Journalist and author William Greider eviscerates the journalism profession over its failure to describe issues surrounding Social Security. It’s a worthy interview by Trudy Lieberman at the Columbia Journalism Review.
This is a staggering scandal for the media. I have yet to see a straightforward, non-ideological, non-argumentative piece in any major paper that describes the actual condition of Social Security. The core fact is that Social Security has not contributed a dime to the deficit, but has piled up trillions in surpluses, which the government has borrowed and spent. Social Security’s surpluses have actually offset the impact of the deficit, beginning with Reagan.
But what’s as damaging and insightful is his criticism of how the press works and especially why certain viewpoints are regularly ignored. Read it. Here are some highlights with emphasis my own:
[Reporters] identify with the wisdom of the elites.
..There are layers of influence that tell reporters this is the safe side of the story. They don’t go to people who might be unsafe sources, like labor leaders who know how changes will affect workers, or to old liberals who are out of favor but who know the origins of Social Security and why it was set up in the first place, or to neutral experts like actuaries who actually understand how it works and what the trust funds are all about. If they write about what the AFL-CIO thinks, they are out of the orthodoxy.
…Most reporters who cover difficult areas typically develop sources, and they write for those sources. They don’t want to offend them for fear they will lose access. Reporters, we know, are sensitive, nervous animals; they act like scared little rabbits. They also know what the owners of their publications think. And those owners think pretty much what the Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce think.
…Reporters are so embedded in the established way of understanding things. They are distanced from people at large and don’t spend much time trying to see why ordinary people see things differently from the people in power.
…In the last twenty years, as media ownership became highly concentrated, the gulf between the governing elites, both in and out of government, and the broad range of ordinary citizens has gotten much worse. The press chose to side with the governing elites and look down on the citizenry as ignorant or irrational, greedy, or even nutty.
…The press is dangerously over-educated itself, in that reporters have developed different kinds of expertise themselves. And that brings them closer to their sources, more motivated to write for their approval.
…The new technological knowledge becomes a tool that blocks old-fashioned street reporting. The polling and focus groups work against old style reporting. Political reporters rely on the pseudo-science to tell them what people think instead of doing what reporters are supposed to do—talking to real people where they live, listening to their perspectives and respecting their views.