HOW TO COVER A LIAR
Kevin Drum [link] wonders how the press should cover events wherein the president's main purpose is to say things that are untrue about Social Security in light of the fact that "reporters can't preface every quote from the president with, 'In yet another attempt to deceive the public, George Bush said today....'" For one thing, I don't think it's wise to so quickly write off the notion that news reporters should be writing articles that accurately convey the relevant facts. The two pro-privatization statements quoted in the first three paragraphs of this Los Angeles Times article are patently false. Would it be so terrible if the reporter pointed this out in the lede? But it wouldn't be hard to do better than the press is doing even without going that far. After quoting Bush lying to 27-year-old Josh Wright, saying that Social Security "will be bust by the time it comes for you to retire," the Times gives us this:
But for Alice Froeschle, a retired teacher from Jenks, Okla., Social Security is a "guarantee that workers who retire will not be destitute in their old age." Speaking to a reporter Tuesday at the request of congressional Democrats, Froeschle said the current system was far better than having workers "gamble their retirement away in the stock market."
It's nice of the Times to try and offer some balance, but Froeschle's thoughts on the matter -- while important -- are totally non-responsive to the president's false claims. What if, instead, the Times had written:
But according to the Social Security Administration, if no changes are made workers who retire in 2041, when Wright will turn 65, the program will have enough money to pay full benefits. For workers retiring in 2043 and beyond, there will have to be benefit cuts unless taxes are raised, but guaranteed benefits would still be higher in real terms than those paid today and higher than the ones offered by Bush's proposal. According to the Congressional Budget Office, full benefits can be paid until 2052. Because of its dedicated revenue stream, Social Security can never "go bust" no matter what happens, though benefits may need to become less generous.
That makes it clear that Bush was lying without the reporter needing to do anything as daring as write the sentence "Bush was lying." It also happens to be the truth. Save Froeschle's argument for later in the piece where they start talking about privatization's role in the Bush vision of an ownership society. There are two different debates here: an ideological one between Bush and Froeschle about whether the country should have social insurance or a greater degree of individual risk, and a second debate between Bush and reality about whether or not Social Security is going to go bankrupt. Mixing and matching the two confuses readers and encourages politicians to lie. Eventually, Democrats are going to get sick and tired of losing and realize that if the rules of the game let politicians get away with making things up, that they'd better start making more things up in their public statements.
Don't hold your breath for the press to crack down or the Dems to step up, however, Matt...
[UPDATE:] Aside from his general lying, it all takes place during one the White House's fake-ass "town hall meeting with regular folks". Something President Dumb-Ass keeps exposing for the fraud it is...
THE PRESIDENT: Good, thanks. Well done. (Applause.) Now what about your -- introduce your mom.
MS. STONE: I would like to introduce my mom. This is my mother, Rhoda Stone. And she is grandmother of three, and originally from Helsinki, Finland, and has been here over 40 years.
THE PRESIDENT: Fantastic. Same age as my mother.
MS. STONE: Just turned 80.
Um, Mr. President, is that thing in the back of your jacket just a wire, or a device that lets you see into the future? She didn't tell you how old her mom was yet!