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Daily Howler: Four years later, the New York Times offers a take on Soc Sec
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FOUR YEARS LATER! Four years later, the New York Times offers a take on Soc Sec: // link // print // previous // next //

FOUR YEARS LATER: Omigod! Four-and-a-half years later!! In May 2000, Candidate Bush formally unveiled his widely-ballyhooed “principles” for reform of Social Security. Result? Yesterday, four-and-a-half years later, the New York Times offered a detailed, 1325-word review of a similar privatization plan—the retirement plan that Chile adopted with its 1980 Social Security Reform Act.

But there’s a shortcoming to the Times’ presentation—it appears on the paper’s op-ed page, and it’s written by Jose Pinera, Chiles’s secretary of labor and social security from 1978 to 1980, an advocate of the Chilean system. Indeed, to read Pinera’s account, one would think the Chilean system has worked just like a charm. With President Bush now suggesting that he’ll push for real changes in Social Security, citizens deserve to read about the Chilean system (and other such matters) in the news pages of our big papers. The Times should be planning to “flood the zone” in its pursuit of this upcoming story.

Alas, nothing like that happened during Campaign 2000, when Bush got considerable mileage (and massive praise from the press) for presenting his vague, misleading “principles.” As noted, Bush offered his principles in May 2000, at a time when little was happening in the campaign. In a serious society, big newspapers would have reported on systems like Chile’s; such reports could have given readers some idea of how privatization plans work. And they would have reported on the six full-blown privatization plans that had been formally presented in the Congress—in some cases by major players like Senators Kerrey and Moynihan and Representative Kasich.

Predictably, your press corps did nothing of the kind. As we’ve noted (links below), we’ve never been able to find any paper which reported on the foreign systems or on the detailed proposals which existed in Congress. Instead, the press corps did what it did with every topic in Campaign 2000—it turned Bush’s vague proposal into a referendum on “character,” with Bush praised for his “bold leadership” in presenting his principles and Gore attacked for “negativity” in opposing privatization. Big newspapers skipped the merits and turned directly to propaganda and Established Press Scripts. Your “press corps” embarrassed itself a hundred times in its “coverage” of Campaign 2000. But its coverage of Bush’s inspiring principles was one of the most striking cases.

This time around, Bush seems to mean it; we can assume that he’ll actually put forward some sort of plan, a plan on which Congress will actually vote. And this will give your somnolent “press corps” a chance to define its real character. Is your “press corps” just a collection of stooges, a body devoted to averting its gaze from proposals favored by the ownership class? Or is your “press corps” still an actual press corps? We’ve heard sweet dreams from Mr. Pinera, writing on the opinion page. Question: Is the Times news staff prepared to perform, out on page one of the paper?

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: All the stoolpigeons knew what to say when Bush announced his vague, pleasing “principles.” Bush was showing bold leadership, they said, and Gore was being disturbingly negative. How goon-like was the corps’ script-reading? Here are excerpts from three cable discussions. The script about Gore? He was being too negative. It was all just “attack, attack, attack:”

Hardball, MSNBC, May 5, 2000:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Norah, let’s start in talking about this amazing campaign. Who would have believed that George W. Bush would have looked so clean and so good right now after that bruising fight with John McCain? He’s up five points in a number of polls this week, and yet you see Al Gore picking away at him with these left jabs of his…It’s the same thing he did to Bill Bradley—attack, attack, attack.

Russert, CNBC, May 6, 2000:
JOE KLEIN: The concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he’s kind of becoming a one-trick pony.
TIM RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.
KLEIN: Attack. Attack.
RUSSERT: Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and he attacks, saying that is risky…Why—why—why does Gore just, almost knee-jerk, attack, attack, attack?

Inside Politics, CNN, May 17, 2000:
CHARLES COOK: For Governor Bush, it’s a chance to show sort of bold leadership…But at the same time, getting into that area is certainly a risky thing and it’s going to test all of George Bush’s abilities of persuasion to sell this, because Al Gore is very good at the attack, just look at what he did to Bill Bradley on health care…
BERNARD SHAW: What comes to mind, Stu?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, in general, he has been attacking for months now and there’s been a lot of criticism that he’s been overly negative. Once again, here, attack, attack.

“Almost knee-jerk,” Russert said, describing his own reaction.

Rothenberg was right about one thing, of course; there had been “a lot of criticism” of Gore’s disturbing behavior. Indeed, The Storeboughts all knew they should criticize Gore for his troubling criticism of Bush. For a four-part critique of the clownish way your “press corps” “covered” Soc Sec during Campaign 2000, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/15/02, along with the three HOWLERS which follow it.

LOOK WHO’S ATTACK-ATTACK-ATTACKING: Mort and Fred were pimping the script even before Bush announced his high principles. Here they are on The Beltway Boys on April 30, 2000:

KONDRACKE (4/30/00): Look, the dynamic here is perfectly obvious. Gore is behind in all the polls, so he's doing what worked with Bill Bradley, attack attack attack, and, you know, and he's hoping that it'll work on George W. Bush. The difference is that George W. Bush is not going to take it forever. I mean, George W. knows how to counterpunch, and I predict soon that he'll start doing it.

BARNES: Yes, he's not going to be the guy on the ropes just getting punched. No rope-a-dope for him. But look, Gore was attack attack attacking, and he's—in the beginning, and now he's been going down as a result of that attack attack attacking. He doesn't—I don't think he knows how to deal with Bush, who doesn't want to really get—engage him in a back-and-forth, wisely.

Amazing, isn’t it, to see the way these goons all agree to recite the same points? As Mort said, the dynamic was perfectly obvious all through the spring of this year.

On this program, the “boys” were disturbed because Gore had “attacked” Bush’s tax cut proposal. So they attack-attack-attacked him, and, within a matter of weeks, do did the stooges excerpted above. With the exception of two brief periods, this is the way your “press corps” behaved from March 1999 through November 2000. After that, they began to ponder: How had Gore lost the election?