Media Reality Check
  Notable Quotables
  Press Releases
  Media Bias Videos
  30-Day Archive
  The Watchdog
  About the MRC
  MRC in the News
  Support the MRC
  Planned Giving
  What Others Say
  Take Action
  Gala and DisHonors
  Best of NQ Archive
MRC Resources
  Site Search
  Media Addresses
  Contact MRC
  Comic Commentary
  MRC Bookstore
  Job Openings
  News Division
  NewsBusters Blog
  Business & Media Institute
  Culture and Media Institute

Support the MRC


What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

Tell a friend about this site

January 1997


Networks Ignore System's Sorry Rate of Return
Social Security Sycophants

Imagine there was a private pension fund that consistently lost money for workers, giving them a negative rate of return on their investment when they retired. The media would, without question, inform workers of this fund's terrible record and tell them of better places to put their money.

But when the pension fund is the government's Social Security system, the reporting is quite different. When a federal commission came out this month with recommendations for reforming Social Security, the networks were more concerned with what reforms might mean for Social Security than for workers.

ABC's Michel McQueen, on the January 6 World News Tonight, explained that the 13 council members split into three factions. One would keep Social Security as is and invest 40 percent in the stock market; one would allow workers to invest up to half of the money now collected in payroll taxes in the stock market themselves; and a third would move the retirement age to 67 and allow workers to invest with less money and fewer choices.

McQueen ran a soundbite from Gloria Johnson of the advisory council, who opposes allowing workers to invest their own money: "Most workers and their families want little more than a safe pension that they can depend on without too much worry. So, we should throw them into the pit and let them scrap with the wolves?" McQueen didn't quote anyone taking issue with Johnson's interpretation of workers' desires.

Ray Brady, on the same night's CBS Evening News, was most interested in the political dynamics of the story: "Wall Street quietly has been pouring millions of dollars into the fight to put Social Security money into the stock market, and the unions are readying a massive campaign to stop it, so the fight to save Social Security may take years." NBC Nightly News didn't even do a full story on the commission's report, opting for an anchor read.

These networks missed an important angle to the Social Security story: Is even a solvent Social Security system, as currently designed, a good bargain for workers? Many economists -- none of whom were interviewed by the networks the day the panel came out with recommendations -- think it isn't. "Critics of privatization of Social Security place too much emphasis on the financial health of Social Security," says Arthur Hall of the Tax Foundation. "There's another side of the coin: Social Security is a terrible investment plan for retiring baby boomers, and it will only get worse if taxes are raised or benefits are cut."

According to Hall, for many years recipients received far more from Social Security than they paid into the program. But workers who financed those generous benefits will receive less, Hall says, because of reforms that have increased payroll taxes and reduced benefits to keep the system solvent. Hall calculates that most baby boomers will receive a negative rate of return on the payroll taxes they and their employers pay, and could garner far better returns through private annuities. (See table.)

Reporters should hold Social Security to the same standard they would a private program and ask: Is it really good for workers?


Rich Noyes


Home | News Division | Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts 
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact the MRC | Subscribe

Founded in 1987, the MRC is a 501(c) (3) non-profit research and education foundation
 that does not support or oppose any political party or candidate for office.

Privacy Statement

Media Research Center
325 S. Patrick Street
Alexandria, VA 22314