Biased Accounts: Executive Summary

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Social Security has been the most debated domestic issue of George W. Bush’s second term. Baby boomers begin retiring as early as 2008, and the nation’s retirement system faces an income shortfall beginning as early as 2017, according to the Social Security Administration. President Bush has called for personal accounts that would restructure the system to combat this looming problem. Social Security coverage on the five major networks has been overwhelmingly against personal accounts – by a margin of 2 to 1. Four of the five gave more air time to the liberal position than to explaining economic realities.

The Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute studied 125 Social Security stories on CNN’s “Inside Politics,” “CBS Evening News,” “NBC Nightly News,” ABC’s “World News Tonight” and Fox News’ “Special Report with Brit Hume” between Nov. 15, 2004, and March 15, 2005. This time included Bush’s call for reform shortly after his re-election into his “60 stops in 60 days” campaign. Among the findings:

    CBS and CNN Most Biased: On “CBS Evening News,” 56 percent of stories were liberal with just 20 percent conservative. CBS reports were loaded with extreme examples that played up liberal points. CNN’s “Inside Politics” was worse statistically with 61 percent liberal and 22 percent conservative. Fox News Most Balanced: Fox News’ “Special Report with Brit Hume” delivered an equal 30 percent liberal and 30 percent conservative stories, with the remaining 40 percent neutral. Networks Embrace ‘Transition Costs’ Scare Tactic: Journalists repeatedly indicated that the cost of changing over to personal accounts was too high. This point was made 10 times more often than it was challenged, and the financial principles that refuted it were largely ignored.