Fact: Between June and mid-September, 23 percent of American news consumers told pollsters that the economy was the story they followed closely each week.
Fact. Between June and mid-September, the mainstream media set aside just five percent of their news coverage for the economy; 31 percent for the campaign.
During interviews with Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft characterized Obama's economic agenda as "ambitious and expensive," citing the costs of Obama's infrastructure, alternative energy, and health care plans, but there was no similar characterization of McCain's tax agenda by correspondent Scott Pelley, who interviewed McCain, even though, according to the Tax Policy Center, McCain's tax plan would likely add $1.5 trillion more to the federal deficit over 10 years than Obama's tax plan.
Today, Scherer acknowledges that "McCain supported the Bush plan then, and still speaks in favor of the private account idea in the future" and concludes:
The social security example did not belong where I put it in the post, and by placing it there I launched a confusing discussion about the issues--committing the same crime that I was chastising the candidates for committing.
Scherer still insists the Obama's ad's assertion that Social Security privatization constitutes "risking Social Security on the stock market" is a "distortion" that "exaggerat[es] the worst-case scenario of Bush private account plan." Since Scherer acknowledges that the plan involves investing some Social Security funds in the stock market, and since (I assume) he would acknowledge that investing the stock market involves "risk," it seems misguided at best to continue to call the ad a distortion.
Nonetheless, Scherer's post today is a welcome acknowledgment that he was wrong, and that he muddied the issue rather than illuminating it. Scherer could have ignored the matter, as many journalists do when they are wrong. Or he could have offered a terse two-sentence statement that walked back his original claim without really making clear what he got wrong in the first place. That, too, would have been all-too-typical of "corrections" to flawed news reports. Scherer didn't do that. Instead, he posted five paragraphs of explanation, including clear statements that he got it wrong and that he confused the debate rather than clarifying it.
More journalists should take their mistakes as seriously as Scherer does in his post today.
On The McLaughlin Group, Monica Crowley falsely claimed that "unemployment, which is starting to tick up, still remains at historical lows." In fact, every state except West Virginia has a higher unemployment rate -- some significantly higher -- than its historic low. Moreover, the current national rate of 6.1 percent is higher than when President Bush took office in January 2001, when it was 4.2 percent, and is just two-tenths of a percentage point below the highest rate of the past 10 years.
In a column, Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that Rep. Barney Frank "sat by as mortgage brokers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac made bad loans." Also, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace did not challenge a similar claim by Sen. Jon Kyl that efforts by the Bush Administration and Republicans in Congress to regulate Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae "were stopped at every turn by Democrats." In fact, more than a year ago, Frank sponsored a bill to create the Federal Housing Finance Agency, granting that agency "general supervisory and regulatory authority over" Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and directing it to reform the two companies' business practices and regulate their exposure to credit and market risk.
The Associated Press reported that Sen. John McCain "says all options must be considered to stave off insolvency for the government insurance and retirement program [Social Security], and top McCain advisers say that includes so-called personal retirement accounts like those President Bush pushed in 2005 but abandoned in the face of congressional opposition." In fact, the Bush administration itself has admitted that private accounts themselves would do nothing to address Social Security's projected long-term revenue shortfall.
On September 18, Fox News' Neil Cavuto conflated giving home mortgages to minorities with risky lending practices, suggesting that there should have been "a clarion call that said, 'Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster.' "
Loading the player reg...
On MSNBC Live, James Pethokoukis claimed that "Senator [John] McCain is not calling for privatizing Social Security. He's talking about perhaps separate accounts, but he's not actually talking about taking your Social Security payments and funneling them in the stock market." In fact, in a March Wall Street Journal interview, McCain reiterated his support for private Social Security accounts that would be funded through existing payroll taxes and could be invested in the stock market.
The Los Angeles Times reported, "[Sen. Barack] Obama has not taken a position on AIG's rescue, unlike [Sen. John] McCain, who has backed it." But the Times did not point out that the day before the bailout was announced, McCain indicated that he opposed a federal government bailout of AIG, asserting that "we cannot have the taxpayers bail out AIG or anybody else."
In articles about the presidential candidates' responses to the economic crisis, several media outlets reported that the McCain campaign has attacked Sen. Barack Obama for what it says are his ties to lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, without noting that several senior McCain campaign aides have lobbied for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or both.
On MSNBC Live, David Shuster stated that Social Security "will run out of money unless we make some major changes, at least in the next several years." In fact, according to the 2008 reports by the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees, Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until 2041, at which point it will be able to cover 78 percent of benefits if no legislative changes are made. It will not "run out of money ... in the next several years," or in 2041.
Yes, there's stuff we actually like. From the Wall Street Journal, this incisive and descriptive paragraph from a prize-winning caliber article describing the financial meltdown:
The U.S. financial system resembles a patient in intensive care. The body is trying to fight off a disease that is spreading, and as it does so, the body convulses, settles for a time and then convulses again. The illness seems to be overwhelming the self-healing tendencies of markets. The doctors in charge are resorting to ever-more invasive treatment, and are now experimenting with remedies that have never before been applied. Fed Chairman Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, walking into a hastily arranged meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday night to brief them on the government's unprecedented rescue of AIG, looked like exhausted surgeons delivering grim news to the family.
Here's Scherer's initial claim that an Obama ad distorted McCain's position on Social Security: "it is not true that McCain is running for president on a platform of turning Social Security over to Wall Street."
Now here's Scherer's update: "Read what I have written above, and decide if I am trying to hide the fact that McCain wants to pursue a plan to invest Social Security funds in the markets, which is the main allegation by Media Matters. I make this fact very clear."
Ok. Um ... if Scherer acknowledges "McCain wants to pursue a plan to invest Social Security funds in the markets," what exactly is his problem with the statement that "McCain is running for president on a platform of turning Social Security over to Wall Street"?
The ad says McCain favors "risking social security on the stock market," which is what I paraphrased as Obama's claim that McCain wants to "turn social security over to Wall Street," which the unbiased folks at Media Matters calls a strawman. I think it's a fair--though not exactly precise--characterization of the Obama claim.
Ok. Let's review:
According to Michael Scherer, "McCain wants to pursue a plan to invest Social Security funds in the markets."
But, according to Micahel Scherer, Obama's ad's statement that "McCain favors 'risking social security on the stock market'" is a distortion of McCain's position.
The post mentions three ads that all share the same problem, which is clearly identified in the first paragraph. To wit, instead of talking about the opponents' plans, the ads talk about the opponents' past votes. This process obstructs the debate that should be happening about the candidate's plans. The Obama social security ad says McCain wants to do what Bush did. This is not what McCain now says he wants to do. That's the point.
The problem is, that point is wrong. Scherer supports it with nothing more than a vague statement from McCain's web page (a statement that actually undermines Scherer's point, as it endorses "personal accounts") and a slightly less vague statement from Mark Salter. He ignores John McCain's repeated comments this year in support of private accounts -- comments that a simple Google search for "McCain Social Security privatization" will unearth in seconds. Comments that I linked in my earlier post. And Scherer ignores his own statement -- just a few sentances earlier -- that "McCain wants to pursue a plan to invest Social Security funds in the markets."
Scherer says there should be a debate about the candidates' plans. I agree. But his post obscures McCain's plans; it doesn't clarify them. For instance, Scherer keeps suggesting that McCain's current statements contradict (and moot) his previous votes -- but he hasn't explained how they do so.
When he does get around to explaining -- perhaps in his next update? -- maybe Scherer can also explain why he dismisses the votes cited in the ad, one of which occured in 2006, as having taken place "a decade ago."
On CNN's American Morning, John Roberts did not challenge Mitt Romney's suggestion that, with "an economy in trouble," Sen. Barack Obama will raise taxes. Roberts did not note that, in fact, Obama has proposed tax cuts for low- and middle-income families and for those making less than $250,000 per year.
Anchor Erin Burnett questioning the patriotism of short sellers? Analyst Jim Cramer wondering if terrorists are behind the financial madness that continues to unfold on Wall Street?
CJR thinks it's time for the CNBC team to regroup.