Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post calls it “the influential seniors group.” The New York Times calls it “the influential lobby for older Americans.” They’re speaking of the group that used to call itself the American Association of Retired Persons. It now calls itself simply AARP because some members objected to the term “retired.” That should be one indication that AARP members are not all “senior” or “older.” Its magazine, which calls itself “AARP The Magazine,” describes itself as the world’s largest circulation magazine, serving “the needs and interests of people 50 and over.”  Being 50 doesn’t sound too old or senior.

The circulation, 22 million, and the membership, around 35 million, are impressive. Those numbers alone would seem to validate media claims that this is an “influential” group. But those assumptions would be in error. Many sign up for AARP because of the discounts on such things as hotel rooms and car rentals. They have no idea what the organization does politically, and many don’t care. We recently noted evidence that writers for pornographic and pro-drug magazines have taken control of AARP The Magazine.

The Bush Administration pandered to AARP’s mythical clout by seeking and getting the group’s endorsement of the president’s expensive prescription drug bill. That backing was seen as a break with the organization’s usual support for Democratic Party initiatives to expand Big Government. AARP showed that it could support big spending bills offered by Republicans as well.

Now the tables have turned, as AARP has launched an advertising blitz against a Bush plan to allow workers to use some of their own tax dollars to create personal security accounts to replace or supplement Social Security benefits. The Bush plan is designed to avert the bankruptcy of the system. AARP opposes freedom of choice for workers, and wants all of the tax revenue taken from younger workers to pay for the benefits given to retired workers.

Originally, the Social Security number was supposed to designate a personal account into which your tax dollars would go, in order to pay for your own future benefits. But it was transformed by the politicians into a general welfare program, in which money going in quickly goes out. When the number of retired people goes up and the number of workers paying into the system goes down, the money squeeze begins.

AARP is so protective of its perceived clout that it has threatened to file suit against a group called the Alliance for Retirement Prosperity, which supports the Bush plan and whose web site is  The group’s co-chair, Jack Kemp, has challenged AARP to a series of town hall debates around the country “to dispel any possible confusion over the two organizations and where we stand on the issue of personal retirement accounts and retirement prosperity.”

Kemp’s challenge was made last March. AARP still hasn’t taken up the challenge to debate. It’s not only time for AARP to debate, it’s time for our media to start examining the “influence” and agenda of an organization that doesn’t even want to use its real name. Maybe the influence is not deserved.

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