In Rochester, Soundbites Signifying Nothing

Fresh from a commencement celebration in Michigan, President Bush brings his Social Security road show to Rochester, New York on Tuesday. Fortunately for the President, the TV news in Rochester is acting like it spent the weekend like many recent college grads — throwing back one too many Pabst Blue Ribbons while flipping burgers on the grill.

First, let’s check in on News Channel 10 — the NBC affiliate.

Describing the plan in short soundbites, the news anchor says, “Mr. Bush says the current system is going bankrupt.” Well, that’s true enough. But, as we and several others have pointed out many times, the Social Security system cannot go bankrupt. According to projections, Social Security’s trust fund will be exhausted somewhere near the middle of the century, meaning that at that time, month in and month out, money coming in will fall short by 27 cents on the dollar to money going out. That’s not good; it means the system will be shorting its recipients; it doesn’t mean it will be “bankrupt.”

Switch your dial down two notches to WROC channel 8 news — the CBS affiliate — and you’ll find an uninformative “he-said/she-said” exchange of Rochester citizens.

First off, there is Noah Lebowitz described as an “economics major” who “works as an intern for the Republican party, and supports the president’s plan to privatize Social Security.” Lebowitz, who has apparently paid attention during Talking Points 101, offered WROC this quote, “Allowing me to put some of my payroll taxes into a private account, allowing me to invest in a diversified portfolio, will give me a much greater benefit than I would otherwise [have].” No mention by WROC that private accounts and the president’s plan — not necessarily the same thing — do not guarantee a greater benefit to Lebowitz.

However, WROC did have enough time to provide this opposing quote from Jen Brady, “I think it’s a plan for Wall Street to make some money out of ours.” Who’s Jen Brady? WROC never tells us, but one can only assume from her comment that she had a hand in the anti-Bush Social Security protest that was held in Rochester yesterday. As for her argument, as with Lebowitz, WROC never interjects to tell its viewers whether Brady is doling out gold or coal.

Of course, the true test of the local press will come Tuesday night and Wednesday morning when there’s been an actual event to cover. So far it doesn’t look like it will be pretty.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.