We’ll clarify what Dean Baker on one basic point: Many observers have already flagged the Washington Post’s remarkably awful “news report” concerning Social Security.
One example: To read Paul Krugman’s reaction, just click here.
The Post’s report was remarkably bad. We’ll discuss it in detail on Wednesday. And by the way, just so you’ll know: This was the featured report on Sunday’s front page. It ran more than 2400 words—and the report was accompanied by a very large graphic.
To see how the Post’s front page appeared, go ahead—just click this.
This front-page report was remarkably bad. That said, we’ll disagree with one part of Dean Baker’s reaction.
Krugman links to Baker’s post. You can go there yourself (just click here). For our money, Baker is one of the heroes of this long fight, thanks to the 1999 book he co-authored with Mark Weisbrot, “Social Security: The Phony Crisis.” (To read the book’s introduction, click this.)
The book is too technical to be fully useful for the general reader. But it’s the strongest effort anyone on our side has ever made in the face of thirty years of disinformation.
In our view, Baker mega-props. But we disagree with part of what he said, or might have seemed to say, at the start of a long blog post:
BAKER (10/29/11): News outlets generally like to claim a separation between their editorial pages and their news pages. The Washington Post has long ignored this distinction in pursuing its agenda for cutting Social Security, however it took a big step further in tearing down this barrier with a lead front page story that would have been excluded from most opinion pages because of all the inaccuracies it contained.From this opening excerpt, a reader might get the impression that this awful news report is somehow unique to the Washington Post. We don’t think Baker meant to say or imply that. But let’s make sure we’re perfectly clear about the actual truth.
The basic premise of the story, as expressed in the headline ("the debt fallout: how Social Security went 'cash negative' earlier than expected") and the first paragraph ("Last year, as a debate over the runaway national debt gathered steam in Washington, Social Security passed a treacherous milestone. It went 'cash negative.'") is that Social Security faces some sort of crisis because it is paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes. [The "runaway national debt" is also a Washington Post invention. The deficits have soared in recent years because of the economic downturn following the collapse of the housing bubble. No responsible newspaper would discuss this as problem of the budget as opposed to a problem with a horribly underemployed economy.]
This "treacherous milestone" is entirely the Post's invention, it has absolutely nothing to do with the law that governs Social Security benefit payments. Under the law, as long as there is money in the trust fund, then Social Security is able to pay full benefits. There is literally no other possible interpretation of the law.
It’s a bit misleading to say that the “treacherous milestone” is “entirely the Post’s invention.” In fact, this milestone has been part of right-wing disinformation for more than twenty years. So too with that “runaway national debt”—and we’re not sure why Baker feels that this report “would have been excluded from most opinion pages because of all the inaccuracies it contained.” It seems to us that presentations like this have been a common part of op-ed culture for the past many years.
This report was horrendous—but it’s the norm. Has been for a long time.
Why has this mountain of disinformation lived such a long, fruitful life? We’ll discuss that point on Wednesday, in part 3 of “Cult of dumb.”
We don’t think Baker meant to imply that this type of disinformation is confined to the Post. But this is a very important point. It needs to be made very clear.