Appearance Alert!
MRC's Brent Bozell on FNC's Hannity, 10:40pm ET/PT Wednesday

Negroponte Profiles Link Him to Death Squads and Iran-Contra --2/18/2005


1. Negroponte Profiles Link Him to Death Squads and Iran-Contra
In profiling John Negroponte on Thursday night after President Bush nominated him for the new Director of National Intelligence position, NBC, CBS and CNN raised leftist claims about his supposed link to "right-wing death squads" and the Iran-Contra scandal. "As Ronald Reagan's Ambassador to Honduras," NBC's Andrea Mitchell recalled, "he was accused of ignoring death squads and America's secret war against Nicaragua." Over video of Oliver North, CBS's David Martin noted how "he oversaw secret CIA aid to rebels called the Contras" which "mushroomed into what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal." Martin insisted "he continues to be dogged by accusations he knew too much and protested too little about the activities of Honduran death squads." Dan Rather felt the need to remind viewers what the "Iran-Contra debacle" involved. On CNN, Bruce Morton showcased how at an April hearing this year a protester yelled out: "Please ask the Ambassador about Battalion 3-16. Ask him about his involvement in a death squad in Honduras that he supported."

2. Day Late, Jennings Notes Greenspan's Approval of Bush SS Plan
A day after ABC's World News Tonight ignored how Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told a Senate committee that he "approves" of creating private accounts in Social Security, on Thursday night Peter Jennings caught up as he briefly noted Greenspan's support, but added a caveat: "The Chairman of the Federal Reserve testified again today on Capitol Hill. In general, Alan Greenspan is positive about the President's plans to change Social Security. But today, he said that creating private accounts will not solve Social Security's longer-term financial problems."

3. NBC Gives Air Time to Left-Wing Cause-Celebre: Gannon/Guckert
NBC on Thursday gave broadcast network air time the cause-celebre of left-wing bloggers, the case of Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, a writer for a GOP-oriented Web site who posed softball questions during White House press briefings and who quit his job in the wake of bloggers' revelations about his background and changed name. The subject has animated MSNBC and CNN for a couple of weeks. On Thursday night, CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 devoted a segment to it with Howard Kurtz and MSNBC's Countdown led with how the "Gannon controversy widens." Today and Nightly News ran pieces Thursday as Brian Williams claimed Gannon/Guckert "is the talk of Washington these days." NBC's Tom Costello cited Gannon's "softball" questions during the Bush years, but as the MRC's Tim Graham argued on National Review Online, "if anyone who asked softball questions at the White House 'had to go,' the White House briefing room would have almost emptied out in the Clinton years."

4. "Al-Qaeda Has Replaced the Soviet Union as the Great Boogeyman"
Washington, DC-based Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant, a former political reporter for the New York Times-owned newspaper, on Thursday morning haughtily dismissed any threat the Soviet Union once posed or al-Qaeda now poses. Commenting on MSNBC about how FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director Porter Goss said that al-Qaeda intends to strike the U.S. again, Oliphant asserted: "The only thing that makes sense to me is this is mid-February, it's budget cycle, and al-Qaeda has replaced the Soviet Union as the great boogeyman, and you need to say it five or six or seven times to make sure your budget is as big as possible." That's right, the Soviet communists who enslaved millions, invaded nations and aimed nuclear missiles at us was nothing more than a "boogeyman" used by conservatives to unnecessarily boost defense spending.

5. NBC's Social Security for Dummies' Non-Existent "Trust Fund"
NBC's Today on Thursday devoted seven minutes to a silly "Social Security for Dummies" explanation of the system and proposed policy changes, an explanation Katie Couric illustrated by having some college students in Newton, Massachusetts make and toss around snowballs. But Couric made a fundamental misstatement of reality as she asserted, over video of a pile of snowballs: "Today there are many more workers than retirees and there are so many snowballs that some go into this pile of surplus snowballs representing what's known as the 'trust fund.'" In fact, there is no "trust fund."


Negroponte Profiles Link Him to Death
Squads and Iran-Contra

John Negroponte In profiling John Negroponte on Thursday night after President Bush nominated him for the new Director of National Intelligence position, NBC, CBS and CNN raised leftist claims about his supposed link to "right-wing death squads" and the Iran-Contra scandal. "As Ronald Reagan's Ambassador to Honduras," NBC's Andrea Mitchell recalled, "he was accused of ignoring death squads and America's secret war against Nicaragua." Over video of Oliver North, CBS's David Martin noted how "he oversaw secret CIA aid to rebels called the Contras" which "mushroomed into what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal." Martin insisted "he continues to be dogged by accusations he knew too much and protested too little about the activities of Honduran death squads." Dan Rather felt the need to remind viewers that "the Iran-Contra debacle involved U.S. missiles sold secretly to Iran's mullahs, and the proceeds funneled secretly to Nicaraguan rebels."

On CNN, Bruce Morton showcased how at an April hearing this year a protester yelled out: "Please ask the Ambassador about Battalion 3-16. Ask him about his involvement in a death squad in Honduras that he supported."

In a February 17 NBC Nightly News profile of Negroponte, Andrea Mitchell reported: "A career diplomat, Negroponte has spent the past 40 years in hot spots from Vietnam to Baghdad. At the UN, he helped make the case against Saddam Hussein. As Ronald Reagan's Ambassador to Honduras he was accused of ignoring death squads and America's secret war against Nicaragua."
Negroponte in November 1982: "I have no comment to make on this subject whatsoever."
Mitchell: "But after reviewing that history, the Senate approved Negroponte overwhelmingly to be Ambassador to Iraq. Now he will enter a different kind of war zone."

Over on the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather introduced a profile story: "Negroponte is a 65-year-old family man, a graduate of Yale, born in London, the son of a Greek shipping magnate. And CBS's David Martin reports he is used to taking on tough challenges in sensitive, sometimes controversial, situations."

Martin began, as corrected against te closed-captioning by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth: "It's not the first time John Negroponte has signed on for a high stakes job nobody else seemed to want. When then-Secretary of State Powell was looking for an ambassador to Iraq -- a job sure to be not just demanding but dangerous as well -- Negroponte volunteered and gave up the comforts he enjoyed as American ambassador to the United Nations.
"Negroponte does not lack for courage. As a young foreign service officer, he protested to the all-powerful Henry Kissinger that he was giving away too much to the North Vietnamese in negotiations to end the Vietnam War.
"A colleague says Negroponte has one glaring weakness: He knows little about the government's byzantine budget process, yet he will now be responsible for a multi-billion dollar budget stretching across 15 different intelligence agencies. But as a five-time ambassador, he has a world of experience in the nitty gritty of foreign relations, including what at the time were some extremely controversial intelligence operations.
John Negroponte [Over matching historic video] "In the 1980s, he was the American ambassador to Honduras where he oversaw secret CIA aide to rebels called the Contras who were fighting to overthrow the communist government of Nicaragua, an operation that later came to light when a CIA supply plane was shot down and an American, Eugene Hasenfus, captured. It was part of an improbable series of events which mushroomed into what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, complete with televised hearings [video of Oliver North at hearing]. Negroponte emerged unscathed, although he continues to be dogged by accusations he knew too much and protested too little about the activities of Honduran death squads. But no one was ever able to pin anything on him, which, said one of his colleagues, is exactly what the President would want in his intelligence czar. David Martin, CBS News, the Pentagon."

Rather then segued to the next story: "The Iran-Contra debacle involved U.S. missiles sold secretly to Iran's mullahs, and the proceeds funneled secretly to Nicaraguan rebels. Years after that 1980s scandal, Iran remains a bitter enemy of the United States. Today, Iran urged Middle Eastern Muslim nations to join it and Syria in an alliance against quotes, 'U.S. and Israeli plots.' But in Lebanon today, the talk was of Syrian plots, including a widely suspected but unproven role in Monday's car-bomb murder of a former Lebanese Prime Minister."

Earlier, on Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics on CNN, Bruce Morton focused on Negroponte's connection to death squads and Iran-Contra. Morton began, with vintage video throughout which matched his narration:
"Nobody's going to say he's not smart enough, that's for sure. Wealthy family, went to Exeter, went to Yale, yes, just like the President. Was in Vietnam early in the 1960s along with Richard Holbrooke who'd also be Ambassador to the UN later on. Negroponte spoke Vietnamese, could sing in Vietnamese, friends say, which isn't easy. He went to Paris for the peace talks, broke with Secretary of State Kissinger over a provision allowing the north to keep some troops in the south, which would help Ho Chi Minh conquer Saigon in 1975. He was sent next to Quito, Ecuador. Kissinger said this was not sending him into exile.
"First ambassadorship: Honduras. The Reagan administration used Honduras as a base to help the right-wing Contras fight the left-wing Sandinista government in nearby Nicaragua. Critics say Negroponte turned a blind eye to human rights abuses by Honduran death squads. One critic spoke up during the hearing on Negroponte's appointment to be ambassador to Iraq."
Man, identified on screen as Andres Contreis, on April 27, 2004 yelling in hearing room as U.S. Capitol police officer approaches him: "Senators, please ask the ambassador about Battalion 3-16. Ask him about his involvement in a death squad in Honduras that he supported."
Morton: "The Reagan administration gave the head of that battalion a medal. Negroponte said he protested the abuses privately. He and his wife have adopted five Honduran children. He went on to more ambassadorships, Mexico, the Philippines, the United Nations, now Iraq. And he may need all his diplomatic skills, yet all the different intelligence agencies used to being in charge of their budgets, their secrets, their turf to understand that they all now report for the first time to one man, to him. It surely won't be easy."

Day Late, Jennings Notes Greenspan's
Approval of Bush SS Plan

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan A day after ABC's World News Tonight ignored how Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told a Senate committee that he "approves" of creating private accounts in Social Security, on Thursday night Peter Jennings caught up as he briefly noted Greenspan's support, but added a caveat: "The Chairman of the Federal Reserve testified again today on Capitol Hill. In general, Alan Greenspan is positive about the President's plans to change Social Security. But today, he said that creating private accounts will not solve Social Security's longer-term financial problems."

On Wednesday Greenspan had appeared before the Senate Banking Committee. On Thursday, before the House Financial Services Committee.

The February 17 CyberAlert recounted:
A night after ABC's World News Tonight centered a story around how a couple of GOP back benchers oppose President Bush's Social Security reform plan, the newscast on Wednesday had time for stories on identity theft, car sharing and an interview with Bill Gates, but ignored Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's revelation to a Senate committee that he "approves" of creating private accounts. NBC and CBS briefly noted Greenspan's endorsement, but NBC excitedly hyped President Bush's comment that he would consider raising the income subject to the Social Security tax as Brian Williams trumpeted how "a tax increase is emerging as a leading fix" for Social Security. NBC Nightly News viewers then heard how a poll found most think putting Social Security money into the stock market is a bad idea. CBS balanced a brief mention of Greenspan with a full report from Jim Axelrod in New Hampshire about how Granite staters don't think there's a Social Security "crisis" and how those he found in a coffee shop are unconvinced by Bush's sales pitch for his plan.

On FNC's February 16 Special Report with Brit Hume, Jim Angle provided an overview of Greenspan's remarks before the Senate Banking Committee: "Alan Greenspan was drawn into one of the most partisan political debates in Washington and surprised many Senators by saying he likes the idea of personal accounts in Social Security." Greenspan: "So, if you're going to move to private accounts, which I approve of, I think you have to do it in a cautious, gradual way." Angle: "It's a good thing to do, he said, because of an unprecedented leap in the number of the people over 65, which is about to increase by 30 million. That's a strain he argued that the current system cannot handle." Greenspan: "My judgment is we've got a problem in that the existing pay as you go system is not working and we have to change it." Angle: "A matter of consternation for some Democrats. Chuck Schumer tried repeatedly to get the Fed Chairman to criticize personal accounts and when he didn't, the Senator interpreted his remarks on his on." Schumer: "It seems to me that what you're saying here is that moving to the system that's outlined, that the President may propose, is risky." Angle: "Greenspan jumped in to say doing nothing is also risky. That in fact all of the solutions are risky."

END of Excerpt from CyberAlert

For that CyberAlert article in full, with a rundown of how CBS and NBC handled Greenspan's endorsement: www.mediaresearch.org

In that Wednesday night FNC story, Angle relayed another Greenspan point which the broadcast networks skipped over.
Angle: "Greenspan praised another aspect of personal accounts, that they're owned by the individual."
Greenspan at the Senate hearing: "What you can bequeath to your children and which have your name on it. I think that is a highly desirable thing."

NBC Gives Air Time to Left-Wing Cause-Celebre:
Gannon/Guckert

Jeff Gannon/James Guckert NBC on Thursday gave broadcast network air time the cause-celebre of left-wing bloggers, the case of Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, a writer for a GOP-oriented Web site who posed softball questions during White House press briefings and who quit his job in the wake of bloggers' revelations about his background and changed name. The subject has animated MSNBC and CNN for a couple of weeks. On Thursday night, CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 devoted a segment to it with Howard Kurtz and MSNBC's Countdown led with how the "Gannon controversy widens." Today and Nightly News ran pieces Thursday as Brian Williams claimed Gannon/Guckert "is the talk of Washington these days." NBC's Tom Costello cited Gannon's "softball" questions during the Bush years, but as the MRC's Tim Graham argued on National Review Online, "if anyone who asked softball questions at the White House 'had to go,' the White House briefing room would have almost emptied out in the Clinton years."

Brian Williams set up the February 17 NBC Nightly News story, as checked against the closed-captioning by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, a shorter version of which ran earlier in the day on Today: "There is another controversy brewing tonight. This one involves the Bush administration and the news media. It is the talk of Washington these days. It involves a man who was a regular in the White House press briefing room. He was free to ask President Bush and his press secretary questions on a regular basis, but it turns out he wasn't really a journalist and wasn't using his real name. And there is more to his past that is making a lot of people wonder what he was doing in the White House in the first place. Here is NBC's Tom Costello."

Costello began: "It was at this presidential press conference where one question about Democrats-"
Jeff Gannon at briefing: "How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"
Costello: "-ultimately led to questions about the questioner. Within days, Internet bloggers had learned Jeff Gannon was really James Guckert, a reporter for Talon News, the editorial news arm of gop-usa.com. Both Web sites run out of the Houston home of Bobby Eberle, a Republican activist with a mission."
Bobby Eberle: "Bringing the conservative message to America. We're trying to put a message out there that we hope people will agree with and respond to."
Costello: "Despite having no White House press credentials and being denied Capitol Hill credentials, the White House knew Guckert's real name and gave him passes to the daily press briefings, where he was called on regularly."
Scott McClellan clip #1: "Go ahead, Jeff."
McClellan clip #2: "Jeff, go ahead."
McClellan clip #3: "Go ahead, Jeff."
Costello: "For nearly two years, asking questions other reporters considered softballs. This one, comparing the President's military service to John Kerry's."
Gannon, at a White House press briefing: "Did he make speeches alongside Jane Fonda denouncing America's racist war in Vietnam?"
Costello: "In a radio interview last week, Guckert took issue with the softball accusation."
Gannon, on WNYC in New York City: "Why does every question to the President of the United States have to be hostile? He took my question and he spoke to it."
Costello: "But with the administration having just admitted to paying commentators like Armstrong Williams to promote administration policies, Guckert's questions took on greater significance. Journalism ethics lecturer Kelly McBride says Guckert was no journalist."
Kelly McBride: "Was he a plant? Was he a ringer? It's a great question, and that has yet to be answered."
Costello: "White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan says simply, 'In this day and age, when you have a changing media, it's not an easy issue to decide or try to pick and choose who is a journalist.' But there's a bizarre turn, with liberal bloggers discovering that Guckert was affiliated with several gay Web sites, and even appearing to pose for a male escort service. All this raising questions: With Guckert's background, why did the White House grant him a daily pass? And how could he have been allowed to get so close to the President? Guckert has now left TalonNews.com, and the Web site promises to replace him at the White House, reporting its version of the news. Only this time, his replacement will not use an alias. Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington."

A reprint of "Gannons to the Left of Me: Softball reporter questions were routine in the Clinton White House," a February 16 National Review Online posting by Tim Graham, Director of Media Analysis at the MRC:

Stunned by the liberal mini-tempest over Talon News reporter "Jeff Gannon" (real name: James Guckert) asking a softball question to President Bush on January 26, leaders of the White House Correspondents Association met with Bush press spokesman Scott McClellan Tuesday to discuss tightening up the press-credentialing process.

Liberal media elitists say they want only "real" journalists, not "partisan operatives," to be allowed in the White House briefing room. But what they really might wind up accomplishing with their "Gannongate" pounding was the silencing of rare right-leaning voice in the White House press corps. To them, you can only be "authentic" by pounding the president from the left.

At the Columbia Journalism Review blog, Brian Montopoli claims "this isn't a media bias issue, no matter how hard you spin it...Real journalists, the ones who belong in press conferences, know that access to a president is a rare gift, and they know enough not to squander it. Gannon threw away his opportunity in favor of self-aggrandizing partisan spectacle. He put himself and his agenda ahead of the public good, and he did it in a manner so egregious that he left little doubt of his intentions. If both sides of the debate, blinded by partisan zeal, don't realize that's the real reason he had to go, they've missed the point."

Montopoli cannot be serious. If anyone who asked softball questions at the White House "had to go," the White House briefing room would have almost emptied out in the Clinton years. The problem for Montopoli and other liberals is they seem to think that the need for an adversarial press emerged in 2001, when President Bush was first inaugurated. If we travel back to the Clinton era, it's not hard to discover a whole chorus of White House reporters who, to use Montopoli's words, squandered their access to Clinton with helpful softball questions, who put his agenda ahead of the public good and made a partisan spectacle of themselves in front of a large number of Americans who wanted the press to act as a watchdog of President Clinton.

Review the press conference transcript from March 19, 1999 - President Clinton's first solo press conference in almost a year (blame the Lewinsky scandal) and his first meeting with the press since the impeachment process crumbled in the Senate, and since Juanita Broaddrick charged on the February 24 edition of NBC's Dateline that Clinton had raped her in 1978.

After some questions about Kosovo and Chinese espionage came what liberals might call Gannon #1, Wolf Blitzer of CNN: "Mr. President, there's been a lot of people in New York state who've spoken with your wife, who seem to be pretty much convinced she wants to run for the Senate seat next year. A, how do you feel about that? Do you think she would be a good senator? And as part of a broader question involving what has happened over the past year, how are the two of you doing in trying to strengthen your relationship, given everything you and she have been through over this past year?" Clinton replied: "Well, on the second question, I think we're -- we're working hard. We love each other very much, and we're working on it. On the first question, I don't have any doubt that she would be a magnificent senator." That might be a question people would like to hear answered, but it definitely placed the Clintons' agenda ahead of the public's agenda.

After that came Gannon #2, batty Sarah McClendon, once the classic poster girl for the loose credentialing process at the White House. Reporters laughed when Clinton went beyond the front row to pick her as she yelled to get his attention. Standing to show her snappy navy-blue beret, McClendon asked: "Sir, will you tell us why you think the people have been so mean to you? Is it a conspiracy? Is it a plan to treat you worse than they treated Abe Lincoln?" That allowed Clinton to make jokes. I don't remember the Columbia Journalism Review huffing that she "had to go" and her hard pass should be revoked.

Then, the seventh reporter called on, ABC's Sam Donaldson, finally asked about Broaddrick's charge of rape, which Clinton circumnavigated and declined to deny. Donaldson followed up: "Can you not simply deny it, sir?" Clinton insisted: "There's been a -- a statement made by my -- my attorney. He speaks for me, and I think he spoke quite clearly. Go ahead, Scott." Scott Pelley of CBS changed the subject back to Kosovo. Using the usual liberal complaint that a Gannon lets down the public when he fails to follow up on a tough question that has not been answered, Pelley and everyone after him failed that test on that day in 1999.

After Pelley came Gannon #3, John F. (for Fawning?) Harris of the Washington Post: "Sir, George Stephanopoulos has written a book that contain -- contains some tough and fairly personal criticism of you. Earlier, Dick Morris had written a somewhat similar book. How much pain do these judgments by former aides cause you? And do you consider it a betrayal for people to write books on the history of your administration while you're still in office?" See how these reporters feel Clinton's pain? Tightening the press credentials won't solve the problem of long-established media outlets acting like tender psychoanalysts for liberal presidents.

Then came Gannon #4, Kenneth Walsh of U.S. News & World Report, who followed up on Clinton's feelings and reflections on his pain: "I understand that you don't want to speculate about what your opponents might do now, after the impeachment struggle is over, but I wonder what your feelings are, after some period of reflection, on the impeachment process, the -- how you were treated and if you feel resentment, relief, and how you think people will deal with this and see it 10 or 20 years from now?" To Walsh, the only question was about Clinton's opponents and whether the president resented them. He couldn't even ask whether Clinton considered his presidency or his legacy irreparably damaged by the impeachment.

Gannon #5 was National Public Radio's Mara Liasson: "Mr. President, your vice president has recently been ridiculed for claiming that he invented the Internet and spent his boyhood plowing steep hillsides in Tennessee. I'm wondering what you think of those claims and what advice you'd give him about how to brag on himself without getting in so much trouble." This allowed Clinton to say with a smile: "Well, you know, he came a lot closer to inventing the Internet than I did." He then went into an extended defense of Al Gore's genuineness.

That's just one press conference. We could lengthen this sorry list considerably with other examples on other dates. But by the current standards of liberal media critics, at the very least CNN, the Washington Post, U.S. News, and NPR didn't have "actual journalists" at the White House. The man named "Gannon" is an embarrassment, but that's no reason to shut out opinion journalists -- conservative journalists (even partisans) have every bit as much right to sit in those chairs and ask their own questions as the everyday liberal partisans do.

END of Reprint

That's posted at: www.nationalreview.com

For more about Gannon/Guckert and his downfall, see "Online Nude Photos Are Latest Chapter In Jeff Gannon Saga," a February 16 Washington Post story by Howard Kurtz: www.washingtonpost.com

"Al-Qaeda Has Replaced the Soviet Union
as the Great Boogeyman"

Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant Washington, DC-based Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant, a former political reporter for the New York Times-owned newspaper, on Thursday morning haughtily dismissed any threat the Soviet Union once posed or al-Qaeda now poses. Commenting on MSNBC about how FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director Porter Goss said that al-Qaeda intends to strike the U.S. again, Oliphant asserted: "The only thing that makes sense to me is this is mid-February, it's budget cycle, and al-Qaeda has replaced the Soviet Union as the great boogeyman, and you need to say it five or six or seven times to make sure your budget is as big as possible." That's right, the Soviet communists who enslaved millions, invaded nations and aimed nuclear missiles at us was nothing more than a "boogeyman" used by conservatives to unnecessarily boost defense spending.

The MRC's Jessica Barnes caught the exchange in the 7:30am half hour of Thursday's Imus in the Morning on which Oliphant appeared by phone.

Don Imus: "Well, we've just been informed now by Porter Goss and, I guess, the Secretary of Defense that al-Qaeda is still a big threat."
Tom Oliphant: "And the head of the FBI, too."
Imus: "Yeah."
Oliphant: "You know, it was sort of a wild day in Congress yesterday. What I think was happening is that everybody was getting ready for a week's vacation, and they were sort of loading up the news cycle. My view of what happened yesterday - you know, Mueller was there, too, from the FBI -- and the only thing that makes sense to me is this is mid-February, it's budget cycle, and al-Qaeda has replaced the Soviet Union as the great boogeyman, and you need to say it five or six or seven times to make sure your budget is as big as possible, and all these budgets are exploding. Not counting Iraq, I think military now is way over $400 billion, as much as the rest of the world combined, I think, and to my ears anyway, I listened pretty carefully yesterday, I didn't hear one syllable of new information about al-Qaeda yesterday at all, but every one of these guys -- Rumsfeld, Porter Goss, Mueller -- all of them have big, huge budgets pending in Congress, and so it's time to get scared."

For Oliphant's Boston Globe columns: www.boston.com

NBC's Social Security for Dummies' Non-Existent
"Trust Fund"

NBC image of snowballs NBC's Today on Thursday devoted seven minutes to a silly "Social Security for Dummies" explanation of the system and proposed policy changes, an explanation Katie Couric illustrated by having some college students in Newton, Massachusetts make and toss around snowballs. But Couric made a fundamental misstatement of reality as she asserted, over video of a pile of snowballs: "Today there are many more workers than retirees and there are so many snowballs that some go into this pile of surplus snowballs representing what's known as the 'trust fund.'" In fact, there is no trust fund.

Plugging the 8:30am half hour segment NBC at 7:52am Couric, the MRC's Geoff Dickens noticed, called herself a dummy: "Still to come this morning on Today we're gonna tell you about Social Security reform. Don't worry if you're confused it makes us all scratch our heads too so we're gonna try to figure it out as we give you Social Security for Dummies -- and we include ourselves in that category by the way." Matt Lauer: "Exactly."

Over video of Boston College students in two rows making and tossing softball at one another, Couric outline the system:
"What could be simpler than snowballs? We'll use them to represent the money in the Social Security system. This line of students represents workers today who give a portion of their wages from every paycheck. This line represents retirees and other Social Security beneficiaries who get that money every month. The system works just this way. It's literally a hand-off of money or snowballs from one generation to another [students in one row toss snowballs to those in other row]. Often called pay-as-you-go."
Roger Porter, Kennedy School of Government: "There is nothing wrong, nothing wrong with a pay-as-you-go basis as long as the number of people contributing in is staying roughly constant to the number of people drawing out."
Couric: "Today there are many more workers than retirees and there are so many snowballs that some go into this pile of surplus snowballs representing what's known as the 'trust fund' [shot of a pile of snowballs labeled "trust fund"]. There's a surplus now because back in the 1980s taxes were raised and benefits cut to make sure there would be enough funds available when the huge number of baby boomers retire. But what about the generations that will follow. Some young people are starting to worry."
Student: "I think the question is will Social Security be there when it's time for us to retire."
Couric: "And here's why there are questions. Starting in about three years in 2008 the oldest of the baby boomers turn 62. They'll be followed by even more retiring baby boomers who will get in line for benefits. But the number of workers won't grow as fast. As a result around 2018 or 2028 if interest is counted snowballs will have to be handed out from the surplus pile."
Another student: "And the pile begins to shrink."
Couric: "We'll be dipping into the 'trust fund,' but after all that's what it's there for...."

But it isn't there. There is no "trust fund" beyond an accounting note about what the federal government owes the Social Security program. Now, excess FICA collections beyond what goes out to Social Security recipients is spent immediately on other federal programs. The snowball pile does not exist. That means that when incoming FICA revenue is less than the amount needed for Social Security payments, general federal revenue, meaning income tax revenue, will have to be tapped. That means increasing the deficit, raising taxes or reducing Social Security benefits.

Today's "Social Security for Dummies" left naive viewers just as dumb about it as they were beforehand.


-- Brent Baker