God, truth, Howard Dean and Robert Novak

Robert Novak can't get the facts right on Social Security, but at least he's doing God's work.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 1, 2005 8:41PM (EST)

Mix Howard Dean and Social Security, and you get a potent political brew that Robert Novak can't pass up. He can't quite get it right, either.

Dean spoke at Cornell University last week, and the Cornell Daily Sun was there. The Daily Sun, Cornell's student newspaper, quoted Dean as saying that Bush's plan for private investment accounts "has much more to do with the enormous amount of money that corporate Wall Street poured into the President of the United States' campaign than [helping] senior citizens." The paper then paraphrased Dean as saying that, if nothing at all is done to reform Social Security in the next 30 years -- a kind of neglect Dean said he would not support -- then Social Security benefits would be reduced to 80 percent of their current levels.

This is where Mr. Novak comes in. With Bush's Social Security plan on something close to life support, Novak latched on to Dean's words -- or at least an upside-down version of them -- as a sign that someone, somewhere is with the president on this. As Media Matters reports, Novak used his "Crossfire" spot to proclaim: "The Democratic line that this isn't a problem -- Howard Dean gave a speech at Cornell on Thursday of this week in which he said that 80 percent -- over the years, 80 percent of the Social Security benefits will be lost. There is a problem. So, Howard sometimes tells the truth. He doesn't get the exact line."

Neither does Novak, apparently. Saying that benefits will be reduced to 80 percent of their current levels isn't exactly the same thing as saying that 80 percent of the benefits will be lost. It isn't even close.

Novak isn't the only conservative pontificator to misrepresent a Democrat's views about Social Security. As Media Matters has noted previously, Fox's Brit Hume has twisted the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to suggest that he would have favored Bush's privatization plan. But Novak is unique among the pack -- and not just because he continues to walk among us while real journalists face jail time in connection with his outing of Valerie Plame. Like Jake and Elwood before him, Novak stands out because -- as the Washington Post puts it -- he's on "a mission from God." In a Vanity Fair profile out Wednesday, Novak says that he has spent his life "trying to tell the truth and taking positions that I hope are godly positions, positions that I hope are helpful to my fellow man."

We just can't tell you how much we appreciate it, Bob.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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