“Media Matters,” week ending December 24; by Jamison Foser

Which is it? Is Bush's “crisis” rhetoric “hyperbolic” and Social Security a less daunting problem than Medicare? Or is it “irresponsible” to say that little reform is necessary? Is the Social Security shortfall “not insurmountable,” or is the program going “bust” ? The Washington Post's editorial board can't seem to make up its mind.

Week ending December 24, 2004
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Media Matters is off next week; we'll be back in January. Thanks for your support, and Happy Holidays to all our readers. Lou Dobbs, if you're reading this: Merry Christmas.

This week:

Social Security scare campaign continues; media remains compliant

Limbaugh gets hug from Bush; maybe they discussed Abu Ghraib?

“Intelligent design” proponents disguise creationism as science; conservative media is helping

MSNBC's strange programming plans

Social Security scare campaign continues; media remains compliant

Washington Post editorial, December 19:

“THE CRISIS IS NOW,” President Bush declared of Social Security at the economic conference called by the White House last week. The president's language may have been a bit hyperbolic -- the funding shortfall in Social Security is big but not insurmountable, and in any event Medicare is a far more daunting problem -- but his fundamental point is sound. However dire your view of the Social Security situation, it's far better to deal with the problem now than wait until it's bigger and therefore more difficult to address.

Washington Post editorial, December 21:

AT HIS NEWS conference yesterday, President Bush restated his reasons for wanting to reform Social Security. His starting principles are admirable: He assures people at or near retirement that their pensions won't be cut, and he rightly insists that Social Security is projected to go bust and that the best way to minimize the cost of a solution is to respond early. This call to action puts Mr. Bush ahead of many congressional Democrats, who cling to the irresponsible view that little or no Social Security reform is necessary and that all future benefits are untouchable.

Which is it? Is Bush's “crisis” rhetoric “hyperbolic” and Social Security a less daunting problem than Medicare? Or is it “irresponsible” to say that little reform is necessary? Is the Social Security shortfall “not insurmountable,” or is the program going “bust” ? The Washington Post's editorial board can't seem to make up its mind.

Maybe that's because they've been reading the Post's news reporting on the issue, where reporters don't seem to understand the difference between running a deficit and becoming insolvent. As Media Matters for America noted:

In a December 17 article in The Washington Post, after noting that President Bush “said Social Security will be paying out more than it collects” by 2018, staff writer Peter Baker reported that congressional Democrats are "[c]iting different accounting than the president's" to “argue” that under the current system Social Security will “still be solvent for nearly 50 years.”

[...]

The Post's Baker, on the other hand, misleadingly suggested that one's view of when Social Security becomes insolvent is a matter of partisan opinion. It is not. Bush is talking about one thing -- what is projected to happen in 2018 -- and the Democrats are talking about another -- when the system is projected to become insolvent. By conflating the two issues, Baker suggested that the Democrats are being partisan in their assertions about projected insolvency.

Of course, the Post isn't alone in misinforming the American people about Social Security, as Media Matters noted last week. Much of the media (explicitly conservative and “mainstream” outlets alike) seems committed to some form of Social Security “reform” -- so committed that they are misleading readers and viewers about the extent to which “reform” is even necessary.

Social Security simply isn't in any immediate danger -- except from those who want to dismantle it under the guise of “reform.” The Social Security system's assets aren't projected to be exhausted for at least four more decades. Responsible media coverage of the Social Security debate should make that clear, rather than emphasizing alarmist “crisis” rhetoric that may scare people into rushing into poor decisions.

The oncoming debate over Social Security will be crucial to millions of Americans' retirement security. And one of the most important factors in determining the outcome will be whether the media continues to accept and repeat the Bush administration's alarmist rhetoric, or whether it will give readers and viewers the facts. Recent history, however, isn't encouraging, but we hope reporters will do better this time around.

Limbaugh gets hug from Bush; maybe they discussed Abu Ghraib?

Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh was honored with an invitation to the White House last week; the next day, Limbaugh gushed:

Got a big hug from the president when I -- when I went through the line last night. It was -- it was just really cool.

Media Matters isn't sure why the Bush White House invited Limbaugh; perhaps it was out of admiration for his April 2004 statement that women “actually wish” to be sexually harassed. Or maybe it was in appreciation of his March 2004 comment (about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and American labor leader Cesar Chavez) that "[a] Chavez is a Chavez. We've always had problems with them." Or are we being too cynical in thinking that the invitation was to thank him for his claim that “John Kerry really doesn't think 3,000 Americans dead in one day is that big a deal” ?

Meanwhile, a December 20 statement by the American Civil Liberties Union reveals:

A document released for the first time today ... suggests that President Bush issued an Executive Order authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq. ... The two-page e-mail that references an Executive Order states that the President directly authorized interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and 'sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc.'

Perhaps Bush invited Limbaugh to the White House to thank him for calling the torture at Abu Ghraib “brilliant.”

“Intelligent design” proponents disguise creationism as science; conservative media is helping

Media Matters for America this week detailed the religious right's efforts to promote “intelligent design” -- a thinly veiled attempt to teach creationism in schools by calling it “science.” “Intelligent design” proponents have made headway in recent years, largely under the media's (and public's) radar. But conservative media figures are beginning to take up the campaign and promote “intelligent design,” despite the fact that American Association for the Advancement of Science has said that including it in science education is “improper.”

MSNBC's strange programming plans

Media Matters for America noted this week that MSNBC is apparently considering hiring as hosts a serial dissembler and an apparent plagiarist:

Over the past several months, Media Matters for America has documented more than 130 instances (as of this posting) in which MSNBC has provided an outlet for conservative misinformation. ... But MSNBC's track record may be about to get much worse: Media Matters has already noted the network's reported interest in hiring CNN and PBS host Tucker Carlson, as well as Carlson's long history of distortions and false statements. And on December 18, TVNewser reported that the network had made preparations for a new program to be co-anchored by Ron Reagan Jr. and conservative radio host Monica Crowley -- who recently joined MSNBC as a contributor and analyst after eight years at FOX News Channel. ... [A 1999 Slate.com article] revealed that Crowley apparently borrowed heavily from a 1988 Commentary magazine article in an August 9, 1999, piece she wrote for The Wall Street Journal editorial page on the 25th anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation from the presidency. The Slate article provided numerous examples of the close similarities between the Commentary piece and Crowley's Wall Street Journal item, but reported that Crowley denied ever having read the Commentary piece.

Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.