How Print Media's Social Security Coverage Helps The Push For Cuts

Print media coverage of Social Security finances overwhelmingly favors reporting figures in raw numbers that lack relevant context, a trend that reflects cable and broadcast news coverage's push for reducing the cost of the program over strengthening benefits for recipients.

A Media Matters analysis finds that three major print sources -The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post - are more likely to report figures on Social Security revenue, spending, and funding gaps in terms of raw numbers that lack relevant context, such as previous years' figures. Fifty-nine percent of total mentions of Social Security's finances throughout the first half of 2013 relied strictly on raw numbers:


According to economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research Dean Baker, the overreliance on reporting economic figures in raw numbers only serves to confuse and mislead readers:

It is understandable that people who want to promote confusion about the budget -- for example convincing people that all their tax dollars went to food stamps -- would support the current method of budget reporting. It is impossible to understand why people who want a well-informed public would not push for changing this archaic and absurd practice.

Print media's dependence on reporting outlandish and out of context figures on Social Security coincides with unbalanced broadcast and cable news coverage of the program. An earlier Media Matters analysis found that nightly television news segments on Social Security were more than three times as likely to promote the need to reduce the program's cost than the need to strengthen benefits for recipients:


Media's failure to properly report figures on Social Security's finances and provide a balanced debate runs a narrative counter to how Americans feel about the program. A January 2013 National Academy of Social Insurance survey found that respondents overwhelming support revenue increases over benefit cuts.

Furthermore, media's reporting on Social Security obscures the fact that proposals for strengthening and expanding the program do exist, and a number of groups are pushing for reforms that would help beneficiaries.