Welcome to the Washington Post?s Halloween Social Security Scare Fest

2011-10-31T12:24:00+00:00October 31st, 2011|Budget, entitlement reform, Social Security|

The Washington Post continues its campaign against Social Security with an especially slanted, error-laden and opinion-filled story posing as a front page ?news? story.There are so many errors in this piece, even beyond the inherent bias of its approach, loaded language and slanted interviews, it would take a 5,000 word opus to highlight them all here. As a start, here is our President/CEO, Max Richtman?s letter to Washington Post editors (which will of course never be published so you will only see it here):

Dear Editor:On behalf of millions of Americans who have worked for and earned their Social Security benefits, I take strong exception to Sunday?s front-page piece by Lori Montgomery titled ?Social Security adding billions to U.S. budget woes.? This story is so riddled with factual inaccuracies and biased rhetorical flourishes it has no business in the news section of a major, or that matter, any newspaper.The entire premise of the piece is built on a foundation of falsehoods that have been perpetrated for decades by those who oppose Social Security with virtually no balance provided for the reader. Bias reported as fact is the hallmark of this story. For example, Social Security?s short-term shortfall is not a ?treacherous milestone,? but indeed a natural consequence of the programs? funding mechanism. Surpluses have been built up in Social Security since the last major reforms in 1983 precisely so funds would be available to pay benefits of the baby boom generation as they began retiring. This is also not the first time Social Security has paid out more in benefits than it is collecting in payroll tax revenues ? similar situations occurred in 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and in 2009. The world obviously did not come to an end on any of those occasions.Social Security?s Trust Funds, which Ms. Montgomery so cavalierly dismisses, are invested in U.S. Treasury bonds. Redeeming these bonds to pay benefits will require precisely the same choices the United States faces whenever any bond holder opts to cash in their bonds. In such cases, the government ?must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors? ? there is nothing unique about these alternatives as they apply to Social Security. And if Social Security sells some of its bonds and this money is used to pay benefits, it does not raise the debt subject to the federal borrowing limit by a single penny. Claiming that somehow using Trust Fund assets to pay retiree?s benefits adds to the deficit shows a lack of understanding of fundamental economic concepts that borders incompetence.I do not have the space to identify the myriad other errors in Ms. Montgomery?s story. However I feel compelled to make one final point. The ?upper-income workers? who would suffer benefit cuts in the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan (not the Commission they headed, which failed to adopt their recommendations) are people with average lifetime earnings of only about $40,000 a year. Labeling these hard working middle class Americans ?upper-income? in a Social Security discussion while at the same time the Washington Post questions whether someone earning $500,000 a year is truly ?wealthy? in the tax context seems especially hypocritical. I should also point out that the Bowles-Simpson plan requires the draw-down of the Trust Funds, thereby leaving Social Security in the same ?cash negative? situation Ms. Montgomery criticizes for the next half-century.I strongly urge the Washington Post to limit its editorializing to the appropriate editorial pages and stop disguising opinion as news reporting.Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

There have also been a number of good rebuttals and fact-checking responses online today. Richard Eskow reminds us how the Washington Post helped drive us to war with similar PR pieces, short on facts and high on political rhetoric posing as news. Now, it appears seniors are the target:

The piece’s author sits us down by the campfire, holds the flashlight up to her chin, and spins a yarn filled with quotes from right-wing ideologues from both parties. Most of her “sources” have a long history of trying to gut Social Security, often under the employ of billionaire former Nixon Cabinet member Pete Peterson (whose own organization, Fiscal Times, provides financial journalism services for the Post. Coincidence? You decide.)How many quotations are included from the organizations and groups defending Social Security? None.How many quotations from economists like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dean Baker, who have a proven record of accuracy of domestic economic matters? None.How many quotations from truly nonpartisan observers like Harry C. Ballantyne, the Chief Actuary for Medicare and Social Security appointed by Ronald Reagan who co-authored a report that put the lie to many of these claims? None.A director of the AARP is quoted, but only so that he can be characterized as the spokesperson for an “interest group” conducting a “public relations campaign.”Reporting like this makes Judy Miller look like John Peter Zenger.

Eskowalso provides a point-by-point breakdown of the Post errors here.CEPR Economist Dean Baker and New York Times contributor and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman also provide excellent descriptions of just how wrong this Post article truly is.