Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 12, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

THE PRESS AND THE PRESIDENT....What's the answer to news stories like this?

Far from his dairy farm in central Utah, 27-year-old Josh Wright stepped onto a stage with President Bush on Tuesday and related the warning his father had given the other day in the barn.

"He looked me in the eye and he said, 'Don't depend on Social Security. You're independent....Don't plan on having Social Security there when you get older.' "

The president looked at Wright approvingly. "At your age," he said, Social Security "will be bust by the time it comes for you to retire."

...."If you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now," Bush said.

Now, these are obviously lies designed to convince young people that they will get no Social Security benefits at all when they retire something that every serious analyst knows to be flatly false. Even in the worst case scenario beloved of Republicans, Social Security will never be bankrupt. It will merely pay out reduced but still substantial benefits starting 40 or 50 years from now.

So what's the right thing for the press to do? Obviously they have no control over what the president says. And like it or not, they really do have to report what he says. He's an important guy, after all. And if he says stuff like this over and over, the press is pretty much obliged to report it over and over.

And despite the sterling example of the liberal blogosphere, it's equally obvious that reporters can't preface every quote from the president with, "In yet another attempt to deceive the public, George Bush said today...."

In this particular case, the LA Times took the usual tack of quoting a couple of Democrats who "responded" to Bush's statement in the 12th paragraph of the story. That's page A14 in the print edition, for readers keeping score at home. In other words, practically no one saw even that much of a response to Bush's plain misstatement.

So what's the answer? What should a responsible press do when faced with a president who baldly lies over and over about stuff like this in a blatant attempt to scare the hell out of people? Somebody needs to figure it out, because people like George Bush have no incentive to stop lying if the press lets them get away with it. It's a brave new world, guys.

Kevin Drum 12:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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