Sunday, May 20, 2012

press power

Social Security is the one issue on which the electorate is not divided. Gallup polls dating back six decades consistently show some 70 percent of the public strongly supports Social Security.

Listening to the politicians and policy gurus, one would conclude that this most basic of retirement programs for nearly all Americans is in grave danger, and America itself is in grave danger because of it.

For nearly three years Columbia Journalism Review has observed that much of the press has reported only one side of this story using “facts” that are misleading or flat-out wrong while ignoring others. Whatever the reason—ideology, poor understanding of how the program works, gullibility, or plain old reportorial laziness—news outlets have given the public a skewed picture of the financial health of this hugely important program, which is the sole source of retirement funds for millions of Americans and will continue to be for decades to come.

But the fact is, the program can pay full benefits until 2036, and three-quarters of the benefits after that without new revenues. Many experts believe small fixes like lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes—$110,100 for 2012—will make Social Security solvent for decades. But that option is not on Washington’s table, nor has it been discussed much in the press. Why not? Because it doesn’t fit into the doom-and-gloom narrative that has proved politically expedient to tell? The one-sided reporting on this issue has influenced the way millions of Americans, especially younger ones, now think about Social Security.

“The elite press repeatedly quotes the commentary of the devoted opponents of social insurance retirement programs,”
says Yale professor emeritus Theodore Marmor. “But they appear unaware of how they are supporting a strategic attack on social insurance that has been going on for years.”

It’s a popular message. TV anchors, hosts, and expert guests have also told the public that Social Security is the cause of the federal deficit, and have narrowly framed the possible cures. The ones mentioned most often include reducing cost-of-living increases; means testing the program, and raising the age of eligibility to 69, 70, or higher.

There is little debate on other solutions  such as trimming the bloated, out-of-control defence budget, or allowing the US government to bulk negotiate for lower-priced prescription drugs for Medicare (like virtually every other post-industrial nation does) - or not imprisoning a larger share of our population, per capita, than Ming The Merciless.

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