Friday, May 06, 2005

The Howler

One subject that comes up a lot on here is media inadequacies. I say "inadequacies" and not "bias" because in my opinion attitudes about media bias are so ossified on both sides that it's tough to have a decent discussion of the concept.

The other reason I don't go into great detail on this subject is that there is already a left-of-center blog devoted to exposing right-wing media bias - it's called the Daily Howler, and you can find it on the right of this page.

I have a lot of problems with the Howler; Somerby is a Blue Dog type, pretty conservative corporate-money wing Democrat and the aspects of the mainstream media that really need exposing (such as their awful, lazy coverage of foreign policy issues) Somerby doesn't touch. Presumably that's because the illusions that would be dispeled by such an exercise are illusions he himself clings to.

But I digress. The Howler is a good place to find examples of the most egregious media ineptitude, and today's dissection of Krauthammer's awful Social Security article is one of their best in a while.

Krauthammer, I think, is one of the top two (with Tony Blankley) most striking examples of the difference between what is required of liberals and centrists and what is required of conservatives in the mainstream press. Krauthammer was once a useful and independent commentator, about 20 years ago. For the past several years, however, he has written witless regurgitations of various bits of GOP illogic and called them columns, without even the pretense of independence, objectivity, or even accuracy.

Leaving my personal distaste for Krauthammer to one side, though, his hacktacular spinning of the Social Security question actually does a nice job of bringing into sharp focus (for those who can see through the thick fog of distortions with which he tries to obscure it) exactly what is so stupid about Bush's newly unveiled "plan" to "save" Social Security by cutting promised benefits to people who make more than about $20,000/year.

The key is this - the problem with Social Security (inasmuch as one exists) is that because of the way benefits are calculated, the typical retiree will get much more in 2050 than a retiree gets today, even after adjusting for inflation. The result is that after 2041, if you believe the SS trustees, or 2052, if you believe the more historically realistic CBO projections, Social Security won't be able to fully pay promised benefits. Instead, it will be able to pay only a large fraction of those benefits, still more in constant dollars than what is being paid today.

So Bush's proposal is to cut promised benefts, which we are now being told by shamelesss hustlers like Krauthammer are not really cuts because the actual benefits being paid out will still grow. The problem with that reasoning is that if we accept that benefits don't need to grow at the rate at which they are currently projected there is no problem.

Take a breath here and realize what this means. Bush is proposing trimming the rate of growth of promised Social Security benefits in order to make room for a private accounts program that he is billing as an effort to prevent our having to trim the rate of growth of promised Social Security benefits.

See it now? The problem and the solution are the same. It's a piece of political sleight-of-hand that is so obvious to anyone with a working knowledge of the details of the proposals on the table that the only conclusion we can draw about Krauthammer's column is that he is deliberately, directly lying to his readers about the implications of the President's plan.

That's sort of the easy part of discussing media bias. Partisan bag men like Krauthammer do stuff like this because they can get away with it. The more complicated question is why they get away with it, why the E.J. Dionne's and Michael Kinsley's of the world don't take to the Post Op/Ed page and embarrass Krauthammer into at least pretending to be an impartial commentator.

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