Hard times at the Washington Post

The Washington Post is a newspaper with a proud legacy. It has done much important reporting over the years, most famously its coverage of the Watergate scandal that resulted in the resignation of Richard Nixon. Unfortunately, it seems to have abandoned its journalistic standards. In its last issue of the decade, it published as a news piece an article by the Peter Peterson Foundation-funded Fiscal Times. This compromised the Post's journalistic integrity to the extent that readers can no longer take it seriously.

Peter Peterson is a Wall Street billionaire
and former Nixon administration cabinet member who has been trying to
gut social security payments and Medicare for at least the last quarter
of a century. He has written several books that warn of a demographic
disaster when the baby boomers retire. These books often include
nonsense arguments to make his case. For example, in one of the books
making his pitch for cutting social security as matter of generational
equity, Peterson proposes reducing the annual cost of living
adjustment. Peterson justified this cut by arguing that the price index
overstated the true rate of inflation, therefore the annual cost of
living adjustment was overcompensating retirees.

The problem with
Peterson's logic is that if the price index really overstated
inflation, then the country has been getting wealthier much faster than
the standard data show. This means that the young people who he was so
worried about would be far richer than anyone could have imagined. It
would also mean that the most of the retirees whose benefits he wanted
to cut grew up in poverty.

These conclusions logically followed
from Peterson's claim that the price index overstated inflation. But
Peterson didn't care about the logic, he wanted to cut social security
and he was prepared to say anything to advance this agenda.

Of course, what Peterson says matters because he uses his billions to make sure that his voice gets heard. In the case of his books, he would take out full-page ads in major newspapers to ensure that these otherwise very forgettable tracts got taken seriously.

And he started organisations. First, he had the Concord Coalition
("a nationwide, non-partisan, grassroots organisation advocating
generationally responsible fiscal policy") and, more recently, the Peter G Peterson Foundation,
and now its offspring, the Fiscal Times. Interestingly, the Fiscal
Times' debut piece in the Post managed to reference both of Peterson's
earlier creations.

The piece also included the standard and
inaccurate Peterson refrain about "skyrocketing spending on Medicare,
Medicaid and social security." Spending on social security is not
"skyrocketing" in the normal usage of the term. Measured as a share of
national income it will increase by less than 40% over the next two
decades, an increase that is fully funded by the designated Social
Security tax.

While spending on Medicare and Medicaid is
increasing rapidly, this is primarily the result of exploding private
sector healthcare costs. As every serious budget analysts knows,
private sector healthcare costs have been growing at a rate that
threatens to devastate the economy. If the private healthcare sector is
not fixed, we face an economic disaster regardless of what happens with
Medicare and Medicaid. If it is fixed, then the problems facing the
public sector programmes will be manageable.

This is not the first time that the Washington Post has been prepared to compromise its integrity to rescue its finances. Last year the Post's top management planned a series of dinners, billed as "salons", where they had intended to sell lobbyists
the opportunity to meet with the Washington Post's reporters in an
informal setting. This plan was nixed after it was leaked and the idea
developed into a scandal.

selling access to reporters is a certainly a high crime for a serious
newspaper, handing over a portion of the news section to an advocacy
group is arguably a worse sin. The Fiscal Times piece was
indistinguishable in its appearance from any other news story in the
Washington Post. Only those careful to read the byline or the note at
the bottom of the page would realize that the article was not a regular
news story. Nowhere is the Fiscal Times identified as being affiliated
with, and funded by, the Peter Peterson Foundation.

If the
Fiscal Times becomes a regular source of news articles at the Post, we
can probably soon expect to see pieces from National Rifle
Association's Shooting Illustrated. It is unfortunate that technological change may have made the traditional newspaper economically unviable - but it would have been better if the Washington Post could have had a dignified death.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 The Guardian