Wash. Post turns news pages over to conservative billionaire Peterson's news service

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The Washington Post published in its news pages an article by The Fiscal Times -- "an independent digital news publication reporting on fiscal, budgetary, health-care and international economics issues" -- that promoted the creation of a task force to reduce the deficit in part through cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. But the Post did not disclose that the Times is funded by conservative billionaire Peter G. Peterson, whose organizations have long advocated reducing the deficit through entitlement cuts and have called for the creation of such a commission.

Post publishes Times' piece promoting deficit-reduction commission in news section

Times article runs in Post's news section. The Fiscal Times article ran on Page A10 of the December 31 edition of the Post. The article's byline noted that authors Elaine S. Povich and Eric Pianin report for The Fiscal Times; a note at the end of the article stated that it "was produced by the Fiscal Times, an independent digital news publication reporting on fiscal, budgetary, health-care and international economics issues."

Article declares "Support grows for tackling nation's debt," touts proposed task force. The article, headlined "Support grows for tackling nation's debt," reported that recent Senate actions "gave a significant boost to a proposal to appoint a special commission to make the tough decisions that will be required to dig the nation out of debt," and stated that "35 Democratic and Republican senators have signed on to legislation that would create a bipartisan commission with broad power to force painful spending cuts and tax increases through Congress." The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Kent Conrad (D-ND), would "create an 18-member task force consisting of 16 members of Congress and two administration officials. Under the proposal, if at least 14 of the panel members reached agreement on how to rein in skyrocketing spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and reform the tax code, Congress would have to consider it immediately and give it an up or down vote, without amendment."

Article quotes statement of support from executive director of Peterson-headed group. The Times quoted Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, "a nonpartisan group that advocates entitlement reform and balanced budgets," who stated: "I think there's more interest in the proposal not only in Congress but at the White House because there's a growing realization the deficit and the debt are reaching such levels they can't be ignored any longer." Neither the Times nor the Post disclosed that Peterson is founder and president of the Concord Coalition.

Times ignores opponents of such a task force. While the Times quoted Sen. John Rockefeller's (D-WV) comments that a prior deficit-reduction panel had been ineffective and reported that AARP official John Rother "questions whether a new commission could find additional cuts" in Medicare and Medicaid and "doubts that a new commission could persuade Republicans to support raising taxes," the article reported no statements from individuals or groups opposing the creation of such a task force. In fact, more than 40 national progressive organizations signed a letter to President Obama and members of the House and Senate expressing "strong opposition to proposals to create an entitlements or deficit-reduction commission that would override the normal legislative process and replace it with expedited procedures prohibiting amendments and limiting debate."

Article first product of Times/Post "partnership." According to a December 17 Fiscal Times press release, "The Fiscal Times and the Washington Post have agreed to jointly produce content focusing on budget and fiscal issues that will be available to both publications. The content will complement the Post's budget and finance coverage, and will include profiles of key government officials, explanations of important budget trends or proposals and investigative analysis of government spending programs."

Times funded by Peterson, whose organizations support task force's creation

Peterson providing initial funding for Times. According to the press release announcing its launch, the Times "has been funded initially by Peter G. Peterson." A January 2 Politico article reported that Pianin, the Times' Washington editor, "said that Peterson and his Peter G. Peterson Foundation have no editorial input."

Peterson a conservative billionaire who heads groups focused on deficit reduction. According to his Forbes profile, Peterson has a net worth of $1.7 billion after serving as chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers in the 1970s and 1980s, and then co-founding the private equity firm The Blackstone Group. He previously served as secretary of commerce under President Nixon. Peterson is president and co-founder of the Concord Coalition, whose website states the organization "is dedicated to educating the public about the causes and consequences of federal budget deficits, the long-term challenges facing America's unsustainable entitlement programs, and how to build a sound economy for future generations." He is also founder and chairman of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, whose mission is "to increase public awareness of the nature and urgency of key economic challenges threatening America's future and accelerate action on them."

Peterson Foundation president: Task force "necessary" to restore "sustainable fiscal path." In November 10 congressional testimony, David Walker, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, endorsed the task force promoted in the Fiscal Times article and stated: "I would like to commend Chairman Conrad and Senator Gregg for their public calls for action to ensure the long-term stability and sustainability of our nation's finances. They are right to be concerned regarding the need to address the federal government's deteriorating financial condition. They are also correct in recognizing that a special process will be necessary to achieve the types of actions needed to put our country on a more prudent and sustainable fiscal path."

Concord Coalition "praised" Conrad and Gregg for introducing task force legislation promoted by Times. A December 9 Concord Coalition press release stated that the group "praised" Gregg and Conrad "for reintroducing legislation to create a bipartisan task force charged with developing legislative solutions to the nation's long-term fiscal imbalance" and quoted Bixby saying that such a commission "could break the partisan gridlock and develop a credible marker for action."

Posted In
Economy, Budget
The Washington Post
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