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Policy Experts Seek Meeting With Washington Post Over “Fiscal Times” Deal

Roger Hickey reports on another letter of protest to the Washington Post from policy experts, demanding to meet with the Chairman of the Washington Post Company, Don Graham, about their content-sharing agreement with the “Fiscal Times,” a Pete Peterson-funded organization that is seemingly pressing his deficit-reduction, entitlement-slashing agenda and passing off that opinion as news. The letter notes multiple errors in the first Fiscal Times story published by the Post, which gave the impression that a deficit commission with fast-track powers to get an up or down vote for its recommendations in Congress was imminent and unstoppable. It also pointed out that the only policy analysis in the piece comes from a group funded by the same person whose organization wrote the story:

No academics or policy analysts are quoted in the story with the exception of the executive director of the Concord Coalition. The story fails to disclose that the founding President of the Concord Coalition is Mr. Peterson, a longtime advocate of the commission that was the focus of the story (and to repeat, the founder and financial backer of the Fiscal Times, which produced the story).

The Columbia Journalism Review has harshly criticized the Post for their content-sharing agreement with the Fiscal Times, and the first story arising from that agreement.

The Post story raises important questions about the use, quality, and amount of disclosure necessary for pieces created by so-called independent news sources for the MSM. Free content inevitably comes with a quid pro quo, and the public needs to know who is producing and funding such content.

The Washington Post has yet to respond to the request for a meeting.

Here’s the full letter:

Donald E. Graham
Chairman of the Board
The Washington Post Company
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Graham.

On January 1, we contacted the Ombudsman to express our dismay at a slanted piece of journalism that ran in your newspaper and our deep concern about the Post’s decision to partner in the future with the Fiscal Times, which produced the article. The Fiscal Times was created and is funded by Peter G. Peterson, who has engaged in a decades-long effort to have changes to Social Security considered under a fast-track commission which shields members of Congress from political accountability.

Consistent with Mr. Peterson’s longstanding objective, the article the Post published is rife with factual errors, important omissions and significant distortions, which lead the reader to see a fast-tracked commission as sound policy and without opposition – indeed, virtually inevitable. Representative of the errors, omissions, and distortions are the following:

• The Administration has not taken a public position on a so-called fast-track commission, and we have talked to high-level advisers in the White House who have told us privately that they oppose the fast-tracking, yet the first sentence of the second full paragraph states, “President Obama has voiced support for such a plan.”

• Speaker Pelosi and her staff have been clear about her opposition to a commission whose recommendations are fast tracked, yet the article implies that she has changed her position. A close reading suggests that the article seeks the reader to draw that inference, though her position, in reality, remains unchanged.

• The article fails to report that the powerful Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, is strongly opposed to the proposal. The article obviously fails to note that Senator Baucus delivered an impassioned speech in opposition, in which he described the proposal as a plan under which Congress would “outsource its core fiscal responsibilities,” and warned that “this commission and its new fast track process are truly dangerous… we would risk setting in motion some truly terrible policy…it is clear from their press release that Senators Conrad and Gregg have painted a big red target on Social Security and Medicare. That’s what this commission is all about.”

• The article omits the fact that the AARP is on the public record in opposition of the fast-track commission, but rather implies otherwise by including at the conclusion of the lengthy story some tepid, relatively-narrow concerns of a spokesman for the AARP .

• The article omits the fact that the AARP sent a letter to Congressional leaders stating the AARP’s unequivocal opposition. It also omits the fact that the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations sent a letter representing 27 national aging organizations. The article further omits that a letter signed by over 40 national organizations, including the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Common Cause, NAACP, NOW, and SEIU, was sent in opposition. Also, omitted was the fact of a letter from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an organization representing millions of members. Obviously the article provided no quotes from the letters, all of which are posted online.

• No academics or policy analysts are quoted in the story with the exception of the executive director of the Concord Coalition. The story fails to disclose that the founding President of the Concord Coalition is Mr. Peterson, a longtime advocate of the commission that was the focus of the story (and to repeat, the founder and financial backer of the Fiscal Times, which produced the story).

Every error, commission and omission in the article is in support of the objectives of Mr. Peterson. By printing the article, the Washington Post has let itself be used by that powerful individual who is now able to influence policy not just through opinion pieces but through what purports to be objective news.

Of greater concern to us than the one story is the Post’s announced partnership with Mr. Peterson’s enterprise and the plans to publish other articles, as objective news stories, from that biased source. The Post’s highly respected imprimatur is likely to cause local papers to print these biased pieces, as well.

We respectfully request that you meet with a delegation of the undersigned so that we can further discuss our concerns in person. To facilitate the arrangement of the meeting, the contact information of the first signatory appears at the end of this letter

Nancy J. Altman, co-director of project to protect and improve America’s economic security
Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research
Merton C. Bernstein, Coles Professor of Law Emeritus, Washington University
Robert H. Binstock, Professor of Aging, Health, and Society, Case Western Reserve University
Suzanne Blouin, retired, Office of Communications, Social Security Administration
Barbara Burt, Executive Director, Frances Perkins Center
Dale Coberly, co-author of the Northwest Plan to restore Social Security to balance
Nancy Dapper, Executive Director, Western & Central WA Chapter, Alzheimer’s Association
Patricia E. Dilley, Professor of Law, University of Florida
Stephen Gorin Professor, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH
Lori L. Hansen, former member, Social Security Advisory Board
Roger Hickey, Co-Director, Campaign for America’s Future
Karen Holden, Emeritus Professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-
Eric Kingson Professor, Syracuse University School of Social Work
Robert Kuttner, Founding Co-Editor, American Prospect
Theodore Marmor, Professor Emeritus, Yale University
Gerald A. McIntyre, National Senior Citizens Law Center
Lawrence Mishel, President, Economic Policy Institute
Steve Regenstreif, Director, AFSCME Retirees
Maya Rockeymoore, President, Global Policy Solutions
Max J. Skidmore, University of Missouri Curators’ Professor of Political Science, Thomas Jefferson Fellow, University of Missouri-Kansas City

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