Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:

Clock Is Ticking

Hillary Clinton says that when her husband left office — Social Security was projected to be solvent until the year 2055. She contends that now — solvency is predicted to end in 2041 — a loss of 14 years — because of what she calls "fiscal irresponsibility" by the Bush administration.

But the Social Security Administration says that its official statistics at the end of 2000 put the solvency year at 2037 — not 2055. It says that the current figure is — as Mrs. Clinton states — 2041. But instead of it being a 14 year loss — it is actually a four year gain.

FOX News asked the Clinton campaign repeatedly Monday and today to provide the source for that claim that the projection was 2055 when Bill Clinton left office — but so far we have received no response.

Source Reporting

Today's New York Times features an article on the immunity offered to Blackwater USA personnel regarding that shootout in Iraq last month. It bases its story on information from what it calls "government officials" who, "agreed to talk about the arrangement only on the condition of anonymity." The use of anonymous sources is common in the Times and other news media.

Also Monday — the White House held an off-the-record briefing for reporters — with President Bush talking about various things on the condition that his words not be quoted or paraphrased.

All the TV networks were there, along with radio and the wires, and the major newspapers.
Except for The New York Times. The Times refused to attend — because it says it does not agree with the concept of off-the-record briefings.

King of the Hill

It is estimated that Democratic Congressman John Murtha has steered about $2 billion worth of earmarks to his western Pennsylvania district since joining the House Appropriations Committee in 1992. Taxpayers for Common Sense ranks him far in front of all other congressional earmarkers.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that dozens of contracts funded by Murtha's committee were not sought by the military or federal agencies they were intended to benefit. One Murtha-backed firm is under federal investigation for allegedly diverting public funds to develop software for commercial purposes. Murtha's earmarks for his district have topped the $600 million mark in each of the last four years.

By the way — Taxpayers for Common Sense has Republicans in the number two and three slots for earmarks — Florida's C.W. Bill Young at two — and California's Jerry Lewis in the third spot.

Media Matters

The news media focus on presidential horse race stories over actual issues by about a seven-to-one margin. It's a complaint heard every four years — and backed up again this year in a new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and Harvard University.

It also reports some interesting results about bias in TV reporting. It says Democrats received more total coverage than Republicans — and more positive coverage. Republicans got more negative coverage.

The survey found that stories on the FOX News Channel which tilted positive or negative favored Republicans over Democrats — but that most FOX stories were neutral — favoring neither party. It concludes — "any sense here that (FOX) was uniformly positive about Republicans or negative about Democrats is not manifest in the data."

FOX News Channel's Martin Hill contributed to this report.