by David Safier
It's a little late in the day (evening, actually) to comment on this morning's Star, but I don't want to let this go. Summary of this post: the Star's Brady McCombs needs to play some catch-up, and quick, if he wants to be a good political reporter.
McCombs has a story in today's paper about ads run by Republican and Democratic national committees for and against Kelly and Barber. Either out of caution or lack of necessary information, McCombs basically summarizes the ads and follows them with a rebuttal from the other camp, then a re-rebuttal from the camp that put out the ads. There's no attempt to sort through the information and help the reader sort out the facts behind the attacks.
The Republican ad focuses on Barber/Giffords cutting $500 billion from Medicare. This is a serious charge which was leveled against Giffords in 2010 and is being used against Democrats nationwide, that Obamacare hurts Medicare. And it has been taken apart again and again as big lie wrapped in a small truth. AZ Blue Meanie has gone after this one in depth, but you might think Politicfact's debunking of the accusation is a less partisan source.
Basically, the $500 billion is about cutting costs, not cutting services. It comes from payments to providers. And the same cut is in Paul Ryan's budget which the Republicans voted for and Romney raves about. Most people don't know this. For McCombs to leave it as a "Kelly said, Barber said" -- to imply both sides are equally justified in their positions -- does the reader a serious disservice.
The Democratic side goes after Kelly for wanting to eliminate Medicare and Social Security. Is this also a big lie wrapped in a small truth? Actually, no. Kelly has softened his position, but here's what he said during a KUAT debate when he was running against Giffords. BIll Buckmaster is the moderator.
Moderator Bill Buckmaster, KUAT debate, July 30: What about privatization of these two huge entitlement programs?
Jesse Kelly: We must. Bernie Madoff is in prison right now for what the federal government has done with Social Security and Medicare. It’s the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. It’s not an accident that the government has bankrupted everything they’ve ever touched, including Social Security and Medicare. They even bankrupted the Post Office, for goodness sakes. Right now, you have to take steps to reform it, to privatize it, to phase it out. Now these are not welfare programs. People have paid their entire lives into these programs, because the government has stolen their money. So you need to be fulfilling your promises in the near future, while phasing out future generations, taking steps to privatize, vouchers, everything. It’s not an option of should it be done — it must be done.
The article gives no sense Kelly ever held the positions he stated during the debate. McCombs, in Kelly's defense, paraphrases Kelly's website, which says, in McCombs' words, "Kelly does not advocate for privatizing, eliminating or phasing out Social Security or Medicare." That's stated as if it's fact.
You may wonder how I dug up all this information about the attacks in the two ads. I googled it. It wasn't hard.
The takeaway from McCombs' article is, Barber may or may not want to hurt Medicare by cutting it, and Kelly may or may not advocate for dismantling Medicare and Social Security. In other words, it's a draw. If McCombs thinks this false equivalence is OK, then he's done his job. If he thinks, as I do, that sometimes one side is more truthful than the other, that a reporter should know more than the readers and give them the benefit of what he/she knows, then he has some serious catching up to do before he deserves the title of political reporter.