The Press And Social Security
Trudy Lieberman interviewed William Grieder about Social Security that's worth reading in its entirety. But this point about media coverage is especially worth contemplating:
TL: Are reporters disconnected from the public?
WG: Reporters are so embedded in the established way of understanding things. They are distanced from people at large and don’t spend much time trying to see why ordinary people see things differently from the people in power—and why people are often right about things.
TL: Is this different than in the past?
WG: Yes. In the last twenty years, as media ownership became highly concentrated, the gulf between the governing elites, both in and out of government, and the broad range of ordinary citizens has gotten much worse. The press chose to side with the governing elites and look down on the citizenry as ignorant or irrational, greedy, or even nutty.
TL: Why is this so?
WG: The press is dangerously over-educated itself, in that reporters have developed different kinds of expertise themselves. And that brings them closer to their sources, more motivated to write for their approval. All this technocratic expertise encourages them to take a condescending view of the people they are writing for, especially in finance and economics. If all the elite experts assume Social Security is a problem, a reporter would lose respect if he or she seriously examined the counter arguments. Frankly, most political reporters don’t have a clue about the real facts. They write about Social Security as if it were just another welfare program. They do not seem to understand the surpluses are actually the savings of American workers—the money set aside for future retirement. This is virtuous behavior—the opposite of greed or the recklessness of financial elites.
TL: Who is representing the public in this debate?
WG: The same people who rallied the public against Social Security privatization in the Bush administration. They have organized again. Some are the same players. Labor is on the barricades. Some righteous members of Congress. But in general the mass media don’t go to those dissenting voices. Instead, they are reporting factual errors as correct opinion.
TL: What do you want the press to do?
WG: I am daring reporters to go and find out the truth about this and report it. I’m not asking them to draw big conclusions or to assert their opinions. Just be honest reporters. It’s so frustrating to see the coverage. I’m not asking reporters to change any minds. I’m just asking them to do some real reporting. I mean, go to the facts—the actuarial records—and talk to a variety of experts. Reporters ring up the same sources and ask them how to think about Social Security.
Sounds like a good idea to me.
But right now, you can't feel very confident about any of that happening. This is from today's Hardball:
Chris Matthews: Let me talk down the road the big stuff because we all know, gentlemen that the country has a 13 trillion dollar debt and we can talk about economic growth and we can all talk about economic growth the economy, we all know that sometimes it just doesn't grow, some years it just doesn't grow. There's always going to be a business cycle, there's always going to be downturns. So my question to you is, Todd, here's the question. We saw what came out of that bipartisan commission just a few weeks ago. We saw the immediate knee jerk reaction of Nancy Pelosi, we saw the immediate reaction of some of the Republican members of the House. The president did get 14 of the 18 members, of that commission.
Is there a potential that he could cut deals with Coburn who is much respected on issues like fiscal policy and bringing in other leading Democrats as well, recognizing that that the appropriators won't like it, that Pelosi won't like it, that the unions won't like it, that he has to get past those people or he will get nothing done on the fiscal area? If the president waits for the unions, if he waits for the usual interest groups to say yes, it will never get done. He has to form a coalition around them.
Todd Harris (GOP strategist): You're absolutely right and I think the best way to do that will be to include some significant entitlement reform as part of that package
Todd Harris: .. because there's no way to talk about deficit reduction without doing it. Until people in Washington are ready to have an adult conversation about entitlement all this talk about spending and the deficit is all a bunch of noise, because as we all know that's where the money's going.
Steve McMahon (Democratic strategist): I think you're absolutely right. And for the president this year, coming out and basically saying that we've had some major accomplishments in the past two years and now we have to concentrate on the deficit and getting spending under control and working with Republicans just like he worked with them on the measures he just passed, he'll benefit politically and the country will benefit over the long term. Because we can't afford to continue on the path we're on and it does seem to be that serious people on the left and the right are recognizing the importance of compromise. And the deficit commission had plenty in there for everybody to not like. But there's also a path to fiscal sanity and I think we've got people ready to move that forward.
We've got Senator Corker and Senator Mark Warner in a bipartisan fashion to try to do something in the Senate working on that and I think we're going to see some people like that who come from the business world into politics and who understand finance and understand the implications of what we're doing.
Jesus, I sure hope Steve McMahon has just been spending too much time drinking the eggnog at Village holiday parties and isn't speaking for the entire establishment. If he is, then my more cynical fears are correct and I've never wanted more to be wrong about anything more. (He did seem a little slurry, so maybe the nog was heavily spiked ...)
If any of the reporters want to hear another view, here's an excellent piece about the ramifications of that vaunted compromise payroll tax holiday by former congressman Robert Weiner.
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