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Pension Crisis: Networks Targeted Gun Investments 4 Times More Than Detroit Before Bankruptcy

Journalists’ typical liberal spin kept viewers in the dark about Motor City fiscal problems.

When Detroit declared bankruptcy in June, broadcasters acted like it was a shocking turn of events. NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams told the “sad news from Detroit, the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy.” CBS’s Mark Strassman explained the scope of the city’s problem with $18 billlion in debt and “city workers owed $9 billion.”

Sad news but not surprising, especially given the city’s $3.5 billion in pension obligations that the network went on to describe. But it was certainly news to network reporters. In the past year, ABC, CBS and NBC had only mentioned Detroit’s pension problem once – in 24 different stories about the pension industry from Aug. 1, 2012, to July 31, 2013.

Journalists did find time to cover pension issues that fit the liberal agenda. The networks reported on pension funds working against the gun industry four times as much as the imminent collapse of Detroit. ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer” on Dec. 18, 2012, made sure that the issue of pensions was hyperbolically linked to gun control. “With each body buried, calls for change,” Chris Cuomo dramatically began the report. He then told viewers how investment managers at Cerberus Capital Management had announced they were selling their stake in the gun manufacturer Bushmaster Firearms.

CBS did three separate reports on the pension industry and guns. One ironically highlighted Democrat Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push to limit that city’s pension investments in guns. The story didn’t question Chicago’s “$36 billion retirement-fund deficit.” That deficit has since led to Moody’s downgrading the city’s bond rating three steps.

A Dec. 19, 2012, CBS “This Morning” story went into detail about Cerberus pulling its investment from Bushmaster Firearms. During the report, co-host Gayle King did her best to make the pension investment in guns sound ominous. “Well, we know it’s big business. Listen, there’s more gun stores than McDonald’s, more gun stores than supermarkets. That says something.” CBS couldn’t even decide how much Cerberus had invested in Bushmaster, claiming it was “$600 million” on the evening news Dec. 18 and “$750 million” the very next morning.

Only the May 13, 2013, CBS “This Morning” gave any indication that things looked bad for Detroit’s pension system and its pensioners. That brief told of a “new report” that “paints a grim picture of the city’s finances” and “doubts about the financial health of its pension funds.” That was it.

Had journalists been less focused on spinning the pension debate toward a political issue, they might have noticed that a 700,000-person city was in desperate financial trouble and so were its pensions.

Apparently, network journalists weren’t even reading The New York Times. The Gray Lady underlined how awful the fiscal “crisis” was in Detroit on March 12, 2013, and what that might mean for pensions. “This city was already sinking under hundreds of millions of dollars in bills that it could not pay when a municipal auditor brought in a veteran financial consultant to dig through the books. A seasoned turnaround man and former actuary with Ford Motor Co., he was stunned by what he found: an additional $7.2 billion in retiree health costs that had never been reported, or even tallied up,” the paper reported.

All three networks have focused heavily on Detroit’s pension fiasco now that the city has filed for bankruptcy. NBC’s John Yang summed up the problem nicely on the July 22, 2013, “Nightly News” by saying Detroit might be the first of many cities in such straits. “According to the Pew Research Center, 34 states have pension fund shortfalls of at least 20 percent. The worst, Illinois, which has less than half what it needs,” he said.

Network journalists have taken a decidedly anti-gun stance, highlighted by the coverage following the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Between Dec. 14, 2012, and Feb. 22, 2013, the evening news shows on all three networks attacked the gun industry and gun businesses three times as often as they defended them.