Jul 17, 2008

Associated Press Is An Absolute Disgrace

We are seriously screwed if our press consistently generates even worse bullshit than our politicians. McCain said preposterous things about Social Security, and now AP has done some, uh, investigative reporting. Their great discovery: the 71-year-old is receiving Social Security benefits! Imagine that... the next dirty secret they'll dig up will be that his hair is white. The premise of the article is that
Although Republican presidential candidate John McCain has called Social Security "a disgrace," he still cashes his own retirement check every month.

Juxtaposed like this, it suggests that there is something wrong, hypocritical about it. There are so many ways to criticize McCain, and they chose an unfair one!? Come on, whether he likes the system or not, he is still entitled to the checks. What he is not entitled to is to lie and get away with it. But look what the AP article does with the substance of his statement:

Asked last week by a young woman at a town-hall meeting in Portsmouth, Ohio, if she is likely to receive Social Security benefits one day, McCain said it is unlikely without fixing the system.

No, even he didn't make it that bad. He said she would "not have the Social Security benefits the present-day retirees have". That means she wouldn't have as much; the article presents it as saying she wouldn't have anything at all.

Now, as I explained, what McCain said was bad enough. AP made it worse. Did they do it to make it easier to debunk? That would be unfair, but the end result would turn out correct: McCain lied.

So it is going to be ugly, right? They'll make him really eat his words, right? Well, here is what they have to say:

Social Security benefits are projected to exceed the system's tax revenues in about nine years. The program's trustees have said the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2041 unless the system is changed.


Yes, that's all true, but irrelevant. The trust fund will have no money, but there will still be current taxes. Today, Social Security pays no benefits from its trust fund; it pays them all from current taxes, and then has some left over, which it puts in the trust fund. At no point in the future is the trust fund expected to supply as much as one-quarter of benefit payments. And, as the GDP and wages grow, the benefit payments will become significantly bigger than they are now.

A responsible journalist would explain all that to the readers, because to someone who doesn't understand the ins and outs of Social Security financing, the facts stated in the article may well look like a validation, not just of McCain's actual statement, but also of the even worse AP misinterpretation.

But AP is not in the business of responsible journalism any more. They are in the business of making howler monkey noises.

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