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Like President Bush, FOX News Persists In Pushing Social Security Privatization Despite Public Opposition

Reported by Ellen - August 15, 2005

Saturday's (8/13/05) Forbes on FOX celebrated the 70th birthday of Social Security by renewing its attacks on it. With his usual hyper-glibness, host David Asman opened the segment by saying, "Happy 70th birthday to Social Security... To celebrate the occasion, let's kill it off for good."

Meanwhile, a "fact" (unattributed) filled the screen and supported the idea that Social Security is not working. "Average monthly Social Security benefit $959. What are the average monthly expenses of a retired person? $1,393."

The panel ostensibly contained two people for the elimination of Social Security and three against. But, as quickly became clear, Jim Michaels, one of those against "killing" Social Security, was really for eliminating it, just not killing it outright. Another of those three, barely weighed in with her opinion. That left only one panelist, out of five, who really spoke up in favor of the program. That ratio directly contradicts public opinion on the issue.

Quentin Hardy, usually a liberal, started off the discussion by saying, "You've got to face some sad realities." Social Security is "in its dotage" and should be killed off.

Jim Michaels, a conservative, said Social Security should not be killed because it's very popular and that people depend on it. But, Michaels argued, people should be allowed to opt into a private account system so that they'll be persuaded that private is better. With the option of private accounts, Michaels predicted that in 10 years, "Social Security will dry up because people see private accounts as so much superior. But don't shove private accounts down their throat."

In other words, Michaels wants to get rid of Social Security but by starving it to death slowly, rather than in one quick stroke (which Hardy never advocated). Also, Michaels didn't bother to mention that even partial privatization would rob the current system of needed funds which, alone, could threaten its continuing viability. Of course, David Asman didn't mention that, either.

Mike Ozanian, another conservative, talked about Social Security as if it were voodoo economics, saying "It creates a phantom account, then takes the money from the phantom account, stuffs IOU's in there, and then spends that money on things like windmills, roads and - you know - farm subsidies."

Victoria Murphy, said "We need Social Security. Millions of Americans depend on it..." but she didn't get much of an opportunity to explain her thoughts.

The only strong Social Security proponent was Lea Goldman. She said Social Security should remain for moral reasons, because "we made a promise it would be there," but also because polls show that Americans "resoundingly" want it. She said that 80% of NON-RETIREES (her emphasis) would not opt out of Social Security if given the opportunity. "There's your answer, Americans want to keep it." She added that older Americans have the lowest poverty levels in American and that's because of Social Security.

The polls I found back Goldman up and more. According to an AARP survey released August 11, 2005:

The percentage of people who feel they could do better with private investments has dropped 5 points in the last 10 years;

75% of non-retired people don't want to opt for private accounts;

Approximately 90% of non-retired Americans agree "Maybe I won't need Social Security when I retire, but I definitely want to know it's there just in case I do."

Furthermore, as the Associated Press reported March 30, 2005,

The more President Bush stumps for restructuring Social Security, the less popular his own plan seems to become... Not quite five months after a re-election victory that he claimed earned him political capital to spend, Bush's approval ratings are languishing in the mid-40 percent range and his Social Security plan for individual investment accounts seems to be winning few friends, either in Congress or among the general public.

Polls show that Bush about halfway through a 60-day cross-country push for his plan is helping to raise public awareness of what Social Security's financial plight will be once he and other baby boomers start retiring.

But the same polls show support for individual investment accounts is lower now than when he proposed them in his State of the Union address two months ago.

Today, AP reports that Bush's ratings on "Social Security and other domestic issues are at their lowest levels so far."

AP is the same wire service used by FOX News so one might expect that "a real journalism, fair and balanced news network" would work those facts into a discussion on privatization. But the public's view of privatization, as a whole, was largely dismissed, and its particular disaffection with Bush's plan was overlooked completely. This was especially the case with host David Asman.

After Goldman had her say (in the middle of the discussion, where FOX News typically "bookends" the non-supporters of Bush policies between pro-Bush stances at the beginning and end) Asman turned the rest of the segment over to privatization advocates.

First, Jim Michaels repeated that we should keep Social Security but that we should give people "an alternative and in 20 years or 10 years, nobody'll want Social Security anymore, the private accounts are so much better."

Goldman tried to rebut that assumption, saying that 80% of Americans want "nothing to do with" privatization. But Asman interrupted to ask Hardy to "Advise President Bush... What would you advise him to do to win over Democrats?" (Hardy's answer: "Tell the truth," that Social Security won't be there.)

Comment: Asman didn't ask anyone what anyone should do to win over Bush, as he's the one who keeps insisting on pushing privatization over the public wishes.

As if to underscore FOX's lack of concern for the public's opinion, the latest on-screen caption said, "Social Security turns 70 and now's the time to kill it!"

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