Once again, as it did a month ago in two separate stories, the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, left the name of Lois Lerner, the former IRS official who ran its section on tax-exempt organizations, out of its headline and opening paragraph. This time, for good measure, AP reporter Stephen Ohlemacher didn't reveal Lerner's name until Paragraph 3.
Before getting to Ohlemacher's journalistic malpractice, let's take a look at the how the Politico handled the same story of Congress holding Ms. Lerner in contempt yesterday, and at one example of how the AP itself covered the story of another controversial figure's anticipated congressional appearance in the 1980s.
I suspect that many readers who do their best to keep up with the news at a detailed level have a hard time understanding how many of their friends, acquaintances and neighbors — even many who they know put some effort into keeping up with current events — can be so unaware of many objectively important news developments.
There are two answers to that question. One is that the establishment press very often doesn't cover important matters at all; all one has to do is recall the empty media chairs at the trial of pre-born and newborn baby butcher Kermit Gosnell. The other is that when they do cover a story, journalists and their news outlets often do all they can to keep key names and facts out of their headlines and opening paragraph. Thanks to the fact that many people now consume news using computers, tablets, and smartphones, this stalling tactic may be even more effective now than it was in the print-only days.
Well, it's not perfect, but it's a start — and it's certainly a far cry from what President Obama is now willing to admit.
In his report Tuesday on the congressional hearing for John Koskinen, Obama's nominee to be the next IRS Commissioner, Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press wrote that Koskinen "told senators Tuesday he will work to restore public trust in the agency in the wake of the tea party scandal even as the IRS takes on new responsibilities administering the president's health care law." That's a remarkable admission, given that the word "scandal" does not appear in Koskinen's prepared remarks, and of course given that Obama's current opinion of what is better described as the "IRS conservative targeting scandal" is that it isn't one ("they’ve got a list, and suddenly everybody’s outraged"). As nice as it is that he used the "S-word," Ohlemacher's dispatch still contained serious oversights, including his failure to cite the change in Obama's public stance since May and his contention that no one outside the IRS knew of its targeting efforts until then.
There was no annual adjustment to Social Security benefits for inflation during 2010 or 2011. That's because the 2009 increase of 5.8 percent (announced in November 2008, and considered the "2009" increase at this table) was artifically lifted by the $4 per gallon gas prices seen in the summer of 2008, the period used in the annual inflation adjustment calculation. After gas prices came down, overall prices levels were slightly lower during the next two years.
With that background, it's hard to imagine how a headline writer at the Associated Press, aka the Adminstration's Press, could transform what writer Stephen Ohlemacher accurately described as an "historically small increase" to "among the lowest in years" — unless it's to create a false impression among those who only read headlines that the government is being unduly stingy in disbursing benefits. Excerpts from Ohlemacher's report follow the jump (bolds are mine):
As Brent Bozell at NewsBusters noted earlier today, news of the forced retirement of the IRS's Lois Lerner, the agency's chief orchestrator of the campaign which targeted tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny in their applications for not-for-profit status, "was censored by ABC, CBS, and NBC."
In what may surprise some, that lack of coverage didn't occur because of the Associated Press. Stephen Ohlemacher's story was mostly well-done, with two significant exceptions.
The Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, has been running a series of "Why It Matters" items in the run-up to the presidential election purporting to educate readers about important issues.
Reporter Stephen Ohlemacher's contribution to the series concerning Social Security opens with a bald-faced fib, omits the fact that the system's benefit payments and costs have exceed payroll tax collections for several years, and doubles down on the fib at the end. His opening sentence and other excerpts follow the jump:
The modern equivalent of a broken record, which used to be a common saying about someone who says the same thing over and over, is the "infinite loop" -- "a sequence of instructions in a computer program which loops (i.e., repeats) endlessly."
On Social Security, the establishment press has played a false infinite loop for decades, namely that its "trust fund" contains lots of real assets. Here is Stephen Ohlemacher's replay of the loop found in his coverage at the Associated Press on early Monday:
Here is yet another "fact check" whose sole purpose is to try to invent reasons that an objectively true statement made by a conservative or Republican really isn't.
Monday, the Associated Press's Stephen Ohlemacher tried to claim that "Taxmageddon," the $423 billion tax increase which will take effect on January 1 if Congress and President Obama don't act to prevent it, won't really be the largest tax increase in history (bolds are mine):
At Bloomberg Business Week, the distortion of what the Social Security system's trustees told the public on Monday began with its headline and opening sentence.
The headline: "Social Security Fund to Run Out in '35: Trustees." Any reader would assume that the reference is to the situation with the retirement and disability programs combined, as both are collectively referred to as "Social Security." Reporter Brian Faler doubled down on the headline error in his opening sentence:
In the Associated Press's writeup ("Social Security disability on verge of insolvency") of the situation occasioned by a congressional report repeating the obvious, Stephen Ohlemacher surprisingly and correctly retold a bit of the history which readers should find quite interesting, as it largely explains how the program got out of control (bold is mine):
Never mind, as the Washington Examiner's Conn Carroll inconveniently points out, that the document produced by the "Gang of Six" -- Republican Senators Coburn, Chambliss, and Crapo, along with Democratic Senators Conrad, Warner, and Durbin -- is all of five pages. If you take out the white space, it's about 3-1/2.
Early this evening, the Associated Press's Stephen Ohlemacher called the output of the Gang of Six a "plan" no fewer than 12 times -- and his report's headline was "Bipartisan tax plan trims mortgage deduction." Okay, Steve, even though you (and the Gang) are obviously wrong, we get it.
This morning, Associated Press reporters Ricardo Alonso Zaldivar and Stephen Ohlemacher went back to an AP-GfK poll yours truly thoroughly discredited on May 11 (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog). That's when the AP's Liz Sidoti and Jennifer Agiesta laughably claimed that President Obama's approval had jumped to 60%.
The opening paragraph of Saturday morning's Associated Press report by Stephen Ohlemacher and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar on the state of Social Security and Medicare and an additional sentence from the third paragraph give away the fact that theirs will not be a missive that should be taken seriously (bold is mine):
The bad economy is worsening the already-shaky finances of Medicare and Social Security, draining the trust funds supporting them faster than expected and intensifying the need for Congress to shore up the massive benefit programs, the government said Friday.
... The Social Security trust funds are projected to be drained in 2036, one year earlier than the last estimate.
This post will concentrate on Social Security. By referring to the idea that its trust fund is being "drained," the pair are perpetuating the myth that the Social Security system has a stash of cash and investments just sitting there ready to be redeemed and distributed as benefits when needed. This of course is false. What follows are four fundamental truths about Social Security.
The repeal of Obamacare's nightmarish 1099 requirement has passed both chambers of Congress and is on its way to the President for his expected signature.
In reporting Tuesday on the repeal bill's progress, the Associated Press's headline writers assured readers that the original requirement in Obamacare was a "small" component of it. The AP's Stephen Ohlemacher also misstated current 1099 filing requirements, ignored the repeal bill's de facto tax increases (i.e., reductions of tax credits) that were crammed into the bill to "pay" for lost revenue that will supposedly result from repeal, and glossed over the fact that the requirement made it into law because almost no one read the Obamacare legislation in the first place. Other than that, the AP report isn't too bad. (/sarc)
Here are key paragraphs from Ohlemacher's report (bolds and number tags are mine):
Did you know that the "big new tax law" signed by President Obama yesterday "will save taxpayers, on average, about $3,000 next year," and that it will have "tax breaks for being married, having children, paying for child care, going to college or investing in securities"?
Don't spend that extra $3,000 yet, because it mostly won't be there. With the only major exception being the 2-point cut in the Social Security payroll tax, and of course barring new legislation the next Congress may take on, the tax laws for the next two years will essentially be the same as they have been since 2003, when Congress lowered marginal income, capital gain, and dividend income tax rates.
This lack of major change didn't stop the Ministry of Propaganda -- er, the Associated Press -- and reporter Stephen Ohlemacher from calling the new legislation "the most significant new tax law in a decade," when there's almost nothing "new" about it, or from trumpeting how much certain American families will "save" as a result.
One of the press's longest campaigns to systematically obfuscate the truth about a specific government program is the one that has protected Social Security from reasonable scrutiny for most of the 75 years of its existence.
The Associated Press's Stephen Ohlemacher did his part to continue the misdirection in his coverage of the possible effects of the payroll tax cut President Obama and congressional Republicans have proposed.
To Mr. Ohlemacher, the Social Security system has this huge, "guaranteed" trust fund. I can almost stop there, but readers should buck up and see the following excerpt as an object example of the falsehoods fed to the public for so many years (bolds and numbered tags are mine):
There's a big "surprise" in the ObamaCare legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in late March. Imagine that.
This morning, the Associated Press's Stephen Ohlemacher reported on the status of one of them, namely an IRS-related provision in the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" that has nothing to do with patient protection or providing affordable care. The AP reporter does a decent job of explaining the current situation, but doesn't tell readers how or why the problem arose in the first place. He also gives Democrats cover for what appears to be a half-hearted effort at repeal.
The key point Ohlemacher avoided is that no almost no one in Congress had any idea that the provision, which extends Form 1099 filing requirements to virtually all vendor payments exceeding $600 in a calendar year, was in the bill. It's also clear that very few outside of Congress were aware of the provision during the run-up to the final votes, as the result of a Google News Archive search on "Obamacare 1099 $600" (not typed in quotes) shows:
The Associated Press's timing couldn't have been better for those who still want to pretend that Social Security is really not in serious trouble. Stephen Ohlemacher's item ("Social Security to start cashing Uncle Sam's IOUs") originally appeared on Sunday, in the midst of most of the major college basketball conference tournament championships, then followed by the evening's announcement of the selections for the NCAA Division I Men's basketball tournament. (The AP has issued minor revisions several times since its original appearance, up to and including today.)
The wire service's timing, while convenient for the Washington establishment, as it minimizes the possibility of distractions from its statist health care obsession, couldn't have been worse for those of us who wish the American people would get a grip on the gravity of the situation -- which is why I saved this post for today.
What is about to occur is the event that as little as a year ago, according to the Social Security Trustees' 2009 Report, wasn't expected to arrive until 2016. Ohlemacher tells us that it's right here, right now, and gets the reporting right until his seventh paragraph (bolds are mine):
Yours truly and others have since April noted a precipitous and likely historic dive in Uncle Sam's monthly collections. Year-over-year declines actually began last summer. The degree of monthly fall-offs has gotten "progressively" worse since then.
Yesterday, the Associated Press finally went beyond blandly reciting year-to-date comparisons to note the historic significance of the cash crash at the Treasury. Even then, Stephen Ohlemacher's report understated the degree of the decline in receipts from economic activity (i.e., excluding last year's stimulus payments, which were treated by Treasury as "negative receipts"). He also only carried his analysis through June 2009, even though sufficient information about the full month of July was available in Treasury's last daily statement of the month released yesterday afternoon.