Stories & Grievances
The Washington Post is Accused of Allowing Fiscal Times To Write Its Stories
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) alleges that the Fiscal Times, described in the Washington Post as "an independent digital news publication reporting on fiscal, budgetary, healthcare and international economics issues.." is a propaganda outlet created and funded by Peter G. Peterson, a Wall Street billionaire and Nixon administration cabinet member who has long used his wealth to promote cuts in Social Security and other entitlement programs.
Hard times at the Washington Post
The once proud Washington Post gets into bed with a right-wing billionaire and fills its news pages with his agenda
The Washington Post is a newspaper with a proud legacy. It has done much important reporting over the years, most famously its coverage of the Watergate scandal that resulted in the resignation of Richard Nixon. Unfortunately, it seems to have abandoned its journalistic standards. In its last issue of the decade, it published as a news piece 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 former Nixon administration cabinet member who has been trying to gut social security payments and Medicare for at least the last quarter of a 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 organisations. First, he had the Concord Coalition ("a nationwide, non-partisan, grassroots organisation advocating generationally responsible fiscal policy") and, more recently, the Peter G Peterson Foundation, and now its offspring, the Fiscal Times. Interestingly, the Fiscal Times' debut piece in the Post managed to reference both of 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 national income it will increase by less than 40% 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 healthcare costs. As every serious budget analysts knows, private sector healthcare costs have been growing at a rate that threatens to devastate the economy. If the private healthcare 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 programmes will be manageable.
This is not the first time that the Washington Post has been prepared to compromise its integrity to rescue its finances. Last year the Post's top management planned a series of dinners, billed as "salons", where they had intended to sell lobbyists the opportunity to meet with the Washington Post's reporters in an informal setting. This plan was nixed after it was leaked 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 was indistinguishable in its appearance from any other news story in the Washington Post. Only those careful to read the byline or the note at the bottom of the page would realize that the article was not a regular news story. Nowhere is the Fiscal Times identified as being affiliated with, and funded by, 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 Shooting Illustrated. It is unfortunate that technological change may have made the traditional newspaper economically unviable – but it would have been better if the Washington Post could have had a dignified death.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The Fiscal Times to Launch in Early 2010
WASHINGTON, Dec 17, 2009 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ ----New Digital News Publication Will Offer Independent Reporting and Opinion on Fiscal, Budgetary, Economic and Political Issues
First Content Sharing Agreement with Washington Post
The Fiscal Times (TFT), a new independent digital news publication devoted to quality reporting on vital fiscal, budgetary, health care and international economic issues will launch in early 2010, it was announced today. The news operation will begin publishing with a roster of experienced journalists and leading opinion contributors, whose reporting and insights will aim to drive the conversation surrounding our nation's most pressing economic issues.
As "The Source for All Things Fiscal," TFT will develop the widest possible range of reporting and commentary on key fiscal matters. The Fiscal Times also announced that it is entering into content-sharing arrangements with other prominent online publications and newspapers. The first media partnership to be announced is a content sharing agreement with The Washington Post, which will begin in 2009.
"There has never been a greater public appetite for the kind of groundbreaking reporting and commentary The Fiscal Times is committed to producing," said Peter G. Peterson, who helped found the publication and will provide its initial funding. "The Fiscal Times is a new entity whose time has come, an independently supported publication comprised of top journalists and opinion makers covering the critical economic issues of our time."
"TFT enters a media landscape characterized by increasingly popular niche and investigative news sources," said Jackie Leo, the publication's editor-in-chief. "By creating a publication that seeks to become the most trusted news source for unbiased journalism covering government policy and economic issues, we believe we will find an underserved readership."
"For better or worse, the eyes of the financial world from New York to Hong Kong to London are now focused squarely on Washington," said Eric Pianin, Washington editor of The Fiscal Times. "The decisions being made here right now will have generational implications. Our reporting will bring these Washington decision makers and the issues into focus and attempt to make sense out of the debate."
The Fiscal Times and the Washington Post have agreed to jointly produce content focusing on budget and fiscal issues that will be available to both publications. The content will complement the Post's budget and finance coverage, and will include profiles of key government officials, explanations of important budget trends or proposals and investigative analysis of government spending programs. Arrangements with other publications will be announced as agreements are finalized.
The Fiscal Times boasts an impressive group of veteran journalists, who will be writing for the new publication, including:
-- Editor-in-Chief Jackie Leo, former editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest
and Editorial Director of Consumer Reports
-- Washington Editor Eric Pianin, a former editor and budget reporter at
the Washington Post
-- Ann Reilly Dowd, former Washington Bureau chief for Fortune and Money
-- David Ewing Duncan, a journalist, television producer and author who has
written widely on health care and science
-- Merrill Goozner, a health care blogger and former Asia correspondent and
chief financial writer for the Chicago Tribune
-- Katherine Reynolds Lewis, former Bloomberg News and Newhouse News
Service financial reporter
-- Dan Morgan, former Washington Post investigative and congressional
reporter and author
-- Elaine Povich, a former congressional and budget reporter for the
Chicago Tribune and Newsday
The Fiscal Times Advisory Board
An Advisory Committee consisting of leading professional journalists and public policy experts will monitor the operations of The Fiscal Times and periodically meet with editors and executives to assess performance and progress in meeting its goals and standards.
-- Robert D. Reischauer, President of the Urban Institute and former
director of the Congressional Budget Office
-- Jodie T. Allen, senior editor of the Pew Research Center, former
managing editor and political columnist for U.S. News & World Report,
and editor of the Washington Post Sunday "Outlook" section
-- Drew Altman, President and CEO of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
and former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
-- Jim Brady, President, Digital Strategy, Allbritton Communications and
former Executive Editor of washingtonpost.com
-- G. William Hoagland, CIGNA Corporation's Public Policy Group director
and former policy and budget adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill
Frist (R-Tenn.) and staff director of the Senate Budget Committee
About The Fiscal Times
As "The Source for All Things Fiscal," The Fiscal Times will present balanced and accurate reporting and serve as an honest broker in sorting through a broad range of viewpoints. The senior editors and producers have sole responsibility for the selection, editing and display of articles, graphics, illustrations and video that appear on the site. The Fiscal Times has been established as a limited liability company and has been funded initially by Peter G. Peterson. The editorial staff will operate from offices in New York and at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C.
SOURCE The Fiscal Times
Washington Post Lets Lobbyists Write Its Stories
Anti-Social Security outfit does propaganda, not journalism
The Washington Post's publication of a "news" article written by an organization created to advance an ideological agenda is a troubling reminder of the declining ethical standards at one of the nation's most influential newspapers.
The article, headlined "Support Grows for Tackling Nation's Debt" (12/31/09), was a product of the Fiscal Times, described in an accompanying note as "an independent digital news publication reporting on fiscal, budgetary, healthcare and international economics issues." More accurately, it's a propaganda outlet created and funded by Peter G. Peterson, a Wall Street billionaire and Nixon administration cabinet member who has long used his wealth to promote cuts in Social Security and other entitlement programs (Extra!, 3-4/97; Nation.com, 1/4/10).
Peterson has advanced this agenda by launching groups like the Concord Coalition and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation; he's also funded media projects like the public television show World Focus (FAIR Action Alert, 2/10/09) and the deceptive documentary IOUSA (CEPR, 10/8), which aired on CNN.
Now Peterson has a new vehicle, the Fiscal Times, which he describes (PR Newswire, 12/17/09) as "a new entity whose time has come, an independently supported publication comprised of top journalists and opinion makers covering the critical economic issues of our time." The Fiscal Times' initial news release said Peterson "helped found the publication and will provide its initial funding"; editor-in-chief Jackie Leo (formerly of Reader's Digest) said she aimed to make it "the most trusted news source for unbiased journalism covering government policy and economic issues."
Based on the Fiscal Times' first offering in the Post, though, what it actually offers is a bias that's widely shared by corporate media outlets. The piece, by Elaine S. Povich and Eric Pianin, takes it as a given that the "tough decisions that will be required to dig the nation out of debt" include "painful spending cuts and tax increases"--and when they say "spending cuts," they're talking about the "skyrocketing spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," not the $663 billion military budget. (See Guardian, 1/4/10, for Dean Baker's debunking of the piece's Petersonian economics.)
Of course, this kind of deficit-mongering is par for the course in outlets like the Post (Extra!, 9/09). But it's doubtful that the Post on its own would have made controversial claims about powerful politicians--like the assertion that "President Obama has voiced support" for an entitlement-slashing commission, or that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "has signaled in recent weeks that she could accept the establishment" of such a panel--without offering any substantiation (Fire Dog Lake, 1/5/10).
And it's remarkable that no one at the Post objected when a news outlet funded by Peterson managed to plug two of its benefactor's other ideological projects--the Concord Coalition and the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform--without noting the financial connection. (The Post ran a correction noting that it should have noted the tie to Concord, but didn't say anything about Peterson-Pew.) Completely missing from the piece was any balance to the Peterson-approved perspective, save an analyst from the AARP, misleadingly cited to suggest that "critics" objected to a deficit commission because it wouldn't be strong enough when "the choices are so hard--and getting harder."
Far from "unbiased journalism," the Fiscal Times article reads like the smoothly written propaganda you'd expect to get from a well-funded lobbying outlet. The Post's "partnership" with this outfit is an ill-advised experiment that ought to be brought to a swift conclusion.
Please ask Washington Post ombud Andy Alexander to recommend that the paper terminate its relationship with the ideologically motivated Fiscal Times.
Andy Alexander, Washington Post Ombud
See FAIR's extensive archives on the anti-Social Security bias of corporate media.
Policy Experts Seek Meeting With Washington Post Over “Fiscal Times” Deal
By: David Dayen Tuesday January 5, 2010 7:56 am
Roger Hickey reports on another letter of protest to the Washington Post from policy experts, demanding to meet with the Chairman of the Washington Post Company, Don Graham, about their content-sharing agreement with the “Fiscal Times,” a Pete Peterson-funded organization that is seemingly pressing his deficit-reduction, entitlement-slashing agenda and passing off that opinion as news. The letter notes multiple errors in the first Fiscal Times story published by the Post, which gave the impression that a deficit commission with fast-track powers to get an up or down vote for its recommendations in Congress was imminent and unstoppable. It also pointed out that the only policy analysis in the piece comes from a group funded by the same person whose organization wrote the story:
No academics or policy analysts are quoted in the story with the exception of the executive director of the Concord Coalition. The story fails to disclose that the founding President of the Concord Coalition is Mr. Peterson, a longtime advocate of the commission that was the focus of the story (and to repeat, the founder and financial backer of the Fiscal Times, which produced the story).
The Columbia Journalism Review has harshly criticized the Post for their content-sharing agreement with the Fiscal Times, and the first story arising from that agreement.
The Post story raises important questions about the use, quality, and amount of disclosure necessary for pieces created by so-called independent news sources for the MSM. Free content inevitably comes with a quid pro quo, and the public needs to know who is producing and funding such content.
The Washington Post has yet to respond to the request for a meeting.
Here’s the full letter:
Donald E. Graham
Chairman of the Board
The Washington Post Company
Dear Mr. Graham.
On January 1, we contacted the Ombudsman to express our dismay at a slanted piece of journalism that ran in your newspaper and our deep concern about the Post’s decision to partner in the future with the Fiscal Times, which produced the article. The Fiscal Times was created and is funded by Peter G. Peterson, who has engaged in a decades-long effort to have changes to Social Security considered under a fast-track commission which shields members of Congress from political accountability.
Consistent with Mr. Peterson’s longstanding objective, the article the Post published is rife with factual errors, important omissions and significant distortions, which lead the reader to see a fast-tracked commission as sound policy and without opposition – indeed, virtually inevitable. Representative of the errors, omissions, and distortions are the following:
• The Administration has not taken a public position on a so-called fast-track commission, and we have talked to high-level advisers in the White House who have told us privately that they oppose the fast-tracking, yet the first sentence of the second full paragraph states, “President Obama has voiced support for such a plan.”
• Speaker Pelosi and her staff have been clear about her opposition to a commission whose recommendations are fast tracked, yet the article implies that she has changed her position. A close reading suggests that the article seeks the reader to draw that inference, though her position, in reality, remains unchanged.
• The article fails to report that the powerful Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, is strongly opposed to the proposal. The article obviously fails to note that Senator Baucus delivered an impassioned speech in opposition, in which he described the proposal as a plan under which Congress would “outsource its core fiscal responsibilities,” and warned that “this commission and its new fast track process are truly dangerous… we would risk setting in motion some truly terrible policy…it is clear from their press release that Senators Conrad and Gregg have painted a big red target on Social Security and Medicare. That’s what this commission is all about.”
• The article omits the fact that the AARP is on the public record in opposition of the fast-track commission, but rather implies otherwise by including at the conclusion of the lengthy story some tepid, relatively-narrow concerns of a spokesman for the AARP .
• The article omits the fact that the AARP sent a letter to Congressional leaders stating the AARP’s unequivocal opposition. It also omits the fact that the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations sent a letter representing 27 national aging organizations. The article further omits that a letter signed by over 40 national organizations, including the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Common Cause, NAACP, NOW, and SEIU, was sent in opposition. Also, omitted was the fact of a letter from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an organization representing millions of members. Obviously the article provided no quotes from the letters, all of which are posted online.
• No academics or policy analysts are quoted in the story with the exception of the executive director of the Concord Coalition. The story fails to disclose that the founding President of the Concord Coalition is Mr. Peterson, a longtime advocate of the commission that was the focus of the story (and to repeat, the founder and financial backer of the Fiscal Times, which produced the story).
Every error, commission and omission in the article is in support of the objectives of Mr. Peterson. By printing the article, the Washington Post has let itself be used by that powerful individual who is now able to influence policy not just through opinion pieces but through what purports to be objective news.
Of greater concern to us than the one story is the Post’s announced partnership with Mr. Peterson’s enterprise and the plans to publish other articles, as objective news stories, from that biased source. The Post’s highly respected imprimatur is likely to cause local papers to print these biased pieces, as well.
We respectfully request that you meet with a delegation of the undersigned so that we can further discuss our concerns in person. To facilitate the arrangement of the meeting, the contact information of the first signatory appears at the end of this letter
Nancy J. Altman, co-director of project to protect and improve America’s economic security
Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research
Merton C. Bernstein, Coles Professor of Law Emeritus, Washington University
Robert H. Binstock, Professor of Aging, Health, and Society, Case Western Reserve University
Suzanne Blouin, retired, Office of Communications, Social Security Administration
Barbara Burt, Executive Director, Frances Perkins Center
Dale Coberly, co-author of the Northwest Plan to restore Social Security to balance
Nancy Dapper, Executive Director, Western & Central WA Chapter, Alzheimer’s Association
Patricia E. Dilley, Professor of Law, University of Florida
Stephen Gorin Professor, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH
Lori L. Hansen, former member, Social Security Advisory Board
Roger Hickey, Co-Director, Campaign for America’s Future
Karen Holden, Emeritus Professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Eric Kingson Professor, Syracuse University School of Social Work
Robert Kuttner, Founding Co-Editor, American Prospect
Theodore Marmor, Professor Emeritus, Yale University
Gerald A. McIntyre, National Senior Citizens Law Center
Lawrence Mishel, President, Economic Policy Institute
Steve Regenstreif, Director, AFSCME Retirees
Maya Rockeymoore, President, Global Policy Solutions
Max J. Skidmore, University of Missouri Curators’ Professor of Political Science, Thomas Jefferson
Fellow, University of Missouri-Kansas City