Declaring that his "overheated liberal critics" should "calm down, as we look at the facts," Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund distorted the facts to defend his allegation -- first made by Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume -- that former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported "supplant[ing]" government funding of Social Security with private accounts. In his March 14 "On the Trail" column on The Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com, Fund (1) erroneously asserted that "at no point did Mr. Hume or I claim that FDR would have endorsed Mr. Bush's private accounts," and (2) falsely maintained that Roosevelt supported some form of "private plans," even though he belatedly conceded that Roosevelt did not envision that they would supplant the basic Social Security system. In fact, both Fund and Hume explicitly tied their distortions of Roosevelt to Bush's plan for private accounts, and Roosevelt's plan for voluntary contributory annuities was fundamentally different from any form of private investment plan in that Roosevelt's annuities would have gone through the Social Security trust fund and provided guaranteed benefits.
Although he conceded that he had "confuse[d] the terminology of the day by thinking Roosevelt's call for supplanting old-age pensions referred to Social Security," Fund downplayed his distortion of Roosevelt while simultaneously providing false cover for himself and Hume:
Former Social Security commissioner Robert Ball properly notes that I did confuse the terminology of the day by thinking Roosevelt's call for supplanting old-age pensions referred to Social Security. Instead, he was referring to the need to replace an early welfare program for the elderly with Social Security.
But at no point did Mr. Hume or I claim that FDR would have endorsed Mr. Bush's private accounts. We were correct in noting that FDR had proposed a voluntary program to allow people to buy annuities.
But both Hume and Fund strongly suggested that Roosevelt would support Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security. As Media Matters for America has previously documented when Fund distorted Roosevelt's words in the February 4 edition of the OpinionJournal.com's "Political Diary," he asserted that Roosevelt's "call for the establishment of Social Security directly anticipated today's reform agenda." Similarly, on the February 3 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume suggested that Senate Democrats were being hypocritical by invoking Roosevelt to oppose Bush's plan for private accounts:
HUME: Senate Democrats gathered at the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial today to invoke the image of FDR in calling on President Bush to remove private accounts from his Social Security proposal. But it turns out that FDR himself planned to include private investment accounts in the Social Security program when he proposed it.
Even after recognizing that Roosevelt's plan for voluntary contributory annuities would not divert money from Social Security payroll taxes, Fund's March 14 column continued to mislead readers about Roosevelt's attitude toward private accounts by asserting that Roosevelt recognized the importance of some form of "private plans" supplementing the basic Social Security system. As Media Matters has noted, Roosevelt's concept of "voluntary contributory annuities" did not resemble "private plans." Although that component of Roosevelt's plan did not pass through Congress, the plan would have placed income generated from the government's sale of voluntary "annuity certificates" to workers "into the trust fund along with the payroll taxes collected under the mandatory [Social Security] program," and "would guarantee the purchasers a definite amount of income" or guaranteed benefit level, as Edwin Witte, executive director of the Committee on Economic Security, noted during 1935 congressional hearings on Roosevelt's Social Security bill.
As Media Matters documented, Hume's original distortion of Roosevelt prompted Air America radio host Al Franken and Roosevelt's grandson and former Social Security associate commissioner James Roosevelt Jr. to call on Hume to resign. In an article in the March 2005 edition of The American Prospect, former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich -- who witnessed the Roosevelt distortion firsthand on the February 4 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson -- described it as illustrative of the difficulties in trying to get the "Republican propaganda machine" to be held accountable:
This is just one example of how the Republican propaganda machine is lying to the American people about Bush's plan for Social Security, just as it has lied about so much else. FOX News' many distortions are mirrored on other yell-television cable networks, on right-wing radio, and on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. It's a formidable machine.