DAYS OF PONZI! You’ll have to find out for yourself!

Special report! All week, we'll review the way the press corps limned Rick Perry's wild remarks!


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!


  1. These worthless tools should be put out to sea. Today Bruni is breathing heavily about Italy, in a piece so content-free it could have been written by Friedman. Meanwhile, Brooks is puzzling about the morality of the young - the same young who have been told that SS won't exist for them, because... well, it just wont.

  2. You missed one really cringe worthy example of such 'journalism,' Bob:

    If you haven't read this Cato piece from 1983, you should check it out. It almost reads like a history of their propaganda campaign, written last week:

    It is truly amazing how lazy our press corps is; even people telegraph their intentions, they can't get the story right.

  3. That one paragraph of explanation misses a big part of the "Ponzi scheme" misconception.

    Kids can't pay their own schooling. The adults and seniors pay for it. After the kids grow up it's their turn to pay for the next generation.

    Social Security is similar. The generation that is working helps out the generation that can't, then everybody advances one step.

    The differences between Social Security and education are a) we don't give SS to just everybody, you have to have helped support it earlier, and b) we compensated for the demographic bulge by taking in the extra money early, before it was needed.

    What Ponzi did was lie to his investors about the money in their accounts. But you don't have an investment account with Social Security. You can't withdraw money, your heirs don't get it, you haven't "saved up" anything. So no Ponzi.

  4. The assault on Social Security has been going on for 75 years. In the 1930s, the GOP claimed that SS would lead to communism, totalitarianism and SS recipients would have to wear dog tags. SS itself has been successfully functioning for 75 years, not missing a payment through wars and recessions. As a recipient of SS, I say thank you to FDR every month. Not only do they claim that SS is a Ponzi scheme but also that the SS Trust Fund is just a bunch of worthless IOUs. When you point out that they are treasury bonds earning interest and backed by the full faith and credit of the USA, the scoffers counter that they are special issue bonds. Excuse me, that does not mean that they are special issue fake treasury bonds. So what if they are special issue. They are still treasury bonds just as valid as the treasuries owned by China and millions of Americans. The trust fund is worth $2.5 trillion and it's constantly earning interest. SS, overall and on average, is still taking in more than it is giving out in benefits. The SS haters seem to be implying that the US will selectively default on the SS trust fund treasuries but not on the other treasuries that foreign countries and millions of Americans own. That's just bunk. If the US defaults on the SS trust fund it would crash the whole economy and make a mockery of the full faith and credit thingy.

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