The Washington Post‘s publication of a “news” article written by an organization created to advance an ideological agenda is a troubling reminder of the declining ethical standards at one of the nation’s most influential newspapers.
The article, headlined “Support Grows for Tackling Nation’s Debt” (12/31/09), was a product of the Fiscal Times, described in an accompanying note as “an independent digital news publication reporting on fiscal, budgetary, healthcare and international economics issues.” More accurately, it’s a propaganda outlet created and funded by Peter G. Peterson, a Wall Street billionaire and Nixon administration cabinet member who has long used his wealth to promote cuts in Social Security and other entitlement programs (Extra!, 3-4/97; Nation.com, 1/4/10).
Peterson has advanced this agenda by launching groups like the Concord Coalition and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation; he’s also funded media projects like the public television show World Focus (FAIR Action Alert, 2/10/09) and the deceptive documentary IOUSA (CEPR, 10/8), which aired on CNN.
Now Peterson has a new vehicle, the Fiscal Times, which he describes (PR Newswire, 12/17/09) as “a new entity whose time has come, an independently supported publication comprised of top journalists and opinion makers covering the critical economic issues of our time.” The Fiscal Times‘ initial news release said Peterson “helped found the publication and will provide its initial funding”; editor-in-chief Jackie Leo (formerly of Reader’s Digest) said she aimed to make it “the most trusted news source for unbiased journalism covering government policy and economic issues.”
Based on the Fiscal Times‘ first offering in the Post, though, what it actually offers is a bias that’s widely shared by corporate media outlets. The piece, by Elaine S. Povich and Eric Pianin, takes it as a given that the “tough decisions that will be required to dig the nation out of debt” include “painful spending cuts and tax increases”–and when they say “spending cuts,” they’re talking about the “skyrocketing spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,” not the $663 billion military budget. (See Guardian, 1/4/10, for Dean Baker’s debunking of the piece’s Petersonian economics.)
Of course, this kind of deficit-mongering is par for the course in outlets like the Post (Extra!, 9/09). But it’s doubtful that the Post on its own would have made controversial claims about powerful politicians–like the assertion that “President Obama has voiced support” for an entitlement-slashing commission, or that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “has signaled in recent weeks that she could accept the establishment” of such a panel–without offering any substantiation (Fire Dog Lake, 1/5/10).
And it’s remarkable that no one at the Post objected when a news outlet funded by Peterson managed to plug two of its benefactor’s other ideological projects–the Concord Coalition and the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform–without noting the financial connection. (The Post ran a correction noting that it should have noted the tie to Concord, but didn’t say anything about Peterson-Pew.) Completely missing from the piece was any balance to the Peterson-approved perspective, save an analyst from the AARP, misleadingly cited to suggest that “critics” objected to a deficit commission because it wouldn’t be strong enough when “the choices are so hard–and getting harder.”
Far from “unbiased journalism,” the Fiscal Times article reads like the smoothly written propaganda you’d expect to get from a well-funded lobbying outlet. The Post‘s “partnership” with this outfit is an ill-advised experiment that ought to be brought to a swift conclusion.
Please ask Washington Post ombud Andy Alexander to recommend that the paper terminate its relationship with the ideologically motivated Fiscal Times.
Andy Alexander, Washington Post Ombud
See FAIR’s extensive archives on the anti-Social Security bias of corporate media.