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A Media Research Center Special Report
September 19, 2002

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On the Bright Side: 
CNN Exposed Congressional Hypocrisy

     On July 22, CNN’s Jonathan Karl produced a unique piece for NewsNight detailing that, even as the Congress was winning applause from journalists for passing laws telling business how to act, their own practices were less than exemplary. “There’s been no shortage of congressional outrage over shady corporate accounting,” Karl related before running sound bites of Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin and Democratic Senator Chris Dodd lambasting companies with cooked books. But, Karl added, “all that tough talk obscures a basic fact: Congress’ own accounting practices look eerily like the schemes used by Enron and WorldCom.”

     Some of the hypocrisy cited by Karl: “Congress has perfected the art of understating expenses, sometimes not counting them at all. For example, last year Congress approved a $15 billion bailout of the Railroad Workers Pension Fund, but not a dime of that money was counted on the balance sheet — a trick not even WorldCom can pull off.”

     Karl noted that Congress doesn’t count future Social Security payments as liabilities: “Enron’s alleged crime was using accounting gimmicks to conceal its debts, which is exactly what Congress does, but with much bigger numbers....If you counted all the money Congress owes future retirees, the true size of the federal debt is several trillion dollars higher, but don’t look for the true debt to show up on the debt clock any time soon. Like most federal laws, the corporate accountability law won’t apply to Congress.”

     These facts were well known to Karl’s competitors on Capitol Hill, but instead of making sure the public knew how the government accounts for taxpayer money, the broadcast networks continued to portray Congress as the body that would restore “confidence” by cracking down on private enterprise. More reporters should have followed Jonathan Karl’s lead and given citizens an informed look inside the institution they cover every day.








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