The CBS Evening News has decided the best way to inform viewers about the impending "fiscal cliff" is to let corporate CEOs affiliated with the Fix the Debt campaign recommend cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
On November 19, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was tapped for his apparent expertise in long-term budget forecasting. His message was simple: Benefit cuts are necessary. "The entitlements, and what people think that they're going to get, because it's not going to--they're not going to get it," he asserted.
Blankfein offered more specifics, explaining that
Social Security wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. So there will be certain things that the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised.
It's hard to know what he's talking about when he refers to a "25-year career." Perhaps some Goldman Sachs employees retire in their early 40s, but most workers do not--and they certainly don't get Social Security retirement benefits when they do so. But Blankfein derives a straightforward moral from this dubious talking point: These benefits must be cut "because we can't afford them."
The following night, anchor Scott Pelley had a new expert: Honeywell CEO David Cote, who warned that the country's debt load meant that "we've got to do something." Why should viewers care what Cote says about any of this? Pelley explained that he "knows about fixing finances. He pulled Honeywell out of a slump."
Cote's fix is to reduce tax deductions, since "there were like 169 different ones used in, I don't know, 2008 or 2009, somewhere in there." Like the other CBS CEO, Cote also wants benefit cuts: "The big nut is going to have to be Medicare/Medicaid.… At the end of the day, you can't avoid the topic. Especially with the Baby Boomer generation retiring. It's going to literally crush the system."
On November 21, CBS Evening News was still on the case. The experts this time were, as anchor Jeff Glor put it, "two men who say they know how it should be done--if only Washington would listen." The two are Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, who co-chaired a 2011 White House debt commission. The chairs issued a report, based on drastically shrinking the federal government, that was championed by many in the press (Extra!, 1/11), but failed to be approved by the full commission. Both are co-founders of the corporate-backed "Fix the Debt" campaign.
That was followed on the broadcast by another segment with Goldman Sachs' Blankfein, who told anchor Scott Pelley:
Look, if we go over the fiscal cliff it will be very bad, hugely bad--hugely negative for the stock market, which is, you know, a source of people's wealth, people will feel poor.
Of course, many people don't consider the stock market a source of their own wealth. And 50 million Americans already "feel poor" because they are.
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Blankfein added: "To me, whether the tax rate is 2 percent lower or higher or the cutoff age on some entitlement is one year less or more is secondary or tertiary to the fact that this country is focused on its future."
A cut in Social Security or healthcare probably is "tertiary" to a guy who makes millions of dollars every year. Which makes his perspective a peculiar one to highlight twice in one week.
So what accounts for the urgent need to cut benefits?
The "fiscal cliff" is a scheduled set of tax increases and spending cuts that, if allowed to roll out over the course of 2013, would likely do considerable harm to the fragile economic recovery. It is not really a "cliff," though; Congress and the White House could go over it on January 1 and still reach a subsequent deal in the days or weeks afterwards.
Some of those pushing the "cliff" crisis seem more interested in making some permanent cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare--which would have far more serious consequences for Americans than the "fiscal cliff." Among those advocates are the business interests behind the Simpson/Bowles Fix the Debt campaign. All of the CBS fiscal experts featured last week were affiliated with this group.
There are critics of this plan. The Institute for Policy Studies recently issued a report (11/13/12 ) explaining the corporate interests behind the debt campaign. Report co-author Sarah Anderson told Democracy Now! (11/13/12) that Fix the Debt is "really just a Trojan horse. They’re pushing for the same old tax breaks for corporations that they’ve been pushing for for about a decade."
Instead of doing journalism to expose the interests behind this campaign, CBS is giving them a megaphone.
Tell CBS Evening News that their discussion of the "fiscal cliff" should include experts who aren't entitlement-busting CEOs.
CBS Evening News
Phone: 212 975-3247