Relentless Pursuit of Wisdom and Liberty

The weblog companion of, dedicated to pondering, "If Patrick Henry could see us now..."

Monday, February 07, 2005

Media spin: demonstrated

In the ongoing debate over Social Security reform, it's always important to remember not only what's being said, but who's saying it and why. This will help keep us from depending on one and only one source for news and opinion.

Over the weekend, I noticed that a couple of different media outlets reported what was essentially the same news item, but presented it in vastly different ways. That news item was the general feeling in the House about the President's (long-awaited) specifics proposed in his State of the Union address.

The Los Angeles Times, for example, used "President Hit With Party Flak on His Social Security Tour" for a headline to a story that supposedly detailed the ways in which Republicans were resisting Bush's proposals for personal accounts:
[Senator Chuck] Hagel [R-Neb.] called for Congress to take a slow approach. "We've got time here to explore a wide range of options," he said, adding that it was more important to get the job done right. "Technically, we're not in a crisis — but we will be," Hagel said.
Hagel expressed doubt that Congress would enact any changes this year. "I don't know if we can pass a bill this year…. If we wait until next year to get it done, that's OK too," he said.
In Washington, Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which will write Social Security legislation, said Bush's proposal to divert a portion of Social Security taxes into individual investment accounts faced a "tough political sell" on Capitol Hill.
At the same time, a group of conservative Republicans signaled that it wanted to go further than Bush had proposed: allowing younger workers to quickly set aside as much as 6 percentage points of the 12.4% Social Security tax in the private accounts. Bush has proposed a diversion of 4 percentage points, up to a cap of $1,000, a ceiling that would rise by at least $100 annually.

"Do large accounts and have them vest with the people as quickly as possible," Rep. John B. Shadegg (R-Ariz.) said at a meeting of more than 50 conservative House Republicans in Baltimore. "Our belief is we should be bold and we should go far, and we believe it will help every American."
So here you have three examples of how Republicans are supposedly going against the President, when what you actually have is a Senator saying, "let's take our time and do it right, even if it takes until next year", a Congressman saying, "this is going to be a tough sell", and a group of Congressmen saying, "that's not enough, we want to go farther." I'm really not sure how those three statements constitute what the Times calls "getting hit with party flak", but the Orange County Register and National Review disagree about the meaning behind some of the conversations going on on the Hill these days.

The Orange County Register ran "House GOP group ups ante on Bush" for a headline detailing the submission of the House Republican Study Group's more aggressive 6% plan, advocating (as they often seem to do) the best plan for workers and retirees rather than the best party-line answer:
The group's chairman, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, said at a retreat here that the members' objections to new or increased taxes to pay for the president's plan was "deafening."

He said the group also called for allowing workers to set aside 6 percent - instead of the president's proposed 4 percent - of their wages, roughly all of their Social Security payroll tax, for individual accounts.

Pence said the group planned to call for the individual accounts to be available to young workers "immediately" or as soon as possible, rather than in 2009, as Bush had proposed.
National Review ran a staff editorial under the headline "House Undivided", in which they praised House Republican's increasing support of the President's plan:
"I'm not naively optimistic, but I'm cautiously optimistic," says [Majority Whip] Rep. Blunt. Support for reform along the lines Bush has in mind is already the "prevailing" view among House Republicans and is on its way to being the "preponderant" view.
What's the lesson, you ask? Read everything you can, from as many different sources as you can, then you can more readily separate fact from fiction and form accurate opinions about the issue at hand.


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