While all three networks have touted Democratic claims that a government shutdown would stop Social Security Checks from going out, only CBS explained that the claim is completely false. ABC and NBC both used a sound bite of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin warning of the end of such payments, but reporters of neither network corrected the record.
In a report on Friday's Early Show on CBS, a clip was played of President Obama declaring during his February 15 press conference that a government shutdown would mean that "People don't get their Social Security checks. They don't get their veterans payments." Senior White House correspondent Bill Plante followed by pointing out: "That's actually not true. Social Security checks and veterans payments would still go out, just as they did when the government shut down 15 years ago."
On Sunday and Monday, NBC and ABC didn't correct this scare tactic. Here's the original exchange on NBC's Meet the Press:
DAVID GREGORY: Senator Durbin, are we heading towards some kind of government shutdown?
DICK DURBIN [SEN. D-IL]: I certainly hope not, and we've made it clear from the start that that is the worst outcome. If we end up shutting down the government and calling into question whether we're going to meet our obligations for Social Security checks and paying our troops, then that is an absolute, utter failure. We can do better. And I think we need to sit down in a positive, constructive way and work out our differences. There are differences. But the starting point is that we know we need to cut spending, we know we need to live within our means. And we believe that we can find a way to do this for the remainder of this fiscal year.
GREGORY: But how does this get resolved? Here was Senator Reid, the majority leader, Senator Graham, talking about the House, you know, passed their end of it and now there's not a lot of time to negotiate.
Gregory didn't question Durbin's suggesting that a shutdown would include the cessation of payments to troops and Social Security recipients, which is clearly a political nightmare if it happened. Neither did ABC reporter David Kerley on World News Sunday:
DAVID KERLEY: Republicans and Democrats are both dug in, unwilling to compromise on budget cuts. And in 12 days, the government runs out of money. Just look at the calendar. Congress is off all next week. Seven days lost. When they come back, just five days to reach a deal before a forced shutdown on March 4th.
DICK DURBIN [SEN. D-IL] ON NBC: That is the worst outcome. If we end up shutting down the government and calling in to question whether we're going to meet our obligations for Social Security checks and paying our troops, then that is an absolute utter failure.
UNIDENTIFIED CLERK [HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES]: The bill is passed.
KERLEY: The $61 billion in cuts Republican House members passed this weekend are unacceptable to Senate Democrats who suggest a short funding extension of a couple of days or weeks. House Speaker John Boehner says no, not without some cuts.
NBC let that concept be replayed without challenge on Monday's Today:
KELLY O'DONNELL: And here in Washington, where buck-passing got its name, some Democrats are predicting a government shutdown when current funding runs out March 4th.
DICK DURBIN [SEN. D-IL): If we end up shutting down the government and calling into question whether we're going to meet our obligations for Social Security checks and paying our troops, then that is an absolute, utter failure.
O'DONNELL: Democrats claim Republicans are too stubborn and their budget cuts too severe.
CHUCK SCHUMER [SEN. D-NY]: Speaker Boehner has said even before negotiations that he wants it a certain way. That is reckless. That's what Newt Gingrich did in 1995.
O'DONNELL: The '90s government shutdown, with empty offices and closed national parks, left the Republican majority then with real political damage; a cautionary tale today.
We probably shouldn't clap too hard for CBS. The last time around, CBS reporter Scott Pelley made our 1996 Best of Notable Quotables issue with this gem:
"In April, terrorists tried to kill them. Today politicians stopped their paychecks. In Oklahoma City's Social Security office, they're being ordered to work for nothing." -- Beginning of CBS reporter Scott Pelley's January 2, 1996 Evening News story on some federal workers being ordered to work during the shutdown.