Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 16, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTING FDR....FDR's grandson, James Roosevelt, was on Keith Olbermann's show last night to say that Fox News anchor Brit Hume should offer "a retraction, an apology, maybe even a resignation" over his deliberate misquoting of FDR's views on Social Security. I've mentioned this before, but since my original post provoked several questions I want to make crystal clear what Hume did. Here is FDR's exact quote. All I've done is add paragraphs for easy reference:

In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles:

  1. First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps thirty years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions.

  2. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations.

  3. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age.

It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.

In other words, #1 (a temporary program for people who were already retired at the time) would eventually be phased out and replaced by #2, which is the permanent Social Security system we have today. (#3, which FDR didn't care much about in the first place, never even got enacted in the final bill that created Social Security.)

Now here's what Hume said:

In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, "Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age," adding that government funding, "ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."

By clever truncation of the quotation, he's trying to make it look like FDR thought #2 (Social Security) should eventually be replaced by #3 (private annuities). FDR neither said nor meant any such thing, and Hume knows it.

So why is a major network news anchor allowed to get away with this? This isn't just a difference of opinion or a matter of Hume's point of view versus mine. It's a deliberate misquotation in the service of ideology, and it's been making the rounds for two weeks now. Does Hume plan to ever apologize and air a retraction?

Kevin Drum 6:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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