Suppose a right-wing billionaire, who has never had to choose between paying the mortgage and feeding the kids, or has never foregone medical treatment due to lack of health coverage, wanted to kill Social Security and Medicare.
Now suppose that right-wing billionaire spent some of his fortune creating a “news agency” that would distribute stories supporting his pet project and hired a handful of seasoned reporters from respected news organizations.
Now further suppose that one of those respected news organizations published the agency's first piece as a normal news story.
That's what happened when the Washington Post, on 31 December, published Support Grows for Tackling Nation's Debt from The Fiscal Times news agency, funded by Nixon administration cabinet member and retired founder of the Blackstone Group, Peter G. Peterson. The “news story” promotes
“...legislation to 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 amendments.”
Peterson – and now, the Washington Post - blame Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for the growing budget deficit with no mention that two wars and Wall Street bailouts may have contributed to the problem, and have decided to take the money out of the hides of old people.
What is so dangerous about this proposal is that it removes the only clout American citizens have with their federal legislators – the right to personally petition them.
Economist Dean Baker was the first to expose the Post's irresponsible “journalism” in his Beat the Press blog where he noted:
“No serious newspaper would publish a piece from an obviously interested party like the Peterson Foundation as a news story.”
Following Baker's expose, the Post published a “correction” on 5 January but only about the mis-attribution of a quote, still leaving the story bereft of any context in regard to Peterson's involvement in the attack on Medicare et al or his two-decade-long crusade to kill those programs.
It was up to The New York Times the same day to provide some of that context and extract this comment from the Post's executive editor, Marcus W. Brauchli:
“We wouldn't put anything in the paper that we didn't believe was independent journalism,” Brauchli told the Times. “We had complete editorial control. Our editors conceived the story. We asked if The Fiscal Times was interested in producing the story. We edited the story.”
That statement makes it even worse. There is not a citation for any “fact” in the story that is riddled with exaggerations, omissions and an outright fib or two. So much for the Post's journalism.
The next day, Wednesday, FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) issued an Action Alert detailing the ideological agenda contained in the story and concluding:
“Far from 'unbiased journalism,' the Fiscal Times article reads like the smoothly written propaganda you'd expect to get from a well-funded lobbying outlet. The Post's 'partnership' with this outfit is an ill-advised experiment that ought to be brought to a swift conclusion.”
On the same day, journalist William Greider tackled the Washington Post's connection to Peterson with a righteous tirade against the paper and Peterson's regressive agenda, noting:
“He has flogged Social Security as a blight on our future for at least 20 years. He is a nut on the subject. His 'facts' are wildly distorted or simply not true. Never mind, the establishment press portrays him as a disinterested statesmen.”
Thirty-four Democratic and Republican senators support the legislation and, according to The Fiscal Times (non)story, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has “signaled” support and the White House is involved in talks about such legislation. (Or not; these are a dubious assertions without citation.)
This latest legislation (S.2853 - full text) was introduced by Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) on 9 December 2009, and has a long list of co-sponsors, about a third of the entire Senate (click “show co-sponsor” under Conrad's photo to see if your senator is included).
Why am I banging on about this? Two reasons:
It shows clearly why we must be hyper-vigilant about the “news” we read. The Washington Post story is a near-perfect example of propaganda masquerading as news.
Peter G. Peterson's plot to kill Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is being listened to in Washington because, as is so obvious with health care reform, money talks in Congress.
Should Senator Conrad's bill succeed, responsibility for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would be removed from our representatives whom we hired for the job and be placed in the hands of a commission that would deny debate, amendments and public discussion of any changes to the programs.
What worries me most right now is that I sense a drift toward acceptance of this idea without much thought. It would be good to let your representatives know how you feel about it. You can do that here.
[There are more details about this issue in my previous stories about Peter G. Peterson and his efforts to kill Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid here, here and here.]
My friend and fellow elderblogger, Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles, has a deep love for her native state and a knack for finding its interesting characters. This week, she's highlighting a local artist, photographer and poet, Rick Vanderpool. And she's got a terrific offer for you. Read about it all here.