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Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
JANUARY 13, 2005
10:05 AM
CONTACT: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Phone: 212-633-6700
Action Alert: NBC Short on Social Security "Crisis" Critics

WASHINGTON -- January 13 -- The debate over George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security seems to be heating up, and some media outlets are beginning to notice the flaws in the White House's argument that there is an imminent "crisis" in the decades-old government program. On the January 11 NBC Nightly News broadcast, anchor Brian Williams seemed to be addressing that issue, introducing a segment by noting that "critics say he's exaggerating the problem to sell his plan, while not yet talking about big cuts in future retiree benefits."

But the report that followed included no such critics of the administration's "crisis" rhetoric. There was certainly room for such opinions, considering that NBC quoted Bush making a glaring exaggeration in describing the plan: "So 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." None of the projections of Social Security's future contend that the system will be "flat bust"; even by the Social Security trustees' pessimistic assumptions, the system will always be able to pay more to future retirees than current recipients get (Economic Reporting Review,, 12/6/04).

But NBC correspondent David Gregory failed to check Bush's comment, following up only by mentioning that "before settling on a final proposal, aides say the president needs more time to define the problem, one he calls a crisis." One would hope that a journalist would be more interested in pointing out that Bush's attempt to "define the problem" as a "crisis" apparently involves wild exaggerations.

NBC did include comments from one worker who was worried about future benefit cuts in Social Security. His fears were balanced by a soundbite from David John, billed by NBC as a "Social Security Analyst" and one of the "supporters of the benefit cut." Left unmentioned, however, was John's institutional affiliation: He works for the conservative Heritage Foundation, one of the most active pro-privatization think tanks in the country.

It's good that NBC is at least referring to the existence of "criticism that the president is exaggerating the need for change." But NBC would better serve its viewers by actually including those views in its reports.

Encourage NBC Nightly News to expand its coverage of Social Security to include experts who believe Bush's claims of an imminent Social Security "crisis" are untrue.

NBC Nightly News
Phone: 212-664-4971

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