In 2013, broadcast evening news programs have largely ignored the need for the economy to return to full employment, instead placing overwhelming focus on debt and deficit reduction.
Right-wing media have repeatedly blocked efforts to help the economy return to full employment in recent years, instead placing undue focus on policies that would hinder economic growth and job creation.
In a December 2 post on The New York Times' Economix blog, Center on Budget and Policies Priorities Senior Fellow Jared Bernstein outlined a number of policies that would help the economy return to full employment, roughly defined as when all who are able and want to work are employed. Bernstein's policy prescriptions derive from his recently released book, Getting Back to Full Employment, coauthored with economist Dean Baker.
Bernstein's myriad recommendations, as he notes, have been repeatedly stymied by the current "political environment." Many of the policies he recommends -- particularly those related to fiscal policy -- have been given extra derailment by the right-wing media, who vehemently oppose efforts that would return the U.S. economy to full employment.
The primary reason Bernstein cites to explain why the economy has been operating below full employment is the implementation of austerity measures that have drastically reduced the deficit in the past few years. According to Bernstein, the policy of cutting deficits in a time of high unemployment has held back the economy from reaching its full potential.
Of course, in the past few years, right-wing media have championed every effort to reduce deficits and derided any policies that would potentially increase them, even if the result was faster economic and jobs growth.
For example, in the third quarter of 2013, Fox News placed overwhelming focus on deficit reduction, mentioning its supposed need as the country's top economic priority instead of economic growth. Indeed, calling for deficit reduction has become a theme at the network, even while other news outlets place more emphasis on the need for economic growth.
Right-wing media's focus on deficits as economic priorities has not only impeded efforts to increase employment through increased government spending -- an idea endorsed by economists -- but has also crowded out any discussion of pro-growth economic policy.
Bernstein states that one of the best paths to full employment is directly targeting unemployed people through things like subsidized jobs programs. According to Bernstein, government should be involved in directly creating jobs as "employer of last resort," adding that "just as the Fed's powers must be invoked when credit markets fail, so must the government's when labor markets fail to create the quantity of jobs necessary to employ American labor resources (or 'people,' if you prefer)."
In the past few years, right-wing media have not only railed against enacting policies that would create jobs indirectly -- such as canceling sequestration -- but also against direct employment efforts.
In 2011 when President Obama introduced the American Jobs Act, a bill that would directly increase employment through investment and jobs training programs for the unemployed, right-wing media were quick to run attacks against the legislation. Fox News erroneously characterized the bill as "another failed stimulus plan" and falsely claimed that economists considered it "nonsense." And even though the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - commonly known as the stimulus -- unequivocally created up to millions of jobs, Fox still continues to characterize the bill as a failure.
Bernstein notes that one of the greatest direct employment efforts of the past few years was utilizing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund to places hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals in temporary jobs. Of course, TANF -- commonly referred to as welfare -- has become right-wing media's favorite boogeyman, with false claims about its effectiveness and necessity trumpeted regularly on Fox News.
Bernstein's final recommendation focuses on the need for greater infrastructure investment, noting that it would increase long-term economic output and productivity. He also notes that given current low borrowing rates, increased investment through deficit spending would produce minimal negative side effects.
Right-wing media have long opposed infrastructure investment and have ramped up efforts to block additional investment in recent months. Conservative media figures repeatedly dismiss calls for additional investment, erroneously claiming that current investment levels are adequate despite the fact that spending on infrastructure is at historic lows. In a more direct and egregious attack on infrastructure spending, The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently claimed that it could not spur economic growth despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
While Bernstein includes additional recommendations on how to achieve full employment that get little play in national media debates, it is clear that right-wing media have played a role in ensuring that the economy does not achieve this goal anytime soon.
After weeks of highlighting negative aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media outlets have largely underreported the law's success in helping slow the growth of health care costs.
Reports indicate that CNBC business anchor Maria Bartiromo will soon move to the Fox Business Network to host a weekday market hours program. Judging by Bartiromo's past comments, the host will find a welcome home at Fox.
On November 18, multiple news outlets reported that Bartiromo, currently the anchor of CNBC's Closing Bell, intends to leave her current position to take a job at Fox Business. According to USA Today, Bartiromo will also report for Fox News.
A March 2010 profile of Bartiromo in New York magazine described her as "empathetic to Big Business" and noted the criticism she's taken for being "too cozy" with the people she covers as a journalist. Bartiromo dismissed her critics as jealous: "Anybody who has been very successful is sort of, you know, in the crosshairs."
Indeed, Bartiromo has gone to great lengths to protect the interests of businesses, even advancing borderline conspiracy theories about the Obama administration and government regulatory agencies.
In 2011, Bartiromo repeatedly argued that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) should not have intervened when Boeing was accused of anti-labor practices, going so far as to claim that the only reason NLRB filed suit against the company was because Boeing's jobs are non-union. In late 2012 when Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit unexpectedly resigned, Bartiromo asserted that is was because he was "[g]etting bashed and bashed and bashed again by the President, by the populists." And of course, there is Bartiromo's recent staunch defense of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, despite the fact that Dimon headed the investment bank when it was involved in allegedly fraudulent deals in the mortgage security market just before the financial crisis.
Bartiromo's soft approach to business interests is exactly what will make the host successful at Fox. The network regularly accuses the federal government of committing "shakedowns" whenever big business interests are held accountable for misconduct, even when there is mounting evidence of wrongdoing. Similar to Bartiromo's assertion that Pandit resigned because of pressure from the Obama administration, Fox Business' Stuart Varney claimed that when Standard & Poor's Devan Sharma stepped down as president in 2011 it was because the Obama administration was exacting revenge for S&P's downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.
Bartiromo's defense of big business is not the only reason she'll fit in at Fox -- she's also well-practiced in false, conservative attacks on President Obama. In October 2012, she suggested that the reason President Obama did not refer to the September 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya as "terrorism" -- a well-worn falsehood -- was because he may have been trying to garner support for cuts to military spending. The attacks in Benghazi, of course, have become fodder for Fox to advance baseless conspiracy theories and attacks on the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Given that Bartiromo's past comments fit into Fox's pro-business anti-government narrative, it is no wonder that the network would take her on board.
(Image via Financial Times via Creative Commons License)
The Wall Street Journal encouraged Congress to support budget cuts while simultaneously arguing for increased economic growth that would be hindered by such cuts.
In a November 11 editorial subtitled "Deficits are falling, but they'd fall more with faster economic growth," The Wall Street Journal argued that while a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report found that the deficit fell to 4.1 percent of GDP in 2013, this number would be smaller if economic growth were stronger, concluding that "above all faster economic growth" is the best path to reduce deficits.
The WSJ urged Republicans in Congress to stand firm on budget caps and across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. From the editorial:
But a big part of the spending control is due to the budget caps and sequester. Defense spending took the biggest hit, falling by 6.6% in 2013 and for the second year in a row. Nondefense discretionary spending also fell overall, though CBO didn't break out the details. The spending caps are clearly working, and Republicans should refuse to ease them unless Mr. Obama provides substantial changes in entitlement policy. That means immediate changes in law, not merely promises of future cuts to medical providers that will never happen.
Embracing budget caps and sequestration while arguing for increased economic growth is curious considering that economists have repeatedly noted that budget sequestration has and will continue to hinder economic growth.
According to a separate CBO analysis, canceling sequestration would result in a 0.7 percent increase in GDP, an additional 900,000 jobs in the third quarter of 2014, and continued benefits for years to come.
Economists have long supported increased economic growth to reduce deficits, but unlike the WSJ, they argue that increased investment in the short term -- not destructive cuts -- is the answer.
According to economists Robert Reich and Jared Bernstein, focusing too much on deficit reduction through spending cuts encourages policies that hinder economic growth, such as sequestration. Instead, they argue that focusing on economic growth with increased government spending has the benefit of increasing jobs in the short-run and decreasing deficits in the long-run. According to Reich:
But more jobs and growth will help reduce the deficit. With more jobs and faster growth, the deficit will shrink as a proportion of the overall economy. Recall the 1990s when the Clinton administration balanced the budget ahead of the schedule it had set with Congress because of faster job growth than anyone expected -- bringing in more tax revenues than anyone had forecast.
The best way to generate jobs and growth is for the government to spend more, not less. And for taxes to stay low - or become even lower - on the middle class.
If the WSJ were truly concerned about reducing deficits through economic growth, it would reject budget cuts and embrace expansionary fiscal policy.
Incoherently pushing for budget cuts as a way to grow the economy, however, is standard practice for WSJ. In a February editorial, the outlet ignored all economic evidence to falsely suggest that that sequestration will help the economy.
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
Cable and broadcast nightly news programs have remained completely silent on pending automatic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly known as food stamps -- which will have negative impacts on the economy and low-income groups.
In the week following the end of the 16-day government shutdown, major print media outlets shifted their attention to upcoming bipartisan budget negotiations. This coverage of budget priorities was far more likely to mention the need for deficit and debt reduction than economic growth and job creation, despite economists warning that growth is the more pressing concern.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore altered his previous position on the effect of Obamacare on the growth of part-time jobs to push the dubious claim that health care reform will increase part-time work in the future.
On the October 23 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, co-host Bill Hemmer interviewed Moore on the potential effects of Obamacare implementation on the growth of part-time work. When asked by Hemmer if the law has already played a role in increasing part-time work, Moore responded, "We are going to probably see that number [of part-time employment] rise next year, because that's when the Obama requirements really take effect. In January."
Moore's position, that Obamacare is not currently increasing part-time work, reverses his previous stance on the subject. Moore has played a significant role in creating and perpetuating the myth that the reform is the driving force behind increasing part-time work.
Since the beginning of 2013, the Wall Street Journal editorial board -- of which Moore is a member -- has published as least four editorials claiming that Obamacare is directly linked to the growth of part-time work at the expense of full-time employment.
Indeed, Moore has repeated these claims directly. In a July 5 WSJ Live segment on the "ObamaCare Jobs Report," co-editorial board member Mary Kissel asked Moore what was behind the rise in part-time work in the June jobs report. Moore responded, "clearly Obamacare."
Moore's decision to finally acknowledge facts that have long been noted by professional economists is a welcome change. Unfortunately, his admission came while pushing yet another unsubstantiated claim; that part-time work will increase when the employer mandate -- penalties for which were delayed until 2015 -- takes effect.
In an analysis of the effect of Obamacare on employer practices, economists Dean Baker and Helene Jorgensen noted that initial indications of an increase in part-time work resulting from Obamacare would have materialized by January 2013, "since under the original law employment in 2013 would serve as the basis for assessing penalties in 2014." Jorgensen and Baker conclude by noting that that in the first few months of 2013, before the mandate was delayed on July 2, "employers [did] not appear to be changing hours in large numbers in response to the sanctions in the ACA." If this evidence has any implications for the future, there will be no part-time work shift as a result of Obamacare, as Moore suggests.
Indeed, after previously suggesting that the law may cause part-time job growth, Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, said recently of the part-time work claim: "I don't see it in the data."
The lackluster September unemployment report highlights the need for a focus on job creation, a priority that is likely to be ignored by media.
On October 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its unemployment report for the month of September, which found that payrolls rose 148,000, edging the official unemployment rate down from 7.3 to 7.2 percent. While the report found positive gains in the labor market -- a welcome change from losses sustained after the financial crisis -- job creation fell far short of economists' expectations, which predicted 180,000 to 200,000 jobs would be created in September.
The underperforming labor market, identified in this month's report, presents an opportunity for the media to focus on job creation and economic growth.
Unfortunately, this opportunity is likely to be squandered in favor of promoting discussion on spending cuts and deficit reduction, as evidenced in past reporting.
Media's focus on deficits and debt instead of economic growth and jobs has long been criticized by economists. Previous coverage of budget negotiations show that media place overwhelming focus on the need to reduce spending, often leaving the more pressing need for economic growth largely unmentioned.
Indeed, this issue has already been raised by economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a post on The New York Times Economix blog, Bernstein expressed fears that after concluding the 16-day long government shutdown, the media will undoubtedly pivot focus to deficit and debt reduction. Bernstein explains that the debate over spending and deficit reduction will crowd out discussion on the more immediate jobs crisis:
Imagine instead that the politicians turned not to the budget deficit but to the jobs deficit, the infrastructure deficit, to poverty, wage stagnation, immobility and inequality. Along with a budget conference -- and don't get me wrong; I'm glad they're talking -- imagine there was an economic conference to make recommendations on what's really hurting the country, which I assure you is not our fiscal situation. That's taking care of itself for the short term, as is always the case after a recession (deficits go up in recessions, for obvious reasons).
I'm surely going to jump into the budget debate myself any minute now, but before I do, I wanted to point out that this is not the debate we should be having. It's the preferred debate of those who seek to shrink the role of government, to undermine social insurance, to reduce needed investments in public goods and human capital, and to protect the concentrated wealth of the top few percent.
Bernstein's fear of undue focus on debt and deficits has already been realized.
Reacting to the deal that ended the recent government shutdown, Fox News host Megyn Kelly claimed it wasn't a "win for the American people" because it didn't reduce the national debt. CNN reported that the shutdown deal shouldn't be celebrated because it "kicks the can [of budget negotiations] down the road." Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore immediately declared the preservation of sequestration cuts -- which will continue to reduce spending and deficits -- the "winner" of the shutdown, and the Journal preemptively told Republicans to stand firm on sequestration cuts in any budget deal in an October 13 editorial.
If history and early reports are any indication, media will continue their habit of promoting deficit reduction as budget negotiations take place.