The question reporters still won't ask Pete Peterson

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Lost amid the controversy over the Washington Post turning its news pages over to billionaire Pete Peterson's anti-government crusade is a fairly basic question: Do Peterson and his allies have a track record of being right? The guy didn't just appear out of nowhere; he's been trying to influence public policy for decades. Shouldn't newspapers give some consideration to his track record?

Here's a starting point: In 1993, Peterson opposed health care reform, saying we couldn't afford it. How did that turn out? Does Peterson stand by that statement? If so, what evidence does he have that health care costs would have risen more quickly over the past 16 years had the Clintons' reform efforts succeeded?

Perhaps aware of Peterson's dubious pronouncements, Fiscal Times Washington editor Eric Pianin claims Peterson and his foundation have no editorial input:

Eric Pianin, a former Post editor and budget reporter who is Washington editor of The Fiscal Times, said that Peterson and his Peter G. Peterson Foundation have no editorial input. "This is strictly a journalistic venture," Pianin said. "We're not advocates. I wouldn't be involved in it if it was otherwise. But Pete Peterson thinks it's important enough that journalists pursue these areas that he's helping to fund it."

That's nice spin, but it's obviously nonsense. If Peterson is funding journalists' pursuit of "these areas," he is -- by definition -- choosing what they cover. And what the media covers is often as important as how it is covered. It doesn't matter that Peterson doesn't stand over anyone's shoulder telling them where to put commas and who to quote; the fact is that he is causing additional media focus on the deficit, which causes people to think it is an urgent problem -- at a time when many economists think excessive worry about deficits could exacerbate economic difficulties.

UPDATE: Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli told Politico the Post has "quality control" over the Fiscal Times pieces it runs. Looks like his story checks out:

Consistent with Mr. Peterson's longstanding objective, the article the Post published is rife with factual errors, important omissions and significant distortions, which lead the reader to see a fast-tracked commission as sound policy and without opposition – indeed, virtually inevitable.

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The Washington Post
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