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What the GOP and Corporate Media Are Hiding: The Public Debt Is Putting More Cash in Your Pocket

The media is hoodwinking us into buying the Right's deficit hysteria -- they're not telling us the real story.

Americans are increasingly confused about what the national debt is, and how it effects the economy, but that's no accident; we're being hoodwinked by politicians with a massive assist from the corporate media. Even worse, they're waving the deficit around like a shiny object to distract us from the really pressing issues facing our economy.

Here's some reality: according to the Congressional Budget Office, projected “budget deficits will drop markedly over the next few years” — falling by around two-thirds by 2014 (less so if the “Bush tax cuts” aren't allowed to expire as scheduled). This fact is not all over the news.

In fact, while the deficit is on a relatively steep downward slope, just this week the Washington Post told its readers in a front-page news story that Democrats and Republicans have been “lambasted as being far too timid in dealing with the nation’s swelling deficit," and the New York Times reported that Congress i s trying “to cut spending to deal with America’s own ballooning deficit [emphasis added].” These weren't editorials or opinion pieces; they purported to offer factual news.

That just scratches the surface. In 2009, the Post came under fire for running an article – also in its news section – written by the Fiscal Times, which the watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporti ng described as “a propaganda outlet created and funded by Peter G. Peterson, a Wall Street billionaire and Nixon administration cabinet member who has long used his wealth to promote cuts in Social Security and other entitlement programs.” (It was Peterson Foundation employees, among those from other outside groups, who staffed Obama's “bipartisan deficit commission.”)

After years pushing the inherently conservative "sky-is-falling" deficit narrative, the Washington Post now tells us that, based on the results of a poll it conducted last week, “lawmakers are likely to face voters’ wrath if they can’t prove that they are also working to rein in the spiraling debt.” The poll actually found that a majority of respondents would rather default on the national debt, driving the economy into a deep recession and sending unemployment skyrocketing, than see the debt limit raised.

That's madness, and it results from what one of the paper's liberal bloggers, Greg Sargent, describes as a “deficit feedback loop,” in which “the relentless bipartisan focus on the deficit convinces voters to be worried about it, which in turn leads lawmakers to spend still more time talking about it and less time talking about the economy.” Sargent highlighted a study released last week by the  National Journal that confirms his thesis. According to the  Journal, “major U.S. newspapers have increasingly shifted their attention away from coverage of unemployment in recent months while greatly intensifying their focus on the deficit.”

The analysis -- based on a measure of how often the words "unemployment" and "deficit" appear in major publications -- portrays a dramatically shifting landscape of coverage over the past two years, as the debate over how to fix the federal deficit has risen to prominence and the question of how to handle still-high unemployment has faded from the media's consciousness.

Now look at the impact that relentless focus on the deficit – and declining coverage of the jobs crisis and housing meltdown -- has had on public opinion:

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How Does the National Debt Affect You, Personally?

It's no wonder Americans are so bewildered – polls show they want the deficit cut, but they don't want to see taxes go up or cut any programs other than military spending (which wouldn't alone balance the budget).