MSNBC host Keith Olbermann recognized Media Matters for America for documenting FOX News Washington managing editor Brit Hume and other pundits distorting a quote by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in order to claim that the former president would have supported privatizing Social Security. Olbermann described the initial distortion by Hume -- which prompted Air America Radio host Al Franken to call on Hume to resign -- as a "premeditated, historical fraud."
Nationally syndicated radio host and former Reagan administration official William J. Bennett, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, FOX News Live anchor David Asman, and CBS News Sunday Morning anchor and CBS Radio Network host Charles Osgood have all echoed Hume's false suggestion that FDR favored eventually "supplant[ing]" government funding of Social Security with private accounts, as President Bush has proposed. In fact, what Roosevelt was arguing for "supplanting" was government-funded pensions set up for Americans who were already too old in 1935 to contribute payroll taxes to the Social Security system. Roosevelt advocated "voluntary contributory annuities" -- which differ significantly from private accounts -- to supplement guaranteed Social Security benefits and never proposed replacing Social Security benefits with private accounts.
From a February 14 entry at Olbermann's "Bloggermann" weblog on the MSNBC website:
[Colorado college professor] Ward Churchill says some detestable things about 9/11 victims, so the Governor of Colorado wants to squeeze him out of the University there. Marine Corps Lieutenant General James Mattis tells an audience in San Diego "it's fun to shoot some people," particularly in Afghanistan, and his superior officers ask him to please not say stuff like that again. Eason Jordan makes a remarkable gaffe, implying that the U.S. military is hunting journalists. He backs off within moments of the remark, apologizes, and still gets forced to resign from CNN. Brit Hume and other political commentators twist Franklin Delano Roosevelt's words to make it look like he would've supported President Bush's partial privatization of Social Security, and nobody corrects their journalistic blunders, let alone resigns.
The Fox News folks, of course, specifically Brit Hume, squeezed the whole FDR thing. 'Media Matters For America' has done much of the legwork on breaking this down, and both on his radio show and at his website, Al Franken has done much of the publicizing. Hume, and others like those bastions of public conduct John Fund and Bill Bennett, have taken a bunch of 70-year old quotes out of context to make it look like Franklin Delano Roosevelt is endorsing President Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security.
Here's the full relevant segment from Roosevelt's message to Congress on Social Security and other similar programs from 1935: "In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps thirty years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."
The syntax is a little ancient but the message is pretty straightforward. For 1935, people who would only take money out of Social Security and not put any in, should have their contributions covered half by the federal government and half by the states. Later on, those contributions should be replaced by the "self-supporting annuity plans" -- which Roosevelt has already defined ("Second...") as the actual Social Security system. Buried in the formality of his third point, FDR is talking about things we would later know as IRA's and Keoghs and 401k's.
But look at how Hume mixed and matched the original Roosevelt quotes on February 4th (and we're quoting this verbatim from Fox's website) "...it turns out that FDR himself planned to include private investment accounts in the Social Security program when he proposed it. In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, 'Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age,' adding that government funding, 'ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.'"
Roosevelt said no such thing. The "voluntary contributory annuities" are the IRA's and Keoghs and 401k's. What "ought to ultimately be supplanted" was the special government contributions to Social Security on behalf of people born in the 1870's and earlier, and the "self-supporting annuity plans" constitute Social Security itself.
It's premeditated, historical fraud, but you will not see Hume nor Fox News backpedal from it (as Jordan did for his misdemeanor), nor apologize for it (as Jordan did), nor save their masters from its shame (as Jordan did -- of course there is no shame at Fox).
Media Matters has detailed how the "voluntary contributory annuities" Roosevelt envisioned would differ from private accounts in that their funds would be deposited into and paid out of the Social Security trust fund, and they would provide a government-guaranteed benefit like the mandatory contributions would, as Edwin Witte, executive director of Roosevelt's Committee on Economic Security, noted during 1935 congressional hearings on Roosevelt's Social Security bill.