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Daily Howler: Will the Post provide info about SS? Or will it just pen pompous eds?
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THE GHOST OF THE WASH POST FUTURE! Will the Post provide info about SS? Or will it just pen pompous eds? // link // print // previous // next //

THE GHOST OF THE WASH POST FUTURE: We’re going out to clean the pasture spring! Tomorrow we head for olde New Hampshire, where we’ll enjoy Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and Solstice, but will struggle not to have “happy holidays.” (Just imagine—that these semantic antics comes from the folks who have whined about “political correctness” for years.) But we look ahead to a critical year in which Social Security will come center stage. Will your press corps be up to the challenge? Alas! Here’s the way the one major figure clowned on the topic last week:
TUCKER CARLSON (12/16/04): [Gene] Sperling, the Democratic position on Social Security appears to be, everything is fine. The system is not going to blow up for quite some time. In the meantime, calm down. And the Bush administration's position, as you know, is, let's do something about it now, because, pretty soon, the bill is going to come due.

I want to put up probably the most famous poll ever taken on Social Security. It was taken 10 years ago. But I think it says something important.

SPERLING: I know exactly the one you're talking about.

CARLSON: Yes. This was taken by Luntz Research, Frank Luntz. And it asked two questions. Will Social Security exist by the time you retire? Twenty-eight percent say yes. Second question, do you believe in UFOs? Forty-six percent say yes.


More people believe in UFOs than they do in Social Security being there when they retire! The Bush administration is on the side of the vast majority of the public. It's on the side of history.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! That was the pitiful Tucker Carlson on Crossfire, quoting a poll of the uninformed in an ongoing effort to mislead other voters. In 1994, just as today, there was no reason for people to think that SS “wouldn’t exist” by the time they retired. If Luntz really conducted this poll, his clueless respondents had already been misled by unrelenting disinformation. But Carlson keeps spinning this nonsense today—and just how frivolous is your “press corps?” Last year, this same man got his own weekly program on that high-brow net, PBS! Marie Antoinette’s powdered cohort laughed, danced and played. And so does your millionaire “press corps.”

Will the press meet the challenge of covering SS? An editorial in this morning’s Post isn’t encouraging. The unsigned eds are pretty sure they know the responsible path:

WASHINGTON POST (12/21/04): At his news conference yesterday, President Bush restated his reasons for wanting to reform Social Security. His starting principles are admirable: He assures people at or near retirement that their pensions won't be cut, and he rightly insists that Social Security is projected to go bust and that the best way to minimize the cost of a solution is to respond early. This call to action puts Mr. Bush ahead of many congressional Democrats, who cling to the irresponsible view that little or no Social Security reform is necessary and that all future benefits are untouchable.
Does the Post flip a coin when it writes editorials? On Sunday, the Post’s lead editorial seemed to criticize Bush for describing a “crisis” in Social Security. “The president's language may have been a bit hyperbolic,” the eds wrote. “[T]he funding shortfall in Social Security is big but not insurmountable.” But today, they go hyperbolic themselves. Is Social Security “projected to go bust?” And do readers know what they mean by that language—that they’re describing a modest “funding shortfall?” Almost surely not, so let us help. According to CBO projections, here’s what the editors mean; starting in the year 2052, the system will be able to pay only 81 percent of promised benefits—benefits which, adjusted for inflation, will be much higher than those paid out today. Do readers know that this is what the Post means when it says the system is “going bust?” Do they know we’re discussing the year 2052? Almost surely, no—they do not. But the editors act as a privileged class often does—lazily, inconsistently, incoherently, ineptly. Why do such groups behave this way? Most often, because they don’t care.

But no matter! After offering hyperbolic language themselves, the editors take a shot at the Dems. Democrats are “irresponsible,” they say, for suggesting that “little reform is necessary.” But readers, how much reform will be needed absent a recourse to private accounts? If the Post wants to provide a real service to readers, it will start to lay out the facts concerning this obvious question.

Are Democrats being irresponsible? How much reform will be needed to keep SS from “going bust?” Let’s suggest one piece of info the Post should offer to readers. At present, payroll taxes are paid on only the first $87,900 of income. But Republican senator Lindsey Graham has come up with a simple suggestion; as part of a larger package, he has proposed assessing payroll taxes on the first $200K of income. But readers! Suppose Congress voted that reform and no other? How “solvent” would the system be then? Under current arrangements, the system can pay full promised benefits right through 2052. But how far would solvency extend if just that one adjustment were made? This is the sort of information the Post should quickly provide to its readers. The eds can continue to sputter and shout, penning worthless, vague editorials in which they change from one day to the next. But mightn’t the Post also give information, so that readers can decide on these points for themselves? Are Democrats really “irresponsible” when they say little reform is needed? Isn’t it time for the Post to augment its lectures by letting its readers decide?

As we’ve shown you in the past, experts have said that minor changes can vastly extend the system’s solvency. According to Paul Krugman, the system becomes solvent through the next century if one-quarter of Bush’s tax cuts are devoted to that purpose (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/7/04). According to Baker and Weisbrot, the system becomes solvent for seventy-five years through minor hikes in the payroll tax rate—minor hikes that would leave future tax-payers earning far more than we earn today (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/10/04). The Post’s pompous editors give good lecture—but the paper’s reporters provide little info. In the new year, will the Post let its readers examine this info? Instead of telling us who is “admirable,” will the Post simply tell us what would happen if that suggestion by Graham became law?

In short, will the Washington Post do its job? If you’ve followed this mess that we still call a “press corps,” you’ll join us in a bit of holiday despair. Where we live, more people believe in UFOs than in a competent Washington press corps. Can you see the ghost of the Wash Post Future? Do you see the paper offering real information? Or do you see more of those wandering editorials, penned by those coin-flipping eds?

THE GHOST OF RICHARD COHEN PRESENT: As usual, Richard Cohen seems clueless on his facts. After more-or-less flipping a coin, he seems to come out against private accounts in this morning’s column. (I fell for Bush the last time, he reasons.) But as is the gentleman’s well-known wont, he doesn’t seem to know basic facts:

COHEN (12/21/04): The trouble with Bush's Social Security plan is that it is almost entirely driven by ideology. For instance, one obvious way to pump some cash into the Social Security trust fund is to raise taxes—not on you and me, mate, but on the rich. But as with income taxes, the rich shall not be touched in this administration and so common sense is off the table.
But Cohen—a working stiff, just like you, mate—doesn’t seem to be following the story. In the past two days, Bush and his major spokesmen (Andrew Card, John Snow) have repeatedly refused to rule out higher taxes on high-income earners. They have been asked, again and again, if the “ceiling” on the payroll tax might be raised, the tax increase which Graham suggested. Result? All three men repeatedly refused to take this option off the table. We agree that Bush wouldn’t likely accept a stand-alone hike in the payroll tax ceiling. But as usual, Cohen doesn’t seem to know what has been happening in the real world. So what will happen in the new year? Do you think this lazy man’s lazy paper is going to type up real facts?

THE GHOST OF O’REILLY UNHINGED: Bill O’Reilly continued his clowning—and his open dissembling—on The Factor last night. In Sunday’s New York Times, Kate Zernike had written a sensible piece about the ongoing Holiday Wars. Deep in the piece, she included one paragraph about Mr. O—a paragraph which was perfectly accurate:

ZERNIKE (12/19/04): Of course, for many conservatives, this controversy is not just about Christmas; it's a way to talk about a whole float of issues. Bill O'Reilly warned viewers that store clerks no longer saying ''Merry Christmas'' foretold the imminence of ''a brave new progressive world'' where gay marriage, partial birth abortion and legalized drugs run rampant.
With perfect accuracy, Zernike described the ludicrous “Talking-Points Memo” we quoted in yesterday’s HOWLER.

Result? Last night, O’Reilly did what he seems to do best; he name-called wildly and deceived his viewers. As usual, he played the boo-hooing victim, exposed to “real smear stuff,” he said. The Los Angeles Times’ Tim Rutten? He’s “a vile character assassin,” Bill said. And then, he deceived about Zernike:

O’REILLY (12/21/04): The New York Times actually did a hard news piece about the controversy entitled "Does Christmas Need to be Saved?" Here's a shock. The Times doesn't think so.

Reporter Kate Zernike uses The Times playbook and blames the dreaded conservatives for causing all the ruckus. She then tries to demean the folks who think Christmas should be publicly respected, writing, "Of course, for many conservatives, this controversy is not just about Christmas; it's a way to talk about a whole float of issues. Bill O'Reilly warned viewers that store clerks no longer saying 'Merry Christmas' foretold the imminence of a brave new progressive world where gay marriage, partial birth abortion and legalized drugs run rampant."

Of course, Ms. Zernike's analysis of my column, which is posted right now on, is misleading in the extreme and she knows it. Anybody who reads it could know it. Just go there, read it, and read her article. It's absurd.

As usual, Mr. O was fooling his viewers. Zernike hadn’t analyzed a column; she quoted something Bill said on The Factor. And Bill seemed to be lying about her report, which outlines excesses in the current controversies from various points on the spectrum.

But sadly, no one deceives like O’Reilly. Soon he was boo-hoo-hooing to his first guest. Why, he even played dumb about Canada:

O’REILLY: All right, where am I going wrong here? All these people hate me. And I'm an anti-Semite, I'm a homophobe—I'm anti-Canadian! That really hurt! I'm anti-everything! And all I'm sticking up for is the baby Jesus. So what's the deal?
Bill feigned complete incomprehension, especially about that crazy Canada business. But he knew how Canada (and how gayness) got into the mix (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/04). He just hoped his deceived viewers didn’t.

As readers will know, we used to wish that O’Reilly’s performance would improve, because we respected some parts of his work. He was far more fair to Candidate Gore than the vast majority of cable hosts, and we generally think his contrarian instincts are helpful when it came to sleazy pap aimed at children. But the wheels have been coming off his cart for years, and today he’s an outright crackpot/dissembler. Roger Ailes puts this mess on the air. Last night, Ailes watched as his pious star name-called wildly—and as he deceived Fox News viewers.