Money & PoliticsFor multi-billionaire businessman Pete Peterson it buys you a foundation in your name devoted to cutting so-called “entitlements”, a movie crafted to scare Americans into believing we can’t afford Social Security and Medicare (IOUSA), an online “news service”  to pass off your anti-entitlement views as news and even the Washington Post to run these advocacy pieces as A section articles without disclosing to its readers who actually paid to produce this propaganda posing as legitimate coverage.  At issue is a Washington Post article  on the proposed creation of an entitlement commission, written by the Peterson financed Fiscal Times “news service”.     Our President/CEO, Barbara Kennelly, wrote to the Post calling them out on their shameless lack of journalistic integrity.   Here’s her letter -- since chances are better than excellent you’ll never see it in print: 
Dear Editor:  It is a sad day indeed when a respectable news source such as the Washington Post relinquishes its control of investigative and balanced reporting to a propaganda machine funded by a super-wealthy Wall Street tycoon.  On first read, the article entitled “Support Grows for tackling nation’s debt” (Dec. 31) appears as a straight news piece.  However, closer scrutiny reveals this to be nothing more than a gratis publication of biased writing funded by the Peterson Foundation, a formidable foe of Social Security and Medicare.  This deception does a grave disservice to all of your readers.    That the Washington Post shares the ill-conceived views of groups like Peterson’s has not gone unnoticed, but at least on previous occasions your publication made it clear that the views were from your editorial writers as opposed to providing a balanced, factual analysis of the debt issue.    This disturbing trend toward parroting the biased views of a right-wing conservative who is using his vast wealth to buy public opinion on an issue critical to millions of Americans is yet another indication of the advancing deterioration of credible and trustworthy news reporting.     Sincerely, Barbara B. Kennelly, President and CEO National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare  
Social Security advocates have also written to the Post’s Ombudsman and Board Chairman urging them to reconsider this ill-considered relationship with a so-called “news service” created and funded by an advocacy organization.  We understand fiscal times are tough at newspapers all over the nation but surely, the Post still realizes you can’t be an advocate and a journalist.   This commission article isn’t news but instead advocacy masquerading as news.  It’s also an example of what a billion dollars buys you these days in Washington. 
Donald E. Graham, Chairman of the Board The Washington Post Company Washington, D.C.  Dear Mr Graham:  On January 1, we contacted the Ombudsman to express our dismay at a slanted piece of journalism that ran in your newspaper and our deep concern about the Post’s decision to partner in the future with the Fiscal Times, which produced the article.  The Fiscal Times was created and is funded by Peter G. Peterson, who has engaged in a decades-long effort to have changes to Social Security considered under a fast-track commission which shields members of Congress from political accountability.    Consistent with Mr. Peterson’s longstanding objective, the article the Post published is rife with factual errors, important omissions and significant distortions, which lead the reader to see a fast-tracked commission as sound policy and without opposition – indeed, virtually inevitable.  Representative of the errors, omissions, and distortions are the following:  
  • The Administration has not taken a public position on a so-called fast-track commission, and we have talked to high-level advisers in the White House who have told us privately that they oppose the fast-tracking, yet the first sentence of the second full paragraph states, “President Obama has voiced support for such a plan.”
  •   Speaker Pelosi and her staff have been clear about her opposition to a commission whose recommendations are fast tracked, yet the article implies that she has changed her position.  A close reading suggests that the article seeks the reader to draw that inference, though her position, in reality, remains unchanged. 
  • The article fails to report that the powerful Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, is strongly opposed to the proposal.  The article obviously fails to note that Senator Baucus delivered an impassioned speech in opposition, in which he described the proposal as a plan under which Congress would “outsource its core fiscal responsibilities,” and warned that “this commission and its new fast track process are truly dangerous… we would risk setting in motion some truly terrible policy…it is clear from their press release that Senators Conrad and Gregg have painted a big red target on Social Security and Medicare.  That’s what this commission is all about.”
  • The article omits the fact that the AARP is on the public record in opposition of the fast-track commission, but rather implies otherwise by including at the conclusion of the lengthy story some tepid, relatively-narrow concerns of a spokesman for the AARP .
  • The article omits the fact that the AARP sent a letter to Congressional leaders stating the AARP’s unequivocal opposition.  It also omits the fact that the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations sent a letter representing 27 national aging organizations.  The article further omits that a letter signed by over 40 national organizations, including the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Common Cause, NAACP, NOW, and SEIU, was sent in opposition.  Also, omitted was the fact of a letter from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an organization representing millions of members.  Obviously the article provided no quotes from the letters, all of which are posted online. 
  • No academics or policy analysts are quoted in the story with the exception of the executive director of the Concord Coalition.  The story fails to disclose that the founding President of the Concord Coalition is Mr. Peterson, a longtime advocate of the commission that was the focus of the story (and to repeat, the founder and financial backer of the Fiscal Times, which produced the story). 
Every error, commission and omission in the article is in support of the objectives of Mr. Peterson.  By printing the article, the Washington Post has let itself be used by that powerful individual who is now able to influence policy not just through opinion pieces but through what purports to be objective news.  Of greater concern to us than the one story is the Post’s announced partnership with Mr. Peterson’s enterprise and the plans to publish other articles, as objective news stories, from that biased source.  The Post’s highly respected imprimatur is likely to cause local papers to print these biased pieces, as well.  We respectfully request that you meet with a delegation of the undersigned so that we can further discuss our concerns in person.  To facilitate the arrangement of the meeting, the contact information of the first signatory appears at the end of this letter  Sincerely,  Nancy  J. Altman, Co-Director of Project to Protect and improve America’s Economic Security Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research Merton C. Bernstein, Coles Professor of Law Emeritus, Washington University Robert H. Binstock, Professor of Aging, Health, and Society, Case Western Reserve University Suzanne Blouin, retired, Office of Communications, Social Security Administration Barbara Burt, Executive Director, Frances Perkins Center Dale Coberly, co-author of the Northwest Plan to restore Social Security to balance Nancy Dapper, Executive Director, Western & Central WA Chapter, Alzheimer's Association Patricia E. Dilley, Professor of Law, University of Florida Stephen Gorin Professor, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH Lori L. Hansen, former member, Social Security Advisory Board Roger Hickey, Co-Director, Campaign for America’s Future Karen Holden, Emeritus Professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison Eric Kingson Professor, Syracuse University School of Social Work Robert Kuttner, Founding Co-Editor, American Prospect Theodore Marmor, Professor Emeritus, Yale University Gerald A. McIntyre, National Senior Citizens Law Center Lawrence Mishel, President,   Economic Policy Institute Maya Rockeymoore, President, Global Policy Solutions Max J. Skidmore, University of Missouri Curators' Professor of Political Science, Thomas Jefferson Fellow, University of Missouri-Kansas City