Rick Perry, Social Security Straight Shooter?

A Washington Post story onSunday (9/18/11)argues that many recipients of Social Security aren’t really paying attention to what the GOP presidential front-runners are saying about Social Security. The real story, then, is what kind of narrative the candidates are trying to establish. As reporter Amy Gardner puts it:

In many ways, it doesn’t matter to the candidates whether people are attuned to what they are actually saying about Social Security. For them, the issue is instead serving as a proxy for the narrative each is trying to establish about himself.

For Perry, standing by his brash statements on Social Security–he has called it a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie”–presents a chance to show that he’s a straight-shooter unafraid to confront the nation’s toughest challenges.

“I don’t get particularly concerned that I need to back off from my factual statement that Social Security, as it is structured today, is broken,” Perry said in an interview published in Time magazine last week. “If you want to call it a Ponzi scheme, if you want to say it’s a criminal enterprise, if you just want to say it’s broken–they all get to the same point. We need, as a country, to have an adult conversation.”

This is actually a great illustration of a terrible problem with political reporting. How candidates are using policy discussions to frame their candidacies is actually much less important than whether what they’re saying is nonsense.

Perry’s Social Security claims are wildly misleading. Press coverage should explain that to readers (and, you know, voters) instead of talking about how his inaccurate claims means he’s a “straight-shooter.”

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.