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Daily Howler: When John McCain made wild misstatements, Stephanopoulos praised his ''straight talk''
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IT’S SO EASY (PART 3)! When John McCain made wild misstatements, Stephanopoulos praised his “straight talk:” // link // print // previous // next //

IT’S SO EASY (PART 3): Disinforming younger voters is a seminal part of the strategy. Social Security won’t be there for you: Young voters have heard the claim for years (although it makes no sense at all), and Bush pushed the line again and again during last week’s town hall meetings (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/8/05). And yes, the campaign is deliberate and scripted. On Sunday, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did Late Edition. He knew he should pimp the line too:
MCCONNELL (2/6/05): Four years from now, the baby-boomers start retiring. Young people think they're more likely to see a UFO than they are a Social Security check.
This time, the UFOs were back! Meanwhile, in that morning’s Washington Post, twenty-something Laura Thomas offered a version of the same gonzo claim. “People my age are as likely to believe in Social Security as they are in Santa Claus,” the young, know-nothing music scribe proclaimed. But then, why wouldn’t young voters like Thomas be disinformed about this matter? They’ve heard this claim, unrebutted, for years. Indeed, on that morning’s Fox News Sunday, young Americans saw Dick Cheney reciting the phony claim too:
CHENEY (2/6/05): If we do nothing, then the system's going to go belly up. It's going to go broke. It won't be there for today's younger generation, so that when kids 20 years old now, starting out in the workforce, get to be 65, they know full well that Social Security won't be there for them because it is not then properly funded.
Social Security won’t be there for them! Let’s speak frankly: Cheney was baldly dissembling, as usual. But as usual, his statement went unrebutted. His host, Chris Wallace, heard what his guest said. And politely, he stared into air.

Is it really surprising when people like Thomas believe that Cheney’s claim must be true? Major “journalists” simply refuse to challenge this scripted misstatement. But just how polite will big scribes be when Bush’s men set out to deceive you? Consider George Stephanopoulos’ world-class fawning on Sunday’s This Week.

The weak fellow’s guest was John McCain. Try to believe—just try to believe—that a major host actually said it:

STEPHANOPOULOS (2/6/05): Okay, let's turn to Social Security. Two straight-talk questions right at the top...
Good God! Two “straight-talk” questions? Knowing McCain’s favorite term of self-praise, Stephanopoulos started by pimping it for him! Result? Thirty seconds later, the ol’ straight-talker was bull-sh*tting right in George’s face:
MCCAIN (2/8/05): I haven't seen the specific outlines, but I'm certainly with [Bush] in principle. I think that for us to wait 'til 2042 when it's completely bankrupt would be crazy. I think in 2018 if we're going to wait 'til even then, then we’re going to be faced with some stark choices, none of which are acceptable...
Say what? No, McCain didn’t read the script about UFOs. But there is no projection according to which SS will be “completely bankrupt” in 2042—or at any other point, for that matter. (According to the CBO, the system will pay full promised benefits until the year 2052.) And what could the famous straight-talker mean when he said there will be “no acceptable choices” as early as 2018? According to the gloomy projections of the SS trustees, that’s the year when payroll taxes start to bring in slightly less than SS needs to pay in benefits. But the system’s trust fund will make up the difference until the middle of the century. Here’s an “acceptable choice” for 2018: Congress can simply pay back the money it borrowed from Social Security, as Congress said—as John McCain said—it would do back when the money was borrowed.

Of course, as readers of the liberal web know, McCain has been making these oddball statements ever since last week’s State of the Union Address. As Media Matters reported last week, the ol’ straight-talker tossed a howler at NBC’s Brian Williams after the speech, saying that “we could wait until 15 years from now when there's no money at all left in the Social Security trust fund.” (According to the CBO, the trust fund expires in 2052.) And as we noted here at THE HOWLER, McCain wildly misstated on that evening’s Hardball. saying that Social Security will have “zero money” in 2042. (Left alone, the system will never have “zero money.” According to the CBO, it will be paying full benefits in the year 2042. The gloomy trustees say 73 percent.) But so what? Williams and Matthews are both good boys; neither said a word about McCain’s statements. And four days later, as Stephanopoulos pandered, the situation kept going downhill. Try to believe that this occurred even after McCain’s first misstatements:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Final straight-talk questions: What kind of benefit cuts should future retirees expect?

MCCAIN: I think it depends on when we do it. And, first of all, those who oppose this, my question is, is what is your answer? We wait 'til 2018 then we're gonna either cut benefits, raise taxes or some combination of both. I predict to you that this great national debate needs to go on. I think the president is very appropriately trying to address it now, but the opponents owe the American people an alternative solution besides the system going bankrupt over a relatively short period of time.

Good God! Even after McCain’s original misstatements, Stephanopoulos was still pimping his “straight-talker” slogan for him. And McCain responded with more bizarre claims—about the scary year 2018, and about “the system going bankrupt over a short period of time.”

Do you see why it’s easy to disinform voters with “journalists” like Stephanopoulos around? Try to believe that we saw what we did—that we saw a major TV host pimping a major pol’s favorite slogan, pretending he was getting “straight talk” even as his “straight-talking” guest was making weird misstatements. But then, when McConnell spoke of UFOs, Wolf Blitzer knew to stare into air, and Wallace let Cheney say, for the ten thousandth time, that Social Security “won’t be there for them.” It’s easy to disinform voters like Thomas with store-bought slackers like this in charge. It’s easy to treat her cohort like rubes with Stephanopoulos reading off your best slogans.

Social Security won’t be there for them! For decades, the bogus claim has lay at the heart of a scripted disinformation campaign. Tomorrow, we’ll review the way the mainstream press has averted its gaze from this scripted deception—and then we’ll ask if the liberal web has done enough to combat it.

TOMORROW: Press to Bush—it’s OK to “fib.”

FRIDAY: HOWLER HISTORY! John McCain’s endless follies!

DEM BOYS ARE EASY: And yes, it’s easy to disinform voters if you have these Democrats as your opponents. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Ted Kennedy still couldn’t get the simplest facts right:

RUSSERT (2//6/05): We have a situation where the number on people in Social Security is going to double. People, rather than spending 15 months, are going to spend 15 years. In 2018, the Social Security trust fund will begin to draw down, and in 2042 run a deficit, according to the trustees of the fund. What is your plan? What will you do? If the president's wrong, what would you do specifically to fix Social Security?

KENNEDY: Well, first of all, all the facts that you mention are correct, and we have a problem beyond the 2049—a problem. As you saw in those figures this morning, the CBO estimates they'll still—if we do nothing at all, we'll still be able to pay 81 percent of the budget to the— Let me tell you one thing. The president's program to make his tax cuts permanent is three times what's necessary to fix the national—to fix Social Security. Let's start with that.

RUSSERT: But we have—

KENNEDY: Let's start with that. You've asked the question and I'm giving you an answer.

Did you ever think you’d see the day when someone had worse information than Russert? After his silly “15 months versus 15 years” intro, Russert’s figures were selective, but accurate. (Why “selective?” Because he only cited the gloomy estimate from the SS trustees.) But Kennedy still couldn’t get his facts straight. By this appearance, he at least understood that he shouldn’t treat the trustees’ projection as established fact, as he and other Democratic senators had routinely been doing (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/4/05). But when he countered with the CBO estimate, he couldn’t get the figures right. The year 2049 plays no role in any of the basic projections, and the CBO has adjusted its “81 percent” estimate; it now says that SS will be able to pay 78 percent of promised benefits after the year 2052. As we told you last week: It’s easy for Bush to disinform voters when Senators Kerry, Kennedy and Lincoln go on TV using the figures which cut against their party’s position. This Sunday, Kennedy knew he should cite a more realistic estimate—but he couldn’t get his data straight when he did. In any other major field, would work like this ever be tolerated? So how about a little straight talk? If Kennedy can’t get these simple facts straight, he should drag his fat *ss off the air.