Even as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were undergoing their official unveiling Saturday, the TV and social-media talking heads were all atwitter about how this means the new 2012 controversy will be what happens to Medicare.
Next, the Republican Dream Duo sucked it up for its first big test: a joint interview on CBS News' iconic "60 Minutes," the show famous for tough interviews revealing bottom-line truths. Perhaps you tuned in, too, seeking a first whiff about the healthcare fate awaiting your family's senior citizens.
But 60 minutes later, you were still waiting. That's because, to get even a whiff of the day's only Medicare news, CBS needed to rename the show "61 Minutes and 11 Seconds."
Because CBS cut a one-minute-11-second snippet from Bob Schieffer's interview of Romney and Ryan -- yes, the part that contained the Medicare Q&A. Here, courtesy of CBS News, is the snippet you missed:
SCHIEFFER: "I have to tell you, The Miami Herald has a banner headline across the front of it this morning that says, 'Ryan Could Hurt in Florida,' because they're talking about Medicare and what you're talking about -- the cuts -- "
ROMNEY: "Think about that, by the way. There's only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare, $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare. Think of that. What Paul Ryan and I have talked about is saving Medicare, is providing people greater choice in Medicare, making sure it's there for current seniors. No changes, by the way, for current seniors or those nearing retirement. But looking for young people down the road and saying, 'We're going to give you a bigger choice. In America, the nature of this country has been giving people more freedom, more choices. That's how we make Medicare work down the road --"
SCHIEFFER: "But you must concede you're going to have to do a little selling on that and a little explaining."
RYAN: "Our point is we need to preserve their benefits, because government made promises that they organized their retirements around. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger. And we think these reforms are good reforms that have bipartisan origin. They started from the Clinton Commission in the late '90s."
At least someone at CBS News thought that the new Republican team's Medicare comments were newsworthy. CBS News used that Medicare Q&A on its Sunday evening news to promote its upcoming "60 Minutes." CBS News spokesman Kevin Tedesco said the network felt "it was important enough to go out as fast as we could get it out." So, why didn't it run on "60 Minutes"? "It's just what we do," he said.
Romney's accusation that Obama "robbed Medicare" of more than $700 billion and that he was the only president to ever do such a thing merited several follow-ups. Yet there were none, as my old friend Schieffer, whom I've always considered the gold standard of TV journalists, conducted a courtly introductory interview but didn't seem to have at his fingertips all the info he needed.
For Romney has made that accusation before -- and he didn't seem to care that Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact.com already labeled it "false." Last December, PolitiFact investigated Romney's GOP debate claim that Obama was the only president who "has ever cut Medicare for seniors." First, Obama's healthcare program doesn't cut the present Medicare budget but cuts future growth and payment increases, PolitiFact concluded. Second, the fact-checkers said, Obama's plan doesn't reduce current benefits for seniors. PolitiFact added that Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton did.
While most of the media seem content to recycle the daily political blather, there are a few exceptions. Perhaps Washington's best new journalist, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, tells you back on the inside pages what you rarely learn on Page One. On Monday, on Page A9, Klein reported that:
While Romney says he plans to preserve and protect Medicare, Ryan's voucher option healthcare plan also preserves the $700 billion Obama slates for future reductions. Also, Medicare's growth rates under Obama's and Ryan's budgets are the same: gross domestic product plus 0.5 percent.
Here at the intersection of the news media, policy and politics, we must rise to the challenge of covering politicians who seem determined to weave together facts and falsehoods as a campaign comforter. Our thin but vital fact-check resources deserve to be upgraded to Page One and prime-time prominence.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.)