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Daily Howler: Amazing! One reporter penned the piece which should have been in every paper
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NUTTING GETS IT RIGHT! Amazing! One reporter penned the piece which should have been in every paper: // link // print // previous // next //

NUTTING GETS IT RIGHT: Omigod–somebody did it! Somebody wrote the “fact check” report which should have appeared in every newspaper after Bush’s performance last Tuesday. “Bush exaggerates a few facts about Social Security,” said the headline–a headline which was excessively polite. But Rex Nutting actually spotted the news which came from Bush’s ballyhooed forum. Readers, when an American president convenes a big forum and proceeds to lie in the public’s face, that’s the biggest news story that day! As far as we know, only Nutting, among major scribes, bothered to sit down and write it.

Nutting is Washington bureau chief for CBS Marketwatch, and he seems to be the only reporter in that city with the nerve to tell the American people that their president is baldly dissembling. Here’s the opening of his report:
NUTTING (1/11/05): President Bush made several factual errors Tuesday about Social Security's long-term financing problems at a photo op event designed to educate the public about the retirement system.
Yes, that paragraph is quite polite–but Nutting actually saw that it was news when Bush made his wild misstatements! And, after laying out a few background facts, Nutting did get down to brass tacks. Here’s the first entry; the fact-checks appeared beneath a tangy sub-headline:

Bush vs. facts

Bush: “As a matter of fact, by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now.”

The facts: The Social Security system cannot go "bankrupt," for it has no creditors. By law, the trustees will continue to pay reduced benefits even if the trust fund is exhausted. Payroll taxes will continue to come in and benefits will continue to be paid.

According to the trustees' intermediate economic forecast (neither doom nor boom), the trust fund will be able to pay about 73 percent of scheduled benefits in 2042 and about 68 percent of scheduled benefits in 2078.

Future presidents and Congresses could also choose to fully fund scheduled retirement benefits from general tax revenue.

At this point, we were upset because Nutting hadn’t explained how large those “73 percent” payments would be. But wouldn’t you know it? Making it look amazingly easy, he laid that out in his next entry:

Bush: "Most younger people in America think they'll never see a dime."

The facts: Social Security says younger people will see a lot more than a dime. Their retirement benefits–even under a "flat-bust" system–will be significantly higher than today's benefits in real terms.

For low-income Americans, currently scheduled benefits for those who retire in 2080 are $19,906 per year in 2004 dollars. If Social Security can pay only 68 percent of those benefits, that would be $13,536 per year, compared with benefits of $8,804 for low-income retirees who retired last year.

For the highest earners, Social Security is currently promising $53,411 per year for those who retire in 2080 (or $36,319 per year if Social Security can pay only 68 percent). Current maximum benefits are $21,891 per year for those who retired last year.

Cruelly, Nutting even includes a section of the official transcript where Bush’s unknowing audience engages in [LAUGHTER] as their president baldly misleads them.

We do have one complaint about Nutting’s piece. He uses the official projections of the SS trustees without explaining that these projections are based on pessimistic assumptions about economic growth. At one point, Nutting does explain that the CBO offers a rosier view of these matters, but he doesn’t explain why that is. When a journalist relies on those SS projections, he really ought to tell his readers that the projections are gloomy.

But put that one complaint to the side. Nutting wrote the kind of report that should have appeared in every newspaper–and on every TV channel as well. When a president convenes a major forum and proceeds to make outrageous misstatements, that is the biggest news of the day. And the American people need to be told that this event has occurred. They deserve to be shown the actual facts. And they deserve to be told, quite directly, that their “president” has been misstating facts.

But only Nutting, at obscure CBS Marketwatch, sat down and wrote this obvious piece. Bigger scribes took a different approach, covering up for the powerful president. At NBC, David Gregory stared into air, pretending he hadn’t noticed the oddness of Bush’s wild, repeated misstatements. At ABC, Peter Jennings took a different tack; he paraphrased what Bush had said, offering a milder, vaguer account of Bushy’s bizarre presentation. And none of our major papers offered the obvious “fact check” piece, the kind of piece Nutting had posted before the day of the forum was over. Store-bought; corrupted; pampered and powdered, your millionaire pundits knew not to tattle about what this great man had done.

We’ll discuss this matter more next week. In particular, when will liberal pundits like E. J. Dionne step up and address all the lying? (We always single E.J. out! And we single out because we love.) And when will liberals on the web insist that the networks and papers do likewise? When will liberals on the web shout the names of scribes like Gregory–pet name: “Stretch”–who know that they should stare into air as Bush makes a joke of your discourse?