Media Treat Trump Administration’s Partisan Fear-Mongering as Objective ‘Government’ Report

On Tuesday, dozens of media outlets broke what at first seemed to be a major story about “the government” announcing that Social Security and Medicare will be broke in less than 20 years:

  • Medicare Will Become Insolvent in 2026, US Government Says (AP, 6/5/18)
  • Medicare’s Trust Fund Will Be Depleted in 2026: Trustees Report (The Hill, 6/5/18)
  • Trustees Report That Social Security Benefits Are at Risk in 16 Years (Forbes, 6/5/18)
  • Social Security Must Reduce Benefits in 2034 if Reforms Aren’t Made (CNN, 6/5/18)

If the lifelines of millions of poor, elderly and disabled were going to crumble in less than a generation, this would be major news indeed. But they’re not really. Or, at least, we have no objective reason to believe they will, since the authors of the report was not “the government,” as it’s generally understood—the Congressional Budget Office, or some other ostensibly bipartisan “commission” sanctioned by “both parties”—but the not-so-reliable Trump White House. The same White House that has a long, documented track record of venality, lying and corruption, and leads a Republican Party that has been quite explicit in its desire to “reform” Social Security and Medicare through slashing and privatizing.

The report was commissioned by the US Social Security Trustees, a benign-sounding but overtly partisan group of people all appointed by Donald J. Trump. Of the seven slots, two are vacant and the other five—Steven T. Mnuchin, secretary of the Treasury; R. Alexander Acosta, secretary of Labor; Alex M. Azar II, secretary of Health and Human Services; Nancy A. Berryhill, acting commissioner of Social Security; and Mark J. Warshawsky, deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy—were all put on the commission by the White House.

Three of the “trustees,” Mnuchin, Acosta and Azar, are Trump cabinet members. Berryhill worked for the Society Security commission prior to Trump’s term, but was elevated by him in 2017, and Warshawsky has previously served as assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department under George W. Bush from 2004 to 2006, and since then has frequently been published in right-wing outlets like the American Enterprise Institute and the Wall Street Journal. Put another way: The report is a partisan document produced by partisan actors.

The financial outlook for Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund deteriorated in the last year, and Social Security still faces serious long-term financial problems, the Trump administration said on Tuesday.The New York Times (6/5/18) was one of a few major outlets to note this fact. Though its headline was as bad as the others, simply asserting as fact that “Medicare’s Trust Fund Is Set to Run Out in 8 Years. Social Security, 16,” the article by Robert Pear at least noted the actual source of the claim, starting out by noting the ideological source of the the “report” (emphasis added):

From Adam Johnson, FAIR, June 8, 2018