Politico’s Priorities

News analysis masquerading as news riles defense experts

May 3, 2012

Politico is under fire from foreign policy experts and budget hawks on Capitol Hill for running a biased front page article that erroneously correlated Republican concerns about military cuts to a mean-spirited desire to slash the country’s social safety net.

The article by Politico reporter David Rogers claims that House Republicans are "shifting billions from poverty programs to the Pentagon, all within hours of adopting an entirely new round of tax cuts for those earning more than $1 million a year."
The article—which some dismissed as an op-ed masquerading as straight news—employs skewed statistics, misleading charts, and rhetorical flourishes to paint a portrait of the GOP’s budget plan that is highly misleading, according to several experts, who blasted Politico for signing off on such a distorted piece.

Republican attempts to avoid reflexive defense cuts totaling nearly $1 trillion receives scant mention in the piece, though Rogers attempts to argue that the GOP budget proposals are a soulless attempt to slash spending on social programs, sources said.

"The Politico news article reads like an op-ed, and makes no effort to balance its reporting on the debate over the House reconciliation by detailing the sequester's catastrophic impact on the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces," said Robert Zarate, policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Rogers argues Republicans want to gut social programs benefiting America’s neediest in an effort to evade massive defense cuts and care little about actually erasing the country’s crippling debt.

"The whole exercise seems less about debt than staving off defense cuts and tax increases in January," Rogers writes. "And just 24 hours after committees approved the deepest cuts from poverty programs, the full House voted along party lines April 19 to approve nearly $46 billion in new tax cuts."

Rogers, however, gives short shrift to looming defense cuts that both Democrats and Republicans say would imperil America’s national security and potentially put more than a million in the military industry out of work.

He relies on a chart that includes only discretionary spending—which is just a portion of the total budget—making it appear as if defense spending is 50 percent of the total budget. In reality, it comprises less than 20 percent, creating the misimpression that funding for social programs is under attack.

Contrary to Rogers’ story, defense spending has faced the budgetary axe at a disproportionate rate, accounting for 50 percent of the cuts in both the Budget Control Act and the looming sequestration.

Observers labeled these tactics as intentionally deceptive and destructive to the budgetary process.

"President Obama’s own Secretary of Defense has described sequestration as 'devastating' to our national defense, a valid point that should be illustrated in any news article about the reconciliation process," said one GOP leadership aide who was not authorized to speak on record. "Unfortunately, yet not surprisingly, Politico is more interested in passing off editorial commentary as front page news in a cheap attempt to sensationalize a serious process."

Rogers also fails to mention that looming defense cuts could take 200,000 soldiers and Marines out of service, leaving U.S. armed forces below pre-9/11 level. Cuts also would leave the country with very few ground forces and "a fleet of fewer than 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915," according to a Congressional analysis.

"Our country is headed off a fiscal cliff," said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), the House Majority Whip. "The government is projected to spend over $40 trillion in the next 10 years, and yet Democrats seek to demonize Republicans for proposing responsible reforms in order to reduce that spending by $300 billion."

"The Pentagon," he added, "shouldn't be and hasn't been immune to spending reductions, but it is reckless and irresponsible to make arbitrary cuts to programs vital to our national defense."

The Politico report also sensationalizes cuts to social programs, such as food stamps, welfare programs, and retirement benefits for federal workers.

However, the Republican proposal aims to close loopholes in existing programs, thereby ending wasteful spending. Among other things, the proposal would limit fraud, spending on duplicative programs, and the abuse of several welfare programs.