FOX News host Bill O'Reilly falsely accused Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) of advocating "abortion of any kind on demand" in his recent speech at the National Press Club and of lying about President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. The truth is that Kennedy's speech advocated no specific changes to current abortion law, and his statements about the Social Security plan Bush is expected to propose were accurate.
On the January 13 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly claimed in his "Talking Points Memo" that Kennedy's "vision for America" included "abortion of any kind on demand." Here's what Kennedy actually said about abortion in his January 12 speech:
If we are serious about reducing the number of abortions, we must be serious about reducing unwanted pregnancy. We must accept policies with a proven track record of reducing abortion. History teaches that abortions do not stop because they are made illegal. Indeed, half of all abortions in the world are performed in places where abortions are illegal.
We do know, however, that the number of abortions is reduced when women and parents have education and economic opportunity. Our progressive vision is of an America where parents have the opportunity and the resources, including good prenatal care, to bring healthy children into the world.
Moreover, in 1999 Kennedy voted for a version of a ban on later-term abortions that included an exception for the life and health of the woman. The Republican-led Senate rejected that bill (S.Amdt. 2319 to S. 1692) in favor of a ban that did not include these exceptions.
On his radio show earlier that day, O'Reilly went further, suggesting that Kennedy and other progressives would approve of a case, featured the previous evening on The O'Reilly Factor, in which a 16-year-old boy in Michigan induced a miscarriage in his pregnant girlfriend by repeatedly hitting her abdomen with a miniature baseball bat. O'Reilly declared that Kennedy would be indifferent towards such a case:
From the January 13 edition of The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:
O'REILLY: You know, we had a story last night on The Factor, where at 16-year-old kid in Michigan took a baseball bat to his pregnant girlfriend's stomach -- and killed the fetus who was six months developed. And, the lawyer came on and said, "Well, why are we prosecuting this? There's no crime." You know? And that's -- Ted Kennedy believes that -- why bother with that? So, you wanna take a baseball bat and kill a fetus -- six months, go ahead. Now, the kid's been charged with a felony. The girlfriend hasn't -- even though the girlfriend said, "Fine, go ahead and do it."
O'Reilly failed to mention that the teen boy's lawyer, Miranda Massie, explained the previous evening that his client had resorted to this desperate measure "only after getting false medical information from official crisis hotlines and only after making other very desperate attempts to end this unwanted pregnancy."
Later in the "Talking Points Memo," O'Reilly accused Kennedy of lying about Bush's Social Security plan. He played a clip of Kennedy claiming that "President Bush is talking not just about a cut, but an incredible 33 percent cut" in Social Security benefits. O'Reilly made a show of refuting Kennedy by citing statistics from the Social Security administration indicating that "unless changes are made" to Social Security's finances, benefits will have to be cut. O'Reilly was apparently suggesting that large cuts are not Bush's fault, but rather an inevitable result of the system's finances. Of course, the fact that that the system faces a long-term shortfall doesn't change the fact that Bush's plan involves deep cuts in benefits. In addition, O'Reilly misleadingly implied that the only options are enacting Bush's plan (which involves benefit cuts) or doing nothing (which will involve benefit cuts, albeit farther into the future than in Bush's plan). In fact, other options exist that don't involve steep benefit cuts.
From the January 13 O'Reilly Factor:
Does the president really want to cut Social Security checks by a third? Hide the grannies. That's frightening -- if it were true. ... "Talking Points" dialed up the government's Social Security website, www.ssa.gov/qa.htm, whatever that means, and on the site it says this: "Unless changes are made, in the year 2042, benefits could be reduced by 27 percent and could continue to be reduced every year thereafter."
The site goes on to say, by the year 2079, benefits could be reduced by 33 percent. Uh, paging Senator Kennedy. That's a long way from Bush cutting Social Security by a third, is it not, Senator?
But Bush's expected plan cuts guaranteed benefits deeper than what the trust fund could pay if no changes were made to its financing. While Bush has not laid out a specific plan, the principles he and members of his administration have signaled -- in particular, indexing guaranteed benefits to prices rather than wages -- entail a 26 percent benefit cut relative to current law in 2042 and a 33 percent cut by 2052, as The Washington Post reported.
O'Reilly said of Kennedy's speech: "[T]his kind of misleading rhetoric hurts the progressive cause. ... The truth is that Social Security will have to change and everybody knows it." But of course, Kennedy did not propose doing nothing to shore up Social Security's financing. Other possibilities include a combination of modest tax increases combined with modest benefit cuts (see, for example, the Diamond-Orszag plan), adjustments to the income cap on eligible taxable income, increases in the retirement age, reductions in benefits paid to early retirees, or simple financing of the program using general revenue. Finally, O'Reilly ridiculed Kennedy's representatives, who, he claimed, "pointed to a newspaper article" to support his claim:
O'REILLY: Now, we called Kennedy's office today. He'd never face me because he knows I know what he's up to. His people pointed to a newspaper article to back up his claim against Bush. Nonsense!
But since Bush has yet to present a detailed proposal, no official estimates exist of such a proposal's impact on benefits. The Post and other papers have estimated the impact of indexing the initial benefits formula to price growth, rather than wage growth, which Bush administration officials have suggested will likely be part of the plan, as the Post explained.