The Washington Post tells readers that there's a consensus among budget experts in favor of cuts to Social Security and Medicare:
Many Democrats and Republicans say they are open to major changes to Social Security and Medicare, possibly including raising the retirement age and limiting Medicare benefits to those who need them most.
While spending on the recession - including the bank bailouts and economic stimulus package - fueled voter anger during the 2010 campaign season, budget analysts across the political spectrum agree that popular Medicare and Social Security programs will have to be overhauled to truly cure the nation's ills.
That isn't true, as Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes:
For example, a book that was co-authored by Peter Orszag, who had been President Obama's director of the Office of Managament and Budget, and Peter Diamong, a Nobel Laureatte and Obama nominee to Fed, suggests relatively modest changes to Social Security. In fact, virtually all budget analysts across the political spectrum agree that the shortfall in the Social Security program is relatively minor.
Indeed, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security would be fine for the next 75 years if we simply removed the cap on income subjected to payroll taxes. No "overhaul" or increase in the retirement age or benefit cuts necessary.
As for Medicare, "budget analysts" like Gene Sperling (currently the head of the National Economic Council) have argued that "the per-person costs of Medicare are rising because health-care costs for our entire society are rising … the most effective way to control the spiraling costs of Medicare and Medicaid is not taking a meat-axe to these programs, but finding ways to lower health-care cost inflation." Baker has repeatedly argued that Medicare would be easily affordable and "we would be facing huge long-run budget surpluses, not deficits" if per-person health care costs were brought in line with those in other countries.
In pretending that there is unanimity among budget analysts about the need to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits, the Post tells us more about its own blind spots than about the budget.
Last year, I wrote about some problems with the branded "fact-check" features several news organizations have been creating. Among them:
The other problem with the execution of these highly structured, branded "Fact Check" pieces is that fact-checking shouldn't be relegated to occasional, highly specialized pieces; it should be a basic part of everyday journalism. Checking the truthfulness of a politician's statements shouldn't be something a news organization saves for its "Fact Check" feature; it should be present in every news report that includes those statements. It isn't enough to occasionally debunk a false claim, as I've been saying over and over again.
What I'd like to see isn't another media organization with a branded, occasional "Fact Check" feature -- it's a news organization that commits to never reporting a politician's statement without placing that statement in factual context.
The Washington Post -- the poster child for occasionally debunking false claims -- recently revived its "Fact Checker" column, and in doing so reminds us how little the paper actually cares about checking facts. Here's today's "Fact Checker":
"A secretive government committee ('death panels') will be created to make end-of-life decisions about people on Medicare"
This claim, first made by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, has been thoroughly debunked and was labeled "lie of the year" in 2009 by Politifacts.org. Yet it persists in the popular imagination. The September Kaiser poll found that 30 percent of seniors still believed this to be the case--and 22 percent were not sure, meaning fewer than half knew the claim was false.
Why might the false "death panels" claim "persist in the popular imagination"? Perhaps in part because the Washington Post routinely mentions the claim without pointing out its falsity. Just last week, the Post did this on consecutive days, in a January 13 article by Karen Tumulty and Peter Wallsten and a January 14 article by Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane. Both articles reported the allegation that health care reform contained "death panels," but neither so much as hinted that it was false. This has been a defining characteristic of the Post's treatment of the "death panels" claim (contrary to former Post media critic Howard Kurtz's praise for the paper's reporting on the topic.)
I can't imagine that there's anyone at the Post who doesn't know by now that "death panels" were a lie. And yet the paper routinely prints the lie without noting its falsity. The only conclusion you can draw from that is that the paper just doesn't think it has any responsibility to avoid passing falsehoods along as though they are true -- at least as long as those falsehoods come from right-wing political figures.
Let's say a stock broker tells a Washington Post business reporter "ACME Wireless, Inc. stock has increased in value each of the last four years, with no signs of slowing down. Investors should buy it immediately!" And let's say the reporter knows this to be false -- knows that, in fact, ACME's stock is in a free fall, with no end in sight, and that its entire leadership is under indictment. Would the Post print the false claim without noting its falsity? I doubt it would; I suspect the reporter or an editor would recognize that it has a responsibility not to pass along such dangerously false investment advice to its readers. Likewise, if Happy Fun Ball was conclusively shown to cause cancer in everyone who touches it, the Post wouldn't print Wacky Products Incorporated's claim that the toy is perfectly safe without noting that, in fact, it causes cancer. Nor would the paper quote Redskins owner Daniel Snyder bragging about his team's playoff victory last weekend without noting that in fact the team finished 6-10 and failed to make the playoffs.
So why does the Washington Post print Sarah Palin's lies without noting their falsity? Does the Post think its readers' ability to make informed political decisions is less important than their awareness of sporting events?
Shouldn't an article about Republican pledges to reduce the budget deficit that mentions in its lede the GOP's desire to repeal last year's health care reform legislation mention that doing so would increase the deficit?
Of course it should. The real question: Is anyone awake at the Washington Post?
In the past week, the Post has run at least seven articles mentioning the House GOP's plan to vote to repeal health care reform without mentioning that doing so would increase the deficit. Here's a particularly egregious example:
One urgent concern for lawmakers in both parties is the country's bleak fiscal outlook, stemming from heavy government spending and ballooning retirement costs. House Republican leaders said that immediately after the health-care vote they will debate spending cuts, targeting specific programs such as public television.
Immediately after asserting that Republicans are urgently concerned about the nation's bleak fiscal outlook, the Post notes that Republicans are trying to repeal health care reform -- but doesn't mention that doing so would worsen the nation's fiscal outlook. Incredible. (Note also that the Post asserts that the bleak fiscal outlook stems "from heavy government spending" -- no mention of the revenue side of the equation. The Post's framing plays along with the false conservative claims that only spending counts towards deficits, and only spending reductions should be considered to reduce them.)
Was today's Washington Post ghostwritten by the RNC press shop? Based on all the unsupported -- and unsupportable -- suggestions of excessive Democratic partisanship, it sure looks like it.
Let's start with Shailagh Murray's portrayal of Democrats of being newcomers to bipartisanship:
Never mind that Democrats didn't pass a health care reform package that created a single payer system, or even one that included a public option, but rather passed a package that reflected longtime Republican health care priorities, like an individual mandate. To the Washington Post, the fact that Republicans voted against a plan chock-full of ideas they had long advocated means the Democrats weren't behaving in a bipartisan manner. And never mind that the Democrats passed a stimulus that was significantly smaller, and more tax-cut laden, than many economists, from Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman to Christina Romer, thought was necessary -- and did so in an effort to win Republican support. To the Washington Post, the fact that Republicans almost unanimously opposed it despite those concessions means the Democrats weren't behaving in a bipartisan manner.
Murray's Post article asserts:
Many voters thought Democrats had overreached and were governing by fiat, and they responded in November by giving Republicans control of the House and narrowing the Democratic hold on the Senate.
Really? I've never seen polling demonstrating that widespread anger at Democrats for "governing by fiat" was key to the GOP's electoral gains last November, and I strongly suspect the Washington Post hasn't, either. Meanwhile, there are plenty of indications that a poor economy had far more to do with Democratic losses than a perception of "governing by fiats" -- but that doesn't fit into the Post's neat little storyline about Democratic overreach. Indeed, given that the 2009 stimulus package was smaller than many economists thought it should be, attributing last fall's election outcomes largely to the state of the economy would directly undermine the Post's storyline -- and might even suggest that Democrats suffered politically because they were too solicitous of Republicans. But instead of changing their narrative to fit reality, the Post makes up an alternate universe in which fiats weighed more heavily on the minds of voters than did jobs.
Next, let's take a look at Chris Cillizza's "Ten members to watch in the 112th Congress":
North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D): Conrad watched as Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) retired and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) were defeated in the last cycle -- and now must decide whether or not to run again in his own right in 2012. If Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, does decide to retire, it could actually help the chances of a bipartisan budget deal as he would be less concerned about the political fallout from any compromise.
Again, the idea that recent lack of agreement by the two parties on fiscal measures is a result of excessive partisanship by Kent Conrad is absurd. On the biggest legislative items of the last Congress -- things like health care and the stimulus, the very things Republicans and journalists invoke as evidence of Democratic partisanship -- Democrats again and again made concessions in an attempt to win Republican support, and Republicans refused that support anyway. It was the GOP's entire legislative and political strategy. Don't take my word for it: Mitch McConnell has explicitly said it was the Republicans' approach. He has bragged about it. Here's McConnell:
"We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals," McConnell says. "Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the 'bipartisan' tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there's a broad agreement that that's the way forward."
In light of the fact that Republicans like Mitch McConnell have explicitly said that they pursued a strategy of opposing everything the Democrats did, specifically so nothing could be called "bipartisan," it's simply dishonest to blame Democrats for insufficient bipartisanship.
[House GOP Leader John] Boehner's comments, made on the CBS program "Face the Nation," altered the landscape of the tax debate by suggesting that Republicans might not obstruct Democratic efforts to raise taxes on the top earners - a move advocated by Obama and many other Democrats as necessary to lowering the record deficit.
There are no "Democratic efforts to raise taxes on the top earners." Indeed, no such effort is necessary: If nothing is done, tax rates will increase as scheduled under laws enacted during the Bush administration. Many Democrats are trying to cut taxes for everyone who earns less than $200,000 a year, but they aren't making an "effort" to raise taxes on anyone. Republicans cannot obstruct Democratic efforts to raise taxes on the wealthy, because there is nothing to obstruct. They can, however, obstruct Democratic efforts to cut taxes for the middle class. But I'm sure the GOP is thrilled that their options are being spun this way by the Post.
Later in the same article:
As part of the small-business debate this week, the Senate is to return briefly to the contentious issue of health care. An amendment offered by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) would repeal a portion of the new health-care law that threatens to impose onerous new tax requirements on business owners.
Why is a Washington Post news article -- not an opinion column -- describing provisions of the health care law as "onerous"?
Here's the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray on what will happen if Republicans win control of the House of Representatives:
The GOP would regain control of committees and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), likely to become chairman of the powerful House oversight committee, would launch wide-ranging hearings into White House policies and use his subpoena power to call administration officials to testify (just as Democrats did with Bush officials).
Well, maybe not just as Democrats did.
After all, the last time Republicans controlled the House with a Democratic president, they ran around subpoenaing everything that moved; GOP committee chairs shot up vegetable gardens in an effort to 'prove' that the president killed his close friend. They impeached him over an affair. Congressional Democrats simply didn't do anything even remotely similar during the Bush administration, even in the face of torture, warrantless wiretapping of Americans, and a war started on false pretenses. And so far, Darrell Issa has shown signs of being closer to Dan Burton than to Henry Waxman.
I don't believe that Washington Post reporters and editors actually think that Democrats and Republicans have approached congressional oversight of the opposing party's president in an equivalent way over the past twenty years. How could they? It's preposterous. Yet they reflexively pretend that things that are actually quite different are the same. And the result is much like the result of pretending that both sides are equally dishonest: It incentivizes bad behavior.
And here's Murray on what would happen if Democrats maintain control of Congress:
The shock of nearly losing power after just four years would be certain to temper the Democrats' legislative ambition. The most chastened Democrats would be liberals who fought for the health-care and climate change bills that distracted Congress from the jobs agenda voters say they would have preferred. [Emphasis added]
Murray doesn't consider the possibility that the most chastened Democrats would (or should) be conservatives who opposed a larger stimulus that might have done a better job of improving the economy and, thus, the Democrats' political fortunes. She just reflexively blames the Left.
Did you know that Republicans made a good-faith effort to find agreement on health care over the past year, but they were met by Democratic intransigence and pledge-breaking? It must be true; the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Anne Kornblut say so:
During Thursday's session, both sides expressed regret about the way the debate has unfolded. What started nearly a year ago as a good-faith effort to find broad agreement quickly devolved into a partisan grudge match, marred by favors to secure votes and deals cut by the White House and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill with special-interest groups. As several Republicans noted, most key decisions were reached behind closed doors, a breach of Obama's campaign pledge to make health-care negotiations transparent.
"Both of us during the campaign promised change in Washington," Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, said to Obama. "In fact, eight times you said that negotiations on health-care reform would be conducted with the C-SPAN cameras. I'm glad more than a year later that they are here."
No mention anywhere in the article of the Republican ideas that have been incorporated into reform legislation -- and certainly no mention of the fact that despite the incorporation of those ideas, no Republican has supported health care reform, or even indicated what it would take to win his or her vote. And no evidence that Republicans approached anything in "good faith."
Following is a list of criticism of Democrats by Republicans that is included in the Washington Post's article about the GOP's strategy for tomorrow's health care summit:
And here are the Democratic responses to those criticisms the Post included:
Finally, here are the criticisms of Republicans by Democrats that the Post included:
The Washington Post reported as fact that Sen. John McCain "suspend[ed] most campaign activities last week" without noting evidence to the contrary, including reports in the Post that McCain's campaigning continued "despite" his "pledge." Further, the Post uncritically reported Steve Schmidt's assertion that Sen. Barack Obama "will raise taxes." In fact, Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families.
A Washington Post article noted Sen. John McCain's "criticisms of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as 'agents of intolerance' during the 2000 Republican primaries" without also noting that McCain has since said he no longer believed Falwell was an "agent of intolerance." The article also referred to "the high-profile controversy stirred up by Obama's former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr." without mentioning controversies involving two pastors who endorsed McCain.
In an article about a Vets for Freedom (VFF) television ad, The Washington Post reported that VFF chairman Pete Hegseth denied that his organization is operating on behalf of Sen. John McCain, but "conceded that the message in the ad is almost identical to McCain's on the stump." Similarly, the Associated Press reported that McCain "is getting ... help from" the VFF television ad campaign. But neither the Post nor the AP mentioned that Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman -- McCain supporters and frequent campaign surrogates -- had served on the VFF Policy Board of Advisors.
In a Washington Post article, Shailagh Murray wrote: "GOP Senate offices circulated the results of a Gallup poll released this week that showed 54 percent of those surveyed think [Gen. David] Petraeus's plan for removing troops is the right pace, or even too quick." However, this poll question did not explain to respondents how many troops Petraeus' plan called for removing or over what period of time this withdrawal would take place. Other polling shows that when respondents are told specifically what Petraeus recommended, the results are dramatically different.
The Washington Post wrote that Gen. David Petraeus "is expected to report to Congress next month that there are some signs of progress in Iraq and that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal could be disastrous." But Murray gave no indication that the term "precipitous withdrawal" is used by Republicans to attack Iraq withdrawal plans, nor did she cite a single lawmaker who has called for a "precipitous U.S. withdrawal" from Iraq.