The reason for Social Security’s dire predicament, WaPo and other news outlets reported, is that there will be more and more baby boomers collecting benefits with fewer workers in the future to support them. “Social Security’s bleak outlook is primarily driven by the ever-larger numbers of people in the baby boom generation entering retirement,” WaPo told readers. The paper did go into greater depth than other outlets, explaining that the trustees also pointed to two unforeseen economic factors—rising energy prices, which meant larger COLA increases, and lower-than-expected payroll taxes resulting from lower worker earnings. Most reporters, though, apparently didn’t make it to page 18 of the report, which clearly stated:

Changes in economic projections, due to new starting values and revised assumptions, are the most significant of several factors contributing to the increase in the (trust fund) deficit.
Let the record show there were a few bright spots in the coverage. The NewsHour invited Nancy Altman, co-director of the advocacy group Social Security Works, who some in the press have called a defender of Social Security, to appear on the program along with Heritage Foundation research fellow David John. Ray Suarez’s questioning was evenhanded. One commenter remarked on the PBS site: “Nice to see some comprehensive explanation of the many parts of Social Security within a news item. For too long, this issue has been a buzz-topic based solely on people’s ignorance.”

The debate over Social Security is not going away. The media still have a chance for redemption.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.