Sometimes the meme takes the form of getting the pols on board with need for a quick fix. An editorial in USA Today challenged the Democrats to be brave and cut entitlements. “How exactly do Democrats expect Republicans to bend on their destructive refusal to raise taxes if Democrats won’t bend on their destructive refusal to trim unsustainable benefit programs,” the editorial argued. Even the reliably moderate Eleanor Clift seemed to be on board, writing in The Daily Beast that the president faces a daunting challenge “to convince liberal groups that they too will have to yield.”

In recent weeks, pushback against the urgency to fix the deficit and cut entitlements has come from the AARP, an organization of some 35 million seniors. Through TV ads, the group is challenging the wisdom of raising the Medicare eligibility age and changing the COLA formula for Social Security benefits, while arguing that Social Security should be omitted from a “last minute budget deal.” The Washington Post attacked AARP’s credibility a year ago, in an editorial
and did so again last week in a news story that quoted—or misquoted—a leading Medicare expert, leaving an incorrect impression about Medicare cuts.

Post reporter Jerry Markon, whose beat is political accountability, penned a piece that looked at AARP’s business interests, notably selling Medigap insurance. The media have examined AARP’s businesses before during periods when some lawmakers feared the organization would block their bills, so Markon’s piece hardly broke new ground. He was trying to make the case that any changes in Medigap policies—which people buy to cover Medicare’s benefit holes—that shift more costs to seniors would lower premiums because they wouldn’t have to cover as much. That in turn, he reasoned, would lower AARP’s revenue.

Among the people he interviewed was Marilyn Moon, a former Medicare trustee and a longtime board member of an advocacy group, the Medicare Rights Center, who once worked at the AARP. The Post quoted her saying: “Any way you look at changes in Medigap that people are talking about, I think it’s good for beneficiaries, and anybody who is opposing that who claims they are looking out for beneficiaries, you have to wonder why.” But Moon says she wasn’t talking about Medigap; she was talking about changes to Medicare.

Moon told me, “He twisted my remarks about benefit improvements and equated them with proposed changes in Medigap policies.” Moon protested in an email to Markon that she shared with CJR. There are a lot of changes being proposed to Medigap that would be “very bad for beneficiaries,” she said in the email. “I deeply regret that you did not understand the distinction.”

If you are going to push a meme, maybe you should get the details right.

Follow our coverage of the coverage of politics and policy on Twitter @CJRSwingStates. And follow the author @Trudy_Lieberman.

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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.