night, he knew not to tattle or tell.

How did Gregory report the forum? In fact, the only real news the session produced was Bush’s larger-than-life dissembling. But Gregory managed to ignore it completely. Here’s the start of his report on Tuesday’s NBC Nightly News:

GREGORY (1/11/05): Finding Social Security reform a tough sell, even within his own party, the president today stepped up his campaign, pitching major changes to the retirement program to younger workers.

BUSH (videotape): So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust.

Holy cow! Gregory even played tape of Bush’s false claim—his claim that the system is going “flat bust.” Needless to say, Gregory knows this is false—but he also knows that he mustn’t tell voters. Here is the rest of his report—a report in which he gazed away from Bush’s flagrant misstatements:
GREGORY (continuing directly): Before settling on a final proposal, aides say the president needs more time to define the problem, one he calls a crisis. Last week, The Wall Street Journal obtained this memo from a White House adviser who said the strategy must be to convince the public that “the current system is heading for an iceberg.”

Despite criticism that the president is exaggerating the need for change, he's called for allowing younger workers to create private savings accounts, investigating a portion of their payroll taxes. But that's not all. The administration might propose altering the formula for how benefits are calculated, in other words, cutting benefits over time. It wouldn't impact older Americans at or near retirement, but to 24-year-old Devin Griffin, a business analyst in Chicago, it would make a big difference. When he's eligible to retire with full benefits in 2048, the current system would pay him approximately $1,600 a month. If the formula used to calculate his benefits relied on inflation rates rather than his wages, as is now the case, he would get roughly $1,100 a month from Social Security, nearly a third less.

GRIFFIN (videotape): It would be wholly unfair for me as a worker to pay in an amount and get back significantly less than I had expected to.

GREGORY: But supporters of the benefit cut say personal accounts could help.

DAVID JOHN, Social Security Analyst: A personal retirement account allows them to come much closer to the same level of retirement income that their parents and their grandparents have been promised.

GREGORY: Democrats are opposed to the idea, and Republicans are worried, some fearing the president's reform ideas could cost them control of Congress. David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.

Gregory did tell viewers, as part of one sentence, that someone has said that President Bushis exaggerating the need for change.” But Gregory watched the president lie in the face of the young Utah dairy farmer—and he knew he mustn’t tell NBC’s viewers what their Great, Mighty Leader had done.

How comical is the American discourse? Incredibly, as “newsmen” like Gregory cover for Bush, the air is full of loud complaints about the press corps’ vast “liberal bias!” You live at a time of complete propaganda, and Storeboughts like Gregory (pet name: Stretch) know their prime role in the process.

THE SPEECH NOT GIVEN: Note to Gregory (pet name: Stretch): When a president lies in the face of the people, that is the day’s biggest news. Once you played tape of Bush’s vast misstatements, this is what should have followed:

GREGORY: Finding Social Security reform a tough sell, even within his own party, the president today stepped up his campaign, pitching major changes to the retirement program to younger workers.

BUSH (videotape): So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust.

WHAT GREGORY SHOULD HAVE SAID: Bush repeatedly said, during the session, that Social Security would be, quote, “bankrupt,” “flat bust” and “flat broke” at the time that 20-somethings retire. But the president’s claim is impossible to square with official projections by budget authorities. At one point, Bush told a 27-year-old Utah dairy farmer, Josh Wright, that Social Security would be “flat broke” by the time he retired. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, the system will still be paying full benefits until the year 2052, about a decade after Wright’s retirement. Even adjusted for inflation, those benefits will be larger than the benefits Wright’s grandfather gets today. Even after 2052, the system will still pay larger benefits than current retirees get. More conservative projections from the Social Security trustees say full benefits will be paid until the year 2042, with substantial benefits to be paid after that. But under no official projection will the system go “flat broke.” White House officials refused to respond to questions about Bush’s statements.

But David Gregory (pet name: Stretch) would hurl himself from the roof of The Palm before he would offer that Speech Not Given. Readers, you live at a time when Storebought Men gaze into air as Bush wildly misstates. As they do so, their networks interview loudmouths and fools who scold them for their vast “liberal bias.”

IN HONOR OF MARSHALL’S SUPERLATIVE WORK: Josh Marshall has done superlative work in assembling his list of the Fainthearted Faction—Democratic members of Congress who won’t step up on Social Security. Today, we start a list of their press corps auxiliary—scribes like Gregory, who simply won’t tell you when George Bush lies in the face of the people. We’ll add to the club as the days go on. Tomorrow, we induct John Roberts:

Pandering Poobahs of Positivity
1) David Gregory, NBC News (Gregory’s pet name is “Stretch”)