FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Undignified Death of the Washington Post

The Washington Post is a paper with a proud legacy. It has done much important reporting over the years, most notably its coverage of the Watergate scandal that resulted in the resignation of President Nixon. Unfortunately, it seems to have abandoned its journalistic standards. In its last issue of the decade, it published as a news story 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 Nixon administration cabinet member who has been trying to gut Social Security and Medicare for at least the last quarter 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 organizations. First, he had the Concord Coalition and more recently the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and now its offspring, the Fiscal Times. Interestingly, the Fiscal Times’ premier piece in the Post managed to reference both of Peter 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 GDP it will increase by less than 40 percent 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 health care costs. As every serious budget analysts knows, private sector health care costs have been growing at a rate that threatens to devastate the economy. If the private health care 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 programs will be manageable.

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

While 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 is indistinguishable in its appearance from any other news story in the Post. Only those careful to read the byline or the note at the bottom would realize that the article was not a regular Post news story. Nowhere is the Fiscal Times identified as being affiliated with 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 “Firearms Gazette” and the Tobacco Industry’s “Smoking Today.” It is unfortunate that technological changes may have made the traditional newspaper economically unviable, but it would have been much better if the Washington Post could have had a dignified death.

DEAN BAKER is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy.

This column was originally published by The Guardian.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”
Jon Rynn
What a Green New Deal Should Look Like: Filling in the Details
David Swanson
Will the U.S. Senate Let the People of Yemen Live?
Dana E. Abizaid
On Candace Owens’s Praise of Hitler
Raouf Halaby
‘Tiz Kosher for Elected Jewish U.S. Officials to Malign
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Deceitful God-Talk at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast
W. T. Whitney
Caribbean Crosswinds: Revolutionary Turmoil and Social Change 
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Avoiding Authoritarian Socialism
Howard Lisnoff
Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate
Ralph Nader
The Realized Temptations of NPR and PBS
Cindy Garcia
Trump Pledged to Protect Families, Then He Deported My Husband
Thomas Knapp
Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die
Louis Proyect
The Revolutionary Films of Raymundo Gleyzer
Sarah Anderson
If You Hate Campaign Season, Blame Money in Politics
Victor Grossman
Contrary Creatures
Tamara Pearson
Children Battling Unhealthy Body Images Need a Different Narrative About Beauty
Peter Knutson
The Salmon Wars in the Pacific Northwest: Banning the Rough Customer
Binoy Kampmark
Means of Control: Russia’s Attempt to Hive Off the Internet
Robert Koehler
The Music That’s in All of Us
Norah Vawter
The Kids Might Save Us
Tracey L. Rogers
Freedom for All Begins With Freedom for the Most Marginalized
Paul Armentano
Marijuana Can Help Fight Opioid Abuse
Tom Clifford
Britain’s Return to the South China Sea
Graham Peebles
Young People Lead the Charge to Change the World
Matthew Stevenson
A Pacific Odyssey: Around General MacArthur’s Manila Stage Set
B. R. Gowani
Starbucks Guy Comes Out to Preserve Billionaire Species
David Yearsley
Bogart Weather
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail