The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), a media watchdog committed to high standards in journalism, has released a scathing critique of many media outlets for sub-par reporting on Social Security.
From the article:
For nearly three years CJR has observed that much of the press has reported only one side of this story using “facts” that are misleading or flat-out wrong while ignoring others. Whatever the reason—ideology, poor understanding of how the program works, gullibility, or plain old reportorial laziness—news outlets have given the public a skewed picture of the financial health of this hugely important program, which is the sole source of retirement funds for millions of Americans and will continue to be for decades to come.
That’s pretty harsh criticism – and not undeserved, in this case. CJR isn’t known for making unsupported statements, and this is no exception. They cite case after case to back up their claim that by and large, journalists aren’t exactly doing a yeoman’s job reporting on Social Security:
To be sure, Social Security is not in perfect financial health. But the fact is, the program can pay full benefits until 2036, and three-quarters of the benefits after that without new revenues. Many experts believe small fixes like lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes—$110,100 for 2012—will make Social Security solvent for decades. But that option is not on Washington’s table, nor has it been discussed much in the press. Why not? Because it doesn’t fit into the doom-and-gloom narrative that has proved politically expedient to tell?
Reading CJR’s detailed analysis makes this much clear: it’s no accident younger generations are so pessimistic about Social Security given the quality of reporting around it: “Bad journalism begets bad information begets bad decisions.”
Opinion articles that are light on the facts, inflammatory statements from elected leaders who should know better, ideological screeds from corporate-backed thinktanks, and yes, poor media coverage have all contributed to popular misconceptions about Social Security.
But through all the smoke and mirrors one thing remains certain: Social Security is critical to the economic security of more than 50 million Americans – and extremely popular.
CJR makes a strong case. Many people of my generation (the Millennials) can’t tell you much about Social Security – except they think it’s going broke. Many don’t know “the cap” exists, or that millionaires pay into Social Security at a much lower rate than middle class workers. And few realize Social Security benefits could be increased – and any projected shortfall eliminated – just by scrapping the cap.
An open and honest discussion with all the facts is a hallmark of our American democracy. But at the moment the Fourth Estate is failing the public, by failing to balance powerful political and economic forces with an unbiased search for the truth. Reporters: the public needs the full story, because the facts won’t report themselves.
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