The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Politicians 1 – Press 0

In Legislation Today, Political world on February 18, 2011 at 2:51 pm

When it comes to Social Security and the deficit, you just can’t believe what you hear on the news. And sometimes you can believe what you hear from politicians.

Trudy Lieberman, in her piece, “The Budget Narrative: the press goes astray on Social Security” in the Columbia Journalism Review, spells out just how wrong some of our most respected news sources can be.

NPR:

On Marketplace, after commenting that the president’s 2,500 page budget explanation is “kind of a big yawn,” host Kai Ryssdal turned the program over to John Dimsdale, who noted that the budget freezes domestic spending for five years, cuts help for the poor to pay for heat, and raises interest on student loans. Then he lamented that “there’s no fix in this budget for the big deficit generators like Medicare, Social Security or tax loopholes.” At another spot in the segment, he said Obama’s budget director Jack Lew was asked “why the budget doesn’t reflect some of the dramatic entitlement and tax reforms recommended by the president’s deficit commission.”

And The New York Times:

The New York Times got into the swing of it, too, with a piece by Jackie Calmes. In the fourth graph of her story, she wrote: Neither party has put forward specific proposals to begin grappling with the most pressing long-term budget problem: the huge costs in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs as the population ages and medical costs rise, a bill that could overwhelm the government and crimp the economy if not addressed.

But guess who got it right this week? The politicians–both right and left:

…at his [the president’s] budget press conference when Ben Feller of the AP asked: “Your plan does not address the long-term crushing costs of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid—the real drivers of long-term debt. Can you explain that?” The president explained: “The truth is that Social Security is not the huge contributor to the debt that the other two entitlements are.” Then it was Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan’s turn, and he said pretty much the same thing. Paul Ryan, the hawkish, influential chair of the House Budget Committee? In an interview with Politico, Ryan said, with a bit of garble: Social Security is a big part of the problem of future debt. Now as people know—now Social Security is not a contributor to our deficit of any material right now. Social Security is not a big driver of our debt problems. Medicare and Medicaid are the biggest drivers of our future debt problems. Maybe this is one time when the media should be taking their cues from the pols as they craft their stories.

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