Four days after writing a “hard news” article about a topic, Washington Times chief political correspondent Donald Lambro wrote a “commentary” piece in which he explicitly endorsed it. The original August 18 report on proposed legislation that would allow workers to divert money from the Social Security trust fund into private accounts, called “grow accounts,” quoted four supporters of the measure but failed to quote or present the views of any opponents of the plan. Three of the supporters' quotes were repeated in their entirety in the subsequent August 22 column endorsing the proposal, claiming that the accounts “would end the spending raid on the trust fund.”
Both the article and the commentary pass on without refutation the misleading claims by Larry Hunter, vice president and chief economist of the conservative Free Enterprise Fund, that the proposal would offer “no risk” to workers and that the money “could not be spent [by the government] on highways or other things.” In fact, the plan would not in and of itself offer any more or less risk to the future overall level of Social Security benefits than workers face under current law. The “risk” workers face under current law is that at some point in the future Congress could enact legislation to reduce the overall level of benefits retirees will receive. The existence of the proposed “grow accounts” would not prevent Congress from reducing overall benefits, either by reducing traditional Social Security payments, imposing taxes on the “grow accounts,” or some combination.
In addition, the fact that these accounts would contain only Treasury bonds, money lent to the federal government to fund spending in excess of tax revenue -- as is the case with the Social Security trust fund -- ensures that the money would, in fact, continue to be spent on “highways or other things.”
Lambro previously wrote about an online Social Security benefits calculator created by the conservative Heritage Foundation in a news report and then endorsed its use by his readers in a subsequent column, despite the fact that the calculator was based on faulty assumptions.