Right-wing media outlets are falsely claiming that workers voluntarily reducing hours due to provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is evidence that the law is harmful to the economy, ignoring economists' opinions about its role in reducing economic insecurity.
Right-wing media figures are baselessly stoking fears about calls to reduce inequality and expand opportunity to low-income Americans, claiming that these efforts are evidence of persecution of the rich and class warfare.
Fox Business' Charles Payne falsely claimed that the 16-day government shutdown helped increase economic growth, despite direct evidence to the contrary.
On January 30, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis released its report on gross domestic product (GDP) for the fourth quarter of 2013. According to the report, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent, down from 4.1 percent growth in the third quarter. Despite GDP growth falling, a number of economists agreed that the number was impressive.
Discussing the report on Fox News' America's Newsroom that day, Payne asserted that the 16-day government shutdown -- which occurred in the fourth quarter of 2013 -- helped spur economic growth:
PAYNE: Our economy has gotten so much traction since the government shutdown, which the mass media has said is an evil awful thing and it hurt us, well, during that period, more jobs were created, during that period, the stock market was up and we continue to see, as government gets out of the way, the private sector comes in.
Payne is completely incorrect.
While it's true that the GDP report showed a relatively strong increase, it is important to note how much better it would have been absent the government shutdown. According to MSNBC's Steve Benen:
The congressional Republicans' government shutdown, for example, shaved about 0.3% from the overall total. That's a difference, in other words, between 3.2% growth and 3.5% growth. It's still not clear exactly why GOP lawmakers did this, or what they hoped to accomplish, but there's evidence now that the gambit took a toll on the economy.
And despite Payne's claim that the shutdown helped job growth, Jason Furman, head of the Council of Economic Advisers, previously claimed that it reduced private sector employment by 120,000 jobs in October, 2013.
Furthermore, while Payne claimed that less government spending helped grow the economy, evidence suggests otherwise. Absent government spending cuts, economists estimate GDP in the fourth quarter would have risen an additional 0.9 percentage points.
Image via DJHEAVYD using a Creative Commons License.
Fox News' Neil Cavuto pushed the myth that minimum wage increases harm the economy, claiming that the president's call to raise the minimum wage was at odds with his push to extend unemployment insurance. However, both of these measures work in the direction of creating jobs and increasing economic growth, particularly in a sluggish economy.
On January 28, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, during which he advocated extending emergency unemployment compensation benefits -- which lapsed in late 2013 -- and increasing the minimum wage to $10.10.
On the January 29 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto was joined by Jamie Richardson, vice president of White Castle government relations, and Jerry Storch, former CEO of Toys"R"Us, to discuss the president's call to increase the minimum wage. After Richardson and Storch both expressed their opposition to minimum wage increases, Cavuto implied that the president was giving conflicting messages on the state of the economy, saying "if the economy is so bad that it warrants extending unemployment benefits for the umpteenth time, then surely it warrants going slow on increasing the minimum wage."
Cavuto's implication that because the economy requires restoring unemployment benefits, the minimum wage shouldn't be increased is simply groundless. The fact is that both measures act to increase jobs and grow the economy.
Fox News is misleadingly touting the results of a recent poll to falsely claim that a majority of Americans don't care about inequality and believe that government should do nothing to reduce it.
On the January 23 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck discussed the recent policy pivot by Republicans and Democrats toward addressing income inequality. During the segment, the results of Fox News poll in which respondents were asked to prioritize pressing economic issues were displayed on screen:
Doocy used the results of the poll to claim that Americans are unconcerned about rising income inequality:
DOOCY: This is what you're concerned about. Forty percent of you are worried most about jobs and unemployment. About the same number worried about the deficit and how much the government spends. Meanwhile, you wind up with "income inequality" at only 12 percent.
Later that day on America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum and Fox News contributor Monica Crowley returned to the poll, claiming that the results also showed most Americans do not want the government to take action to reduce income inequality. During the segment, the following graphic ran on the screen:
Fox, and the poll they cite, are creating a false choice between reducing income inequality, creating jobs, and addressing the deficit.
Numerous economists, including Jared Bernstein, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman have argued that rising inequality is bad for the economy and creates a drag on economic growth. Furthermore, in their recent book, "Getting Back to Full Employment," Bernstein and economist Dean Baker outlined proposals that could create jobs while lifting wages and reducing reliance on government safety net programs, thereby positively impacting job creation while reducing some pressure from the federal budget. In the view of many prominent economists, Americans do not have to choose between jobs, deficit reduction, or reducing economic inequality; sensible policies can be implemented to address each issue.
Additionally, while MacCallum suggested that few Americans want government action to reduce inequality, the actual poll shows that participants were never asked about inequality. Instead of being asked "How do you feel about income inequality" as Fox showed on air, the actual question in the poll was "How do you feel about the fact that some people make a lot more money than others?"
Differences in individual earnings, which the poll asked about, and structural inequality -- the idea that a small share of earners at the top capture nearly all income gains -- are not the same thing.
When Americans are asked directly about whether or not government should do anything to mitigate income inequality, the results are quite different from what Fox claims. According to a January 23 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center and USA Today, 69 percent of Americans believe that government should do "a lot" or "some" to reduce inequality.
Furthermore, a majority of respondents -- 54 percent -- support raising taxes on the wealthy and expanding programs for the poor in order to help close the income gap.
Media Matters research shows that Fox, along with other right-wing media outlets, consistently misrepresents the issue of economic inequality. These skewed poll results are just the latest in a long line of examples.
Broadcast evening news programs have remained silent on unemployment benefits since a measure to restore emergency compensation failed to pass the Senate. However, for many Americans, the prospect of losing benefits has only just begun.
At the end of 2013, emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed -- a program that has been in place since the financial crisis took hold -- expired. In the first weeks of 2014, Congress attempted to pass an extension, but the measure eventually fell to a Republican filibuster in the Senate on January 14.
Since the failed bid to extend unemployment benefits, nightly broadcast news programs have largely ignored the issue. Only one evening news segment on ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted time to discussing the now-expired benefits. That came in the form of NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams explaining that the measure to extend benefits failed in the Senate on January 14. Since then, there has been no discussion on any of the three networks.*
And as the Huffington Post's Sam Stein noted, broadcast Sunday show programs on January 19 provided no airtime to discussing the benefits except for a passing mention by NBC's Peter Alexander on Meet the Press.
While broadcast news may see this issue as complete, the negative effects of the benefits expiration will continue for an increasing number of Americans.
In a January 21 piece in The New York Times, reporter Annie Lowrey outlined the very real consequences of letting benefits expire, focusing on the story of Alnetta McKnight, an unemployed security guard. McKnight lost her benefits after 20 weeks due to a recently passed law in North Carolina, and is finding it hard to make ends meet or find a job. According to Lowrey, McKnight's experience is bound to increase across the country because, since the expiration of the emergency unemployment compensation program, "the maximum period of unemployment payments dropped to 26 weeks in most states, down from as much as 73 weeks."
Indeed, the situation will get worse for a number of Americans unless Congress acts to reinstate long-term unemployment insurance benefits. When the long-term unemployment benefits program expired, 1.3 million unemployed people immediately lost benefits. As more of the unemployed reach the maximum time allowed to collect benefits, they will find themselves in similar circumstances. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a total of 4.9 million people will be without any unemployment benefits by the end of the year if emergency measures are not reinstated.
More Americans will face the same situation as Alnetta McNight until the program is restored. Unfortunately for the millions who are currently unemployed, broadcast media have given up the public debate.
*Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC from January 14 to January 21 using the following search terms: unemploy! or employ! or job! or insur! or benefi!. The "!" operator in Nexis allows for all possible suffixes to the word it follows (for example, unemploy! returns unemployed, unemployment, etc.). When transcripts were missing or incomplete, we reviewed video.
Image via Bytemarks using a Creative Commons License
Conservative media figures have sharply criticized the recent push by Democratic politicians to alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality. However, most of this criticism is grounded in a number of myths about the causes, effects, and importance of growing economic inequality in the United States.
In the second half of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable evening news discussed Social Security in a largely negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news continue to place undue focus on government spending cuts and deficit reduction, pushing a narrative that is out of touch with economic reality.
Media Matters research revealed that throughout the fourth quarter of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable nightly news programs were more likely to advocate for deficit reduction than economic growth and job creation. Out of a total 890 segments on the economy, 250 saw the host or guest mention deficit reduction as an economic priority, while only 204 segments mentioned the need for economic growth and job creation.
Of course, Fox News led the charge in calling for deficit reduction, echoing trends seen in previous quarters.
Media's focus on deficit reduction was a constant theme throughout 2013, a theme increasingly out of touch with economic realities.
While broadcast and cable evening news programs were clamoring about the need for deficit reduction, in fiscal year 2013, the Treasury posted the smallest budget deficit since 2008. The same news programs that advocated for deficit reduction, however, were unlikely to mention this fact -- only 15 total segments over the fourth quarter noted that deficits are in decline.
Meanwhile, economic growth and job creation, while taking a backseat in media coverage, still remain a persistent problem in the U.S. economy. Many economists have repeatedly argued that sluggish economic growth and weak job creation are directly tied to an undue policy focus on deficit reduction. But with the recent government shutdown and budget negotiations taking place, weekday broadcast and cable evening news coverage consistently turned the debate back to deficit and debt reduction and away from more pressing issues like unemployment.
Maybe this is why only six percent of Americans know the deficit is shrinking.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the fourth quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA is the purported cause behind poor job growth.