Depressing news

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thanks to political grandstanding and pitiful reporting by the national news media, the United States could well be on its way to a depression. Not a recession. A depression.

Elected and appointed officials in Washington are wallowing in pre-election mud up to their ears. As a result, no one is willing to lead. And without leadership, there won't be a pretty solution to the current debt crisis that touches the entire nation and much of the world.

Thanks to careless reporting by Scott Pelley, the new anchor of the "CBS Evening News," Americans are frightened out of their skin almost nightly. If Pelley, a veteran newsman who ought to know better, thinks a good dose of shock will cure what ails America, he ought also to know that his superficial reporting is misleading the nation.

Case in point: On Tuesday night's broadcast, which featured several stories tied to an interview Pelley had with President Obama, the newsman asked the leader of the free world if the current deadlock over the national debt ceiling might jeopardize Social Security checks.

The president fell right into the trap. He said he couldn't "guarantee" that Social Security recipients would get their August checks, absent an agreement on the raising the nation's debt limit.

Both Pelley and Obama know how to gin up a news story for maximum impact, and that's exactly what they did Tuesday. Are these two in cahoots? Do they want to see the U.S. economy spiral into a black hole?

If Obama thinks telling elderly Americans they won't get a Social Security check will result in nationwide pressure for representatives and senators to stop posturing on the debt issue, he may be at least partially right. Little is so sacred in this country -- and most others -- as the guarantee of government handouts for the elderly. Just suggest these payments are in jeopardy and you've rallied millions of over-65 Americans to the front lines of battle.

If Pelley had done the job expected of a respectable news anchor, he would have either challenged the president or at least reported that Social Security is funded by withholding from every paycheck of every working American. This tax generates plenty of money, along with built-up reserves, to pay Social Security for years to come. Even if those reserves are tied up in loans for other government operations, there is still money available to cover Social Security.

That explanation wasn't offered, however, and anyone watching CBS Tuesday evening was left shaken by the prospect of no monthly payment or a sense that the news anchor and the president were playing games.

This is no time for games. This is the time for the president, members of his Cabinet, the Federal Reserve and members of both houses of Congress to start acting like grown-ups.

By the way, Mr. Pelley and Mr. President, surely you both know hardly anyone in America gets a Social Security check anymore, thanks to direct deposit.

Maybe that's the problem. Maybe they don't know.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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