TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2011
PART 2—ONE LONELY PARAGRAPH: Last Wednesday, at the GOP debate, Rick Perry shot his mouth off good about the Social Security program.
Social Security is “a Ponzi scheme,” he said; it’s “a monstrous lie.” Should young people paying into the program “expect to receive benefits when they reach retirement age?”
Such expectations are “just a lie,” the candidate seemed to say.
Perry’s remarks drew the bulk of press attention after this, his first debate. What follows is the sole attempt in the New York Times news pages to offer background information about his fiery comments. The Times managed to write exactly one paragraph about the substance of Perry’s claims! That lonely paragraph appeared Thursday morning—but only in the late editions:
BRODER, CONFESSORE AND CALMES (9/8/11): Some of the sharpest language of the night came when Mr. Perry laid into Social Security, saying, ''You cannot keep the status quo in place and call it anything other than a Ponzi scheme.'' But that metaphor is misleading. Government projections have Social Security exhausting its reserves by 2037, absent any changes, but show that the payroll tax revenues coming in would cover more than three-quarters of benefits to recipients then.That was it! That lonely paragraph appeared on page A21, midway through this fact-check report. And it only appeared in the Times’ late editions. That report did not appear in our own hard-copy Times, which appeared on our steps Thursday morning.
Nor did it appear the next day. In our delivered, hard-copy papers, the Times made no attempt to report the substance behind Perry’s fiery claims.
As Yakok Smirnoff used to say, “What a country!” Through publications like the Times, we still pretend to have a press corps and a political discourse. But the truth about our country is different. This fact became clear as the Times and the Washington Post refused to discuss the substance of Perry’s remarks.
As we noted in the first part of this series, American voters have long been clueless about the nature of Social Security. More precisely, voters have been aggressively disinformed, for decades, about the venerable program. They don’t understand how the program is funded. They don’t have a way of judging the substance of Perry’s presentation.
In large part, the disinformation campaigns have worked because of the gross malfeasance of “newspapers” like the Post and the Times. For starters, consider what we have found in our hard-copy Times in the days since last Wednesday’s debate:
As noted, that paragraph by Broder, Confessore and Calmes didn't appear in our hard-copy Times—not on Thursday, not on Friday, not in any edition. The substance of Perry’s remarks was ignored. Instead, we got a set of vacuous reports about the politics of the things he had said.
On Thursday morning, a front-page report by Adam Nagourney quoted the things the governor said. But it offered no background information about the substance of Perry’s remarks.
On Friday morning, a front-page report by Jackie Calmes also quoted the Ponzi scheme comment. (Perry’s quote sat above the fold, right there on page one.) But here too, Calmes’ report made no attempt to evaluate his claim on the substance.
Inside the paper, on pages A14 and A15, we were confronted with three more reports about the debate. Viewed as a package, these reports define the addled state of our post-journalistic culture:
Michael Shear offered this Political Memo, “A Preview of Strategies to Come.” (The headline has been changed on-line.) Romney and Perry are fighting over Social Security, Shear noted. But he made no attempt to provide any background about the points of dispute.
Nate Silver offered this speculative report, “After Debate Night, Pondering Election Night.” (The report is much longer on-line.) “Perry’s response to a question about Social Security” was “noteworthy,” Silver said; he said that Perry had “doubled-down on rhetoric from his book and characterized the program as a ‘Ponzi scheme.’” But Silver’s piece was a detailed speculation about the politics of Perry’s assertions. As with the pieces by Calmes and Shear, Silver made no attempt to provide any background on the substance of what Perry said.
One more piece appeared as part of the package—and this report did deal with a matter of substance! This worthless piece, written by Henry Fountain, discussed with the substance of Galileo’s views on astronomy in the 17th century! You see, Perry had made a slightly obscure remark about Galileo during the debate. This let the Times amuse its readers by pondering Perry’s dumbness. And yes—that’s why it was there. (Headline: “Divining Perry’s Meaning on Galileo Remark.”)
Let’s understand what we have just said:
In Friday morning’s extensive coverage of the debate, the New York Times reported the substance of Galileo’s view on whether the earth goes round the sun. But this dumbest of all modern “newspapers” never bothered explaining the substance of Perry’s remarks about Social Security! Not on Friday; not on Saturday; not even in Sunday’s big fat pseudo-paper! The Times offered just that one lonely paragraph on the substance of what Perry said.
That one lonely paragraph appeared Thursday morning—but only in the late edition. And the Washington Post did no better. In its news pages, The Washington Post made no attempt to explain the substance of Perry’s high-profile remarks.
Galileo can go straight to hell, the Pope said. But then, that’s roughly the attitude these brainless “newspapers” take toward the modern voter.
It’s amazingly easy to explain the basics of Social Security funding, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s report. But these haughty, post-journalistic “newspapers” didn’t stoop to explain such matters in the wake of Perry’s high-profile comments. In the wake of last Wednesday night’s debate, their news pages gave you exactly one paragraph about the substance of Perry’s remarks.
You were allowed to see that one graf if you get the New York Times—if you get its late edition.
Tomorrow—part 3: It’s so easy!