Two unsubstantiated claims from AOL CEO Tim Armstrong about his company's cuts to retirement plans elicited two very different reactions from one Fox News segment.
Last week, AOL's chief executive officer Tim Armstrong announced that the company was paring down retirement benefits because of the high costs of two employees' "distressed babies" and the increased costs of health care resulting from the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). Armstrong later apologized for the statement about the two employees and the company restored the cuts to 401(k) plans.
Discussing the story on Fox's America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum performed a rhetorical dance that led an ostensibly critical segment of Armstrong's comments into a fact-free attack on the ACA and a defense of corporate scapegoating.
MacCallum prefaced the segment by noting that, insofar as Armstrong was blaming any babies for cuts to employees' retirement, she felt that the comments were "unfortunate." But then she spring-boarded into her main focus: AOL wouldn't have to do these things if there wasn't a war on business spearheaded by Obamacare. According to MacCallum, AOL's decision to cut 401(k)s "does reflect a reality, an underlying reality, that a lot of companies are facing -- finding ways to make ends meet," yet she never clarified whether AOL is one of the companies facing such an undefined "underlying reality."
She offered an aggressive defense to Fox contributor Leslie Marshall's point that when companies struggle, their executives often do not. "It's always the big, bad company," MacCallum said. "Big, bad corporate America ... is it right to not acknowledge that these companies are under pressures that they were not under before?"
On the February 7 edition of Fox News' Special Report, guest host Chris Wallace set up a segment on proposed carbon emission regulations by protesting that "President Obama has declared climate change a fact," despite "objections from many dissenters."
Correspondent Doug McKelway followed up with a report that continued to cast doubt on the existence of climate change and featured a professional climate misinformer, Climate Depot's Marc Morano, whose financial ties to the fossil fuel industry went undisclosed.
Of course, it wasn't just Obama who declared "climate change a fact" -- scientists did. In fact, a full 97 percent of climate experts "agree humans are causing global warming."
Fox News responded to the announcement that CVS would no longer sell cigarettes by criticizing the pharmacy chain and leveling attacks at President Obama after he expressed support for the company's decision.
On February 5, CVS Caremark announced that it would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its pharmacy stores by the beginning of October. The move was met with praise from health organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy dedicated to public health. President Obama also weighed in on the decision with a statement of support, saying it was a "profoundly positive" move and will help advance efforts "to reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs."
As if on cue, Fox News responded to Obama's praise by manufacturing a controversy over the CVS decision.
On Fox's The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson approached the CVS decision with suspicion and a remarkably uninformed premise, asking, "Is it OK legally ... to restrict tobacco availability in a private store like this?" She questioned her guests as to whether they would continue shopping at CVS and observed that, "For people who smoke, you know, they have a right to buy cigarettes. It's not illegal."
Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- between the U.S., Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. The nations involved in the talks account for nearly 40 percent of the world's GDP and 26 percent of the world's trade, but weekday evening television news broadcasts have largely ignored the topic.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren suggested that "Stand With Wendy" -- a campaign slogan affiliated with state senator Wendy Davis' (D-TX) gubernatorial campaign in Texas -- was "code" language being used to ridicule her disabled opponent, Greg Abbott (R-TX). Van Susteren all but ignored the origins of the slogan, which was popularized after Davis' now-famous filibuster in the Texas legislature weeks before her opponent entered the race.
On the January 27 edition of Fox News' On The Record, Van Susteren invited gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott to talk about the race against Davis. During the segment Van Susteren expressed concern that "websites associated with" the Davis campaign were employing language about standing with Wendy in order to mock Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since he was partially paralyzed by a falling tree many years ago.
"I think that's code, 'standing up,' said Van Susteren. "I actually think if I were running against someone who was in a wheel chair, the last -- I would be mortified if the word 'standing' appeared in any of my literature, if only on the off chance that I might hurt someone who's in a wheel chair or say something to people who are disabled. And I don't see that she's ever disavowed it." Van Susteren acknowledged Davis' filibuster, but said she finds it "too coincidental" and recommended Davis apologize for the slogan, "which may have another meaning."
A new right-wing media narrative is brandishing out-of-context statistics on inherited wealth to argue that lower-income Americans are disproportionately benefiting from inherited wealth transfers, unlike the wealthiest Americans who earn their wealth with hard work.
As a national dialogue heats up over the problem of global and domestic income inequality, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and others are rushing to the defense of the wealthiest Americans by claiming that low-income Americans simply don't work as hard as their wealthy peers. As evidence, the conservative outlets are pointing to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study showing top income brackets inherit a smaller percentage of their wealth than do lower income Americans, a finding that, according to National Review's Kevin Williamson, proves that rich Americans "work more -- a lot more."
The January 22 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends hosted Williamson to discuss his theory, and co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck introduced his segment by saying, "It's easy to assume that the rich inherit their money without earning it. But in reality, under 15 percent of top income earners inherit their wealth, while more than 40 percent of lower income earners inherit theirs." Fellow co-host Brian Kilmeade added, "So how does the rich really make their money? ... By hard work! That's the conclusion. Wealthy households tend to have four times the amount of full-time workers than poorer households."
Rush Limbaugh read from the National Review post on the January 21 edition of his radio show, stating that "The middle class and the poor, a greater percentage of their assets come from inheritance than from working, rich Americans. The country would be far better off if more people actually lived the way the top 20 percent do. If they actually worked like the top 20 percent do."
Ignoring the fact that Limbaugh, Friends, and National Review are attacking a straw man -- they never identify anyone who is arguing that wealthy Americans don't work hard -- their argument omits an important statistic from the BLS study they cite: The average value of "wealth transfers" (of which inheritances are a large percentage) to low-income Americans versus those to wealthier Americans.
BLS did indeed find that among the households in the highest income brackets, transfers accounted for only 12.6 percent of net worth. What Fox and the like omit is the fact that the average value of wealth transfers received by the top 1 percent of U.S. households was a whopping $1,045,200 in 2007. That's twenty-five times the average value of inheritances for households in the lowest income bracket, whose average inheritance was $42,000 the same year. For lower-income earners, 42 grand is a large chunk of their total wealth. But the average wealth of households in the top 1 percent isaround $16,439,400 -- so a million dollar inheritance is not as impactful.
Fox News' defense of the gun lobby passed into the realm of fiction when host Martha MacCallum told viewers that what usually thwarts school shootings is "when there's a gun introduced into the situation." She followed up this myth with the long-debunked claim that the Holocaust could have been prevented if Hitler hadn't confiscated citizens' firearms.
On the January 16 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, MacCallum moderated a discussion between radio host Mike Slater and Fox contributor Jehmu Greene about a new anti-NRA film being produced by Harvey Weinstein.
During the segment, MacCallum broke into the debate to declare that "in most cases" the harm from mass shootings has been mitigated by adding more guns into the fray, saying the shootings generally end "when there's a gun introduced into the situation that stops [the shooters] from what they're doing."
MacCallum -- echoing a Washington Times column by senior opinion editor and pro-NRA activist Emily Miller -- later intimated that the Holocaust could have been prevented if the citizenry were armed, but "their guns were all confiscated under German law at the time."
Though MacCallum's statistic is clad as a statement of fact, it is anything but -- a study completed by Mother Jones found that "not one of 62 mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years has been stopped" by an armed civilian.
Right-wing media outlets who have long engaged in a campaign to demonize organized labor may be contributing to economic inequality as economists point to declining union participation as one cause of the growing economic rift in America.
Unions and union workers have been a consistent target for right-wing media figures who have attacked organized labor as a leech on society and destroyer of jobs. In the latest example of anti-union rhetoric, the opponents of organized labor in the conservative media have defended Boeing Co., which has come under fire recently for its anti-worker policies.
On January 3, Boeing's leadership came to an agreement with its largest union that freezes pension plans and limits wage increases for Boeing workers -- all at a time when the company is setting productivity records while its shares are hitting record highs on the New York Stock Exchange. Workers initially rejected the terms, but after Boeing began taking steps to move their jobs to states with anti-union right-to-work laws, they conceded by a margin of 51-49%.
Fox News and the Wall Street Journal touted the development as a victory for Boeing and the people of Washington state, where the company is headquartered. On the January 7 edition of Fox & Friends, above on-screen text that read "Flying High, Boeing's Victory Over Big Labor," co-host Steve Doocy asked whether the deal was "a nail in the coffin of America's unions?"
But LA Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik argued that the real impact of the vote "is that it continues -- even accelerates -- the hollowing-out of America's once thriving middle class" by shifting the company's profits away from workers and toward shareholders:
Any way you cut it, the workers are getting squeezed. A Boeing machinist job, once the reliable foundation of a middle-class lifestyle, will be much less of one in the future. It won't be exactly hard time--with average pay about $70,000 "it's still one of the best deals you can get for a blue-collar worker without a college degree," observes Leon Grunberg, a labor relations expert at the University of Puget Sound--but it shrinks the workers' economic horizons considerably, especially for younger workers.
So if Boeing is gaining so much with this deal, where are the gains going? The answer, as is true throughout corporate America, is to shareholders and executives. Under Chairman and Chief Executive James McNerney, who took over in 2005, the company has increased its dividend every year but one, from $1.05 to $2.92 in 2014. That's a total increase of 178%, including a huge bump of 51% this year alone.
At the same time, the company has authorized $17 billion in share buybacks. That's just another way of shoveling money out to shareholders, and surely accounts for a good portion of the company's handsome run-up in share price over the last year, when it has appreciated by more than 80%.
Supporting Hiltzik's claims is a report from the Center for American Progress, which illustrated how the decline in union participation mirrors the decline in middle-class incomes. Economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently argued that preserving "the right to form a union without being sacked for trying" is one of six solutions to reduce income inequality in America.
Viewers who spent 2013 absorbed in Fox News might be under the impression that an all-out race war has erupted across the nation this year, thanks to the network's coverage of everything from voter fraud to Santa Claus echoing one common theme: white folks are being victimized in Obama's America.
GEORGE ZIMMERMAN ON TRIAL
Fox became obsessed with black crime rates in the summer of 2013, when Floridian George Zimmerman went on trial for the 2012 murder of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, whom Zimmerman shot and killed while he was walking home from a convenience store. Zimmerman, identified as white Hispanic, alleged that he shot Martin in self-defense, and was not subsequently arrested or charged with any crime until a significant public outcry made the story national news.
Fox immediately began running defense for Zimmerman in what became a red meat story for the network -- an opportunity to justify right-wing gun culture and stand your ground laws, stoke fears about the dangers of black youth, and paint white-on-black crime as exceedingly rare and usually justified while black crime is exploding.
In 2012, a year before Zimmerman's trial, Fox's Sean Hannity was already trying to connect the case to the New Black Panther Party, while Geraldo Rivera blamed Martin for his own death because Martin was wearing a hoodie. But it was after Zimmerman was found not guilty in 2013 -- and after President Obama weighed in on that outcome -- that Fox's race-baiting sunk to new lows.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace spent an entire segment pushing misleading black crime statistics in order to ask whether Obama's remarks about Trayvon Martin were deflecting from the real problem -- black violence. Popular host Bill O'Reilly echoed the deceptive statistics, prompting MSNBC's Chris Hayes to observe that everything O'Reilly was saying on race is "easily debunked with about 20 minutes of Googling."
Weeks later, O'Reilly would revisit the Trayvon Martin tragedy, saying Martin died because he looked "how gangstas look."
"TRAYVON MARTIN IN REVERSE": CHRISTOPHER LANE SHOT DEAD IN OKLAHOMA
In August of 2013, three teens -- one white, two black -- shot and killed Christopher Lane, a white Australian attending school in Oklahoma, while he was out for a jog.
There was no evidence that the murder was anything but cold-hearted and random - officials investigating and prosecuting the homicide repeatedly rejected suggestions that race played a factor in the crime.
Nevertheless, conservative media immediately began covering the story with a racial lens. Radio host Rush Limbaugh called the murder, "Trayvon Martin in reverse, only worse," and imagined that the teenagers "got bored and said, 'Let's go shoot a white guy!'"
Fox News followed suit. On the Record host van Susteren invited regular Fox guest Pat Buchanan -- who frequently espouses white nationalist ideology -- onto her show to discuss the murder. Buchanan baselessly opined, "My guess ... is that it is racial." Over on The Five, host Eric Bolling channeled this sentiment, saying the murder was "likely motivated by race." Other Fox News segments in the following days questioned why the mainstream media was "ignoring the race issue" in the story, and pundits repeatedly asked why civil rights leaders weren't publicly weighing in on the murder -- a not-so-subtle attempt to tie the crime thematically to the racially-charged killing of Trayvon Martin.
But it was Buchanan who followed up his conjecture with an illustration of where the baseless speculation about racial motivations in crime can lead -- a manipulation of crime statistics to fit preconceived stereotypes about race and crime. Buchanan argued that Lane's death was just the latest symptom of a "black on white" crime spree in America, a conclusion that activist Tim Wise noted was "beyond the scope of the rational mind to comprehend."
SMEARING THE STRUGGLE FOR VOTING RIGHTS
When Fox wasn't fear mongering about black crime, it was busy supporting laws that disenfranchise minorities.
At least one Catholic organization is denouncing Rush Limbaugh's remarks after the radio host chastised Pope Francis for his recent criticisms of global inequalities of wealth.
Pope Francis struck a chord with Catholics and non-Catholics alike when he issued his first apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel," a commentary on his "vision of the Church" and his thoughts on the state of modern capitalism and global economic inequality. Among his comments was a specific criticism of "trickle down" economics -- which Francis declared has not been proven to work and reveals a "naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power."
On his November 27 radio show, Rush Limbaugh attacked the pope's message, claiming that it was "pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope":
LIMBAUGH: I came across last night -- I mean, it totally befuddled me. If it weren't for capitalism, I don't know where the Catholic Church would be. Now, as I mentioned before, I'm not Catholic. I admire it profoundly, and I've been tempted a number of times to delve deeper into it. But the pope here has now gone beyond Catholicism here, and this is pure political. Now, I want to share with you some of this stuff.
"Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as 'a new tyranny.' He beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church. In it, Pope Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the 'idolatry of money.' "
I've gotta be very caref-- I have been numerous times to the Vatican. It wouldn't exist without tons of money. But, regardless, what this is -- somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope. There's no such -- "unfettered capitalism"? That doesn't exist anywhere.
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) issued a response on November 27 and began a petition denouncing Limbaugh on December 2. In a statement, the group's representative Christopher Hale indicated that Catholics "of all political stripes are disturbed by Rush Limbaugh's incendiary comments." The full statement read as follows:
"Catholics of all political stripes are disturbed by Rush Limbaugh's incendiary comments this afternoon about Pope Francis. To call the Holy Father a proponent of "pure marxism" is both mean spirited and naive. Francis's critique of unrestrained capitalism is in line with the Church's social teaching. His particular criticism of "trickle down economics" strengthens what Church authorities have said for decades: any economic system which deprives the poor of their dignity has no place within a just society.
Contrary to what Mr. Limbaugh suggests, the Catholic Church isn't built on money, but on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.
We call on Mr. Limbaugh to apologize and retract his remarks. We urge other Church organizations and leaders--both ordained and lay--to also condemn Mr. Limbaugh's comments.
We proudly stand with Pope Francis as he provides prophetic leadership for the Catholic Church and the entire world."