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Daily Howler: Conservative bias rules the SS debate. Matthews, Kay and Kurtz make it clear
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CON AIRS! Conservative bias rules the SS debate. Matthews, Kay and Kurtz make it clear: // link // print // previous // next //

OK, WE WERE SEMI-WRONG: OK, we’ll admit we were semi-wrong in trashing Kevin Drum’s motives last week. We prefer not to mind-read about individuals and we mind-read big-time in that instance.

But no, we really weren’t wrong on the merits. Here’s another e-mail on the subject:

E-MAIL: I think that you went a bit overboard in blasting Kevin Drum's editorial. You were technically right that Clinton and Gore had not taken the lead on saying SS was an issue. But I got what he was saying—that "Heh, even Democrats have incorrectly subscribed to this incorrect notion that Social Security is in trouble" meme—and that those Democrats were wrong. Social Security isn't in trouble, sheesh—it's the only part of the Federal budget which remotely in balance right now!!

You could have made your point more clearly, that a lot of analysts just forget how persistent and wrong some of the right-wing propaganda is.

The mailer engages in mind-reading too, and he’s charitable in his account of what Drum’s piece said. But we don’t like to mind-read individuals, and our posts were egregious examples of an undesirable practice.

However, back to the facts: Clinton and Gore played essentially no role in persuading a generation that SS “wouldn’t be there” for them. And yes, it’s absurd to write an unflattering account of how that occurred which mentions them and no one else. Here at THE HOWLER, we’re sick of seeing Republicans dump crazy claims on Clinton/Gore’s head. It’s inexcusable when libs and Dems do it. We were wrong to trash Kevin’s motives (he’s doing some very good work on SS). But as a matter of fairness and integrity, the casual slanders of Clinton and Gore really must come to an end.

CON AIRS: If you have friends who still believe that the press corps is driven by liberal bias, you might invite them to take a look at the privatization debate.

Let’s start with a pundit who favors the right, Fox’s blunderbuss, Bill O’Reilly. Mr. O’s work continues to devolve into blatant self-parody. On Tuesday night, he began his show with a pious memo about SS:

O’REILLY (1/4/05): Telling the whole truth. That is the subject of this evening's Talking Points Memo.

The Factor wants you to have all the facts before you make up your mind on an issue. That's been our philosophy from the beginning. We hide nothing.

But others in the media do. For example, The New York Times desperately wants to kill President Bush's private Social Security plan, saying it's dangerous.

What the Times did not say in its long editorial this week is that the program would be totally voluntary. Somehow the Times left that out of the equation.

“The program would be totally voluntary?” Since Bush still hasn’t presented a plan, there is no way to reach such an (unlikely) judgment. But so what? After “telling the whole truth” about two other topics, Mr. O finished up his silly clowning:
O’REILLY: And that's the whole truth. Now you can make up your mind about Social Security, foreign aid and Alberto Gonzales. As always, Talking Points isn't trying to persuade you. As Jack Webb used to say, we just want the facts, ma'am.
“Now you can make up your mind,” he said—again displaying the clowning inanity that increasingly defines our public debate. For the record, “telling the whole truth” about Social Security takes about 25 words on Fox. Yes, that’s a case of screaming inanity—but it surely can’t be called “liberal bias.”

But you don’t have to go to conservative Fox that to see Big Scribes pimping privatization. Let’s review the panel from Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show—an utterly vacuous five-member gang which included only one conservative.

How do major “mainstream” pundits discuss Bush’s ideas for SS? Simple! They take turns reciting the doomsday views of disinformed, know-nothing voters. Another blunderbuss kicked things off, then threw to the hopeless Katty Kay:

MATTHEWS (1/2/05): Younger people in their—you've seen these polls, where more young people in their 20s and 30s believe in UFOs than they believe their money's going to be there when they're 65. Is—you’re laughing. Go ahead, Katty!
Matthews recited an RNC script, invoking Frank Luntz’s 1993 poll of disinformed younger voters. And guess what? If you think BBC scribes are a cut above, you haven’t yet seen hopeless Katty:
KAY (continuing directly): Extraordinary poll!

MATTHEWS: Aren't there a lot of young people today who say, “Wait a minute, the system we've got now is broken for me. Let's try something where I get that money?”

KAY: And they're the people that have the vested interest in seeing reform happen, because they think the system isn't working. “I'm not going to get anything out of it and so I want it fixed.” The problem is, it's going to cost such a huge amount to fix this, somewhere between—
MATTHEWS: Why does it cost money to fix it?

Is Kay in the grip of liberal bias? She simply called Luntz’s poll “extraordinary,” making no effort to note the fact that its young respondents were grossly ill-informed. After that, she quickly said that Bush’s proposal is the way “to fix” the system. (“Somewhere between 2 to $4 trillion it's going to cost to fix the system,” she added.) Whatever this is, this is not “liberal bias.” Nor was such bias on display when Matthews explained the “sense of urgency” around the Bush proposal:
MATTHEWS: Here's the urgency. Pretty soon you'll have two people working for one retiree. That means a person has to kick in 50 percent of somebody else's retirement check every day when they go to work.
Another alarmist RNC spin-point, offered without any context or challenge. Soon Tucker Carlson, the panel’s sole official conservative, felt the need to recite the point about what young people think:
CARLSON: I want to say two things. One, young people are affected by this. They don't vote in the way that older people do, A, and B, I don't think they're as—I mean, perhaps they ought to be because it affects them. I do think they assume, people under 40 assume they're not going to see the money anyway. I don't think they're vested.

MATTHEWS: So, therefore?

CARLSON: Because I don't think they're vested—

MATTHEWS: No, but are they for reform or against it?

CARLSON: I think they're absolutely for reform.

MATTHEWS: OK! [end of discussion]

One more time, Carlson recited the disinformed view—young people assume SS won’t be there for them. This view was recited again and again, in a panel of five major journalists. But none of the panelists ever pointed out that this Luntz-driven view is utterly silly. Sam Donaldson and Campbell Brown also stared into air as this silly claim drove the debate. And no one challenged the day’s basic frame—that Bush’s proposal was a “reform” that would “fix” the troubled system. Whatever was driving this hapless debate, it surely was not liberal bias.

But then, let’s review one more Major Pundit, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz. Does liberal bias drive Kurtz on SS? Take a look at the views he expressed in an on-line column this week:

KURTZ (1/5/05): Prediction: The Social Security debate is going to turn pretty ugly pretty fast...

This is an argument we very much need to have, for the difficulties of the nation's biggest retirement program have been swept under the rug for way too long by timid politicians who want to punt the problem to their successors. Bush deserves credit for making it part of his campaign, although he never said—and still hasn't—exactly what he would do without cutting benefits or borrowing trillions more.

Is Kurtz driven by liberal bias? In fact, he perfectly states the conservative view (the difficulties of SS have been swept under the rug). The liberal view is just the opposite, of course; liberals believe that a phony “crisis” has been ginned, up, largely when journalists keep reciting that inane, ancient poll by Frank Luntz. Is Kurtz in the grip of liberal bias? He betrays just the opposite view.

So readers, deliver the word to your friends. In this, as in so many debates, conservative spin-points seem to rule the discussion. And what’s the greatest such spin-point of all? What else? The claim that scribes like Matthews/Kurtz/Kay are driven by that vile liberal bias!

AMAZING ADVANCES: Amazing! A Thursday post by the AP’s Leigh Strope correctly describes the amount of money workers will be allowed to invest under Bush’s SS proposal:

STROPE (1/6/05): The administration is focusing on a proposal that would let workers divert two-thirds of their payroll taxes into investment accounts, up to an annual limit of $1,000 to $1,300, an administration official told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Why is that presentation amazing? Because on Tuesday, in his initial report, Strope got this simple fact wrong:
STROPE (1/4/05): The Bush administration is focusing on a Social Security proposal that would allow younger workers to invest up to 4 percent of their payroll taxes in private accounts, with contributions limited to about $1,000 to $1,300 a year, an official said Tuesday.
Amazing, isn’t it? On Tuesday, workers were investing “up to four percent of their payroll taxes.” By Thursday, instead of four percent, they were investing two-thirds!

As we’ve noted, this is a bone-simple part of the Bush SS plan, but Strope—who has been reporting this topic for years—still couldn’t state it correctly on Tuesday. Thursday’s formulation is basically accurate. Let’s hope the construction prevails.

Note: To see Media Matters on Strope, click here. And here is a letter from David Cay Johnston to Romenesko on this matter (scroll down). Johnston scolds the AP for making this blunder. But uh-oh! As we’ve noted, Johnston’s New York Times colleague, Edmund Andrews, typed the same groaner last month.

And yes—the claim that we’re diverting a “small portion” of payroll taxes is reassuring disinformation, crafted long ago by your GOP masters. Does liberal bias rule the press on SS? After years of reporting this topic, Strope and Andrews (and the Post’s Jeff Birnbaum) still hadn’t gotten the word.