Mar
01
1997

That Fuzzy Gorilla

A daily misdemeanor of our media is their election of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) as the voice of the nation's elderly. A quick visit to any good newspaper morgue would reveal that this is a fiction. AARP was exposed by Consumer Reports in 1976 (1/76) and by 60 Minutes in 1978 (5/14/78) as a front for a mail-order racket, selling rip-off insurance to the elderly. Its boss, Leonard Davis, beat a felony rap and retired enormously rich, but his business continued and thrived. Its wares-- insurance, a mass magazine and a wide range of services-- appear now […]

Mar
01
1997

Bashing the Piñata

Behind the Myths of Social Security

Not too long ago, it was often said that Social Security was the third rail of politics: Touch it and you die. Nowadays, Social Security is beginning to look more like a piñata for Wall Street interests: Bash it hard enough and a bounty of lucre falls into your lap. This transformation would never have been possible were it not for a steady stream of media-broadcast disinformation about Social Security, aimed at frightening the public into accepting corporate-sponsored "reform." Here are a few of the most common myths: Myth #1: Social Security Is Going Bankrupt "No one contends that the […]

Mar
01
1997

Bogus Crisis, Bogus Solution

Debate on Social Security Privatization Reflects a Narrowing of Options

Democracy in America is a strange thing. Campaigns focus on trivialities, while the big issues--especially those involving lots of money--are decided by elites and presented to the public as faits accomplis. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the "debate" over Social Security reform. I've written here before (7-8/95) about the dubious predictions of the system's bankruptcy—-projections that depend on estimates of economic growth over the next 75 years that are half the average of the past 75. But even if these forecasts turn out to be true, present benefit levels could be sustained with modest and temporary increases in […]

Mar
01
1997

A Crusader in Clover

Pete Peterson, Enemy of Social Security, Counts Journalists as Friends

Where does the man find the time to earn all that money? You can’t turn on the tube but there’s Peter G. Peterson, telling some awestruck talking head that Social Security and Medicare are gobbling up our kiddies’ porridge. Or he’s writing it on your favorite op-ed page, or in magazines, or relaying the message through a thousand media converts. Or he's presiding over the Council on Foreign Relations or the Concord Coalition, or gracing the society page in a dinner jacket, at all the really important social functions, sometimes as host. Or you can find him more informally at […]

Mar
01
1997

The Media and the Menopause Industry

Advertising has muted dangers of estrogen therapy

You don’t get product ads unless you praise the product. --Gloria Steinem, founding editor of Ms. In his book Adverse Reactions, Thomas Maeder recalls the philosophy of Harry Loynd, an old-time president of Parke-Davis who was legendarily blunt. Loynd’s oft-repeated motto was “Pills are to sell, not to take.” He regarded physicians as extremely gullible, and lectured his staff, “If we put horse manure in a capsule we could sell it to 95 percent of these doctors.” Were he still among us, Loynd might have a great giggle over the fact that Wyeth-Ayerst’s 50-year-old Premarin, boldly named for its featured […]

Mar
01
1997

Here We Go Again

Can Social Security Survive Another "Rescue"?

The rescue of Social Security has been a staple of American journalism for 20 years now—a story all the more remarkable in that Social Security has never been in peril except from its rescuers. The rescues have all been based on faulty arithmetic. First, in 1977, the rescuers humbly confessed that they had made a mistake in adjusting benefits to inflation, as a result of which Social Security was threatening to go broke. (They never say the Army is threatening to "go broke," only that it needs more money to do the job that it's asked to do.) Not to […]

Mar
01
1997

The Generation Gambit

The Right's Imaginary Rift Between Young and Old

What have the media taught us about Generation X? We know that the age of first marriage is higher than ever before. (True.) Wages are down more than 20 percent from the early 1970s. (True.) Young people see old people as the enemy. Whoops! The media have been duped by a clever campaign whose intention is to get rid of those nasty Social Security programs. Perhaps the idea of "generational warfare" was too good a story to question. Whatever the reason, the media have turned an ideological assertion into conventional wisdom—and in the process have distorted the political voice of […]