Cable and network TV news devoted more segments to coverage of economic issues during the first half of 2015 compared to the last six months of 2014, an increase driven by heightened public interest in the debate over economic inequality and a flurry of economic policy proposals from nearly two dozen 2016 presidential candidates.
Fox News host and resident media critic Howard Kurtz questioned Jorge Ramos' journalistic integrity in the wake of the Univision anchor's contentious press conference questioning of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, concluding that Ramos was little more than "a heckler."
During an August 25 press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, Ramos pressed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on his promise to forcibly remove millions of undocumented immigrants, and presumably in some cases their American-born children, from the United States as part of a sweeping and expensive redesign of the American immigration system. Trump's initial reaction was to have his security team escort Ramos from the room, before eventually engaging in a minutes-long argument with the journalist over the feasibility and legality of his plan.
Ramos' actions during the press conference have been widely criticized at Fox News. On August 26, Fox contributor and Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson claimed that Ramos is "not a reporter," but rather "an editorialist" and "an activist" whose questioning of Trump was not protected by the First Amendment. Fox host Bill O'Reilly complained that media were not "report[ing] this story honestly" before proceeding to lecture Ramos on journalistic etiquette and concluding that the Univision anchor was not "an objective purveyor" of the news. During an interview with Ramos, Fox host Megyn Kelly asked if he could "understand Trump's side" of the dispute, citing a seemingly unrelated legal battle between Univision and Trump's Miss USA beauty pageant.
On the August 30 edition of Fox News' Media Buzz, host Howard Kurtz used his program as a platform to continue Fox's campaign against Ramos as well as its defense of the Republican frontrunner. Kurtz allowed conservative columnist Mercedes Schlapp to forward the unsubstantiated claim that conservative and mainstream media "both agree that Jorge Ramos was out of line." Washington Examiner correspondent Susan Ferrechio accused Ramos of interrupting other reporters to get his point across, before Kurtz concluded that Ramos was acting like more like "a heckler" than a journalist:
KURTZ: Jorge Ramos is the chief anchor of Univision, chief news anchor, which is the largest Spanish-language network in the country. And so, he clearly has opinions on this issue, but he's not paid to go and disrupt events. I mean, I thought at times he seemed like a heckler -- like a heckler.
The ejection of Ramos from Trump's August 25 press conference garnered national headlines and was roundly condemned by Spanish-language media, but the reaction among right-wing media personalities has been to instead attack Ramos for speaking out of turn. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh denigrated Ramos as a "shill" and "activist" who was merely attempting to elevate the profile of his network, and Erick Erickson called Ramos a "thug" and dismissed him as "a self-absorbed, self-righteous leftwing activist."
MSNBC Morning Joe host and former Republican member of Congress Joe Scarborough purported to express outrage at the lack of "humane" living conditions for New York City's homeless population, calling it the result of "liberalism at its worst" and attacking New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for "allowing a homeless epidemic to start spreading across New York again." Scarborough's comments were a direct echo of previous attacks by right-wing media on the city's homeless population and blaming of de Blasio, and ignored the fact that the mayor is actually strengthening outreach and prevention strategies left over from the previous administration and discontinuing "dangerous and unhealthy" temporary housing.
New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) disproves allegations promoted by Fox News that the 2015 increase in Seattle's minimum wage has destroyed restaurant jobs.
Earlier this month, Media Matters debunked an anti-minimum wage report produced by the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and promoted by Fox News that relied on cherry-picked data to allege that Seattle's decision to increase its minimum wage to $11 per hour in 2015 was negatively affecting the city's job market. The report pointed to a less than 1 percent change in total food service employment after the wage increase went into effect on April 1 as proof of the right-wing media myth that raising wages hurts more workers than it helps.
Now, newly-released data from the BLS reveals that Seattle's food service industry has actually added 1,800 jobs since the start of the year, despite the higher wage:
Fox and other right-wing media have a long history of attacking federal, state, and local minimum wages laws, and have a particular affinity for misleading the public about the supposed downsides of Seattle's incremental increase to $15 by 2017. The fact is, Seattle's minimum wage implementation was met with little anxiety in the business community, and has had no discernible effect on employment in the city.
On August 24, major stock markets in the United States opened their trading sessions with significant declines and sustained losses of 3 to 5 percent throughout much of the morning. Fox News used the event to advocate on behalf of numerous failed Republican policy demands, such as major tax cuts for the wealthy and a significant roll back of federal regulations.
A Washington Post article headlined, "Minimum-wage offensive could speed arrival of robot-powered restaurants," alleged that increasing the minimum wage would accelerate automation in the fast food and restaurant industries, destroying jobs in the process, despite little evidence linking minimum-wage increases to decreased employment.
In an August 17 article, The Washington Post suggested that a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Washington, D.C., combined with similar efforts in cities around the country, could threaten millions of food service workers whose positions might be replaced by machines:
The industry could be ready for another jolt as a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour nears in the District and as other campaigns to boost wages gain traction around the country. About 30 percent of the restaurant industry's costs come from salaries, so burger-flipping robots -- or at least super-fast ovens that expedite the process -- become that much more cost-competitive if the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is doubled.
Many chains are already at work looking for ingenious ways to take humans out of the picture, threatening workers in an industry that employs 2.4 million wait staffers, nearly 3 million cooks and food preparers and many of the nation's 3.3 million cashiers.
The Post's decision to label minimum-wage campaigns -- like the Fight for $15 -- as a threat to fast-food workers is confusing. The Post quotes one kitchen equipment supplier as saying, "The innovation and the automation, they're going after it even before the wages go up. Why wait?" The article admits that productivity gains and increased efficiency have led to a decline in the number of workers per store for decades, noting that McDonald's restaurants in 1966 employed "70 or 80" staff members "as opposed to the 30 or 40 there today." The Post even cites market research showing a more than 10 percent decline in the average number of employees per fast-food restaurant over the last decade; the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has been constant since July 2009.
The truth of the matter is that raising the minimum wage has a negligible effect on employment. In February 2013, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) published a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between employment and the minimum wage and concluded that "the minimum wage has little or no discernible effect on the employment prospects of low-wage workers." One study included in CEPR's analysis reviewed nearly 1,500 employment estimates from minimum-wage studies, finding that the overwhelming majority of "the most precise estimates were heavily clustered at or near zero employment effects":
A recent study from researchers at Purdue University found that increasing the minimum wage of fast-food workers to $15 per hour would only result in a 4.3 percent increase in restaurant prices. To put that in perspective, a 4.3 percent increase in the cost of a Big Mac would be roughly 20 cents.
Blaming increased wages for the adoption of so-called "labor saving technology" is misleading; employers have other costs to consider beyond entry-level wages, and the move toward automation has always been a staple of labor-intensive industries. The "burger-flipping robots" that The Post attributes to increased salaries actually already exist. Momentum Machines claims that its automated sandwich machine can produce "custom meat grinds for every single customer" at a rate of one burger every 10 seconds -- far faster than a human line cook. But, according to Business Insider, the company believes that any jobs displaced by the product will be more than made up by increased productivity in other areas:
The issue of machines and job displacement has been around for centuries and economists generally accept that technology like ours actually causes an increase in employment. The three factors that contribute to this are 1. the company that makes the robots must hire new employees, 2. the restaurant that uses our robots can expand their frontiers of production which requires hiring more people, and 3. the general public saves money on the reduced cost of our burgers. This saved money can then be spent on the rest of the economy.
Fox News is hyping a report from the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) blaming a marginal decline in restaurant employment in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area on Seattle's recently-increased minimum wage. The think tank and right-wing media outlet both overstated the significance of a roughly 1 percent change in restaurant employment and focused on apparent job losses in one month while ignoring job gains the following month.
Fox News' dishonest campaign against Planned Parenthood took a new turn when the network promoted its own deeply misleading "Taxpayer Calculator" purporting to show how much an average American taxpayer has contributed to the health care provider over the past decade.
On the July 27 editions of Fox News' America's Newsroom and Happening Now, correspondent Shannon Bream continued her network's smear campaign against Planned Parenthood Federation of America centered around a deceptively-edited video alleging to show PPFA employees negotiating the sale of "fetal body parts for medical research." Bream promoted the efforts of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) to strip federal funding for the organization before referring viewers to a so-called "Taxpayer Calculator" created by the network to show people how much they have contributed to Planned Parenthood over the past decade. From America's Newsroom:
BREAM: Over the past 10 years, it's estimated Planned Parenthood has received more than $4 million [sic] in federal and state government funding. Here's a look at what you, the taxpayer, have contributed based on your income level. Now, if you want a more specific estimate on just how much you've given to Planned Parenthood, head to FoxNews.com and click on "Taxpayer Calculator." Martha.
MACCALLUM: That's going to get a lot of people's attention.
BREAM: It will.
First, and perhaps most egregiously, the on-screen graphic Fox shows during both segments falsely claims that Planned Parenthood received $4.3 billion-worth of federal funding "over 10 years." According to the "Taxpayer Calculator" Bream referenced during the segment, Fox News does not actually know how much public support comes from either federal or state sources (emphasis added):
Planned Parenthood and its affiliates have received $4.3 billion in government funding over the last ten years, according to the group's annual reports. Their government funding comes from both federal and state governments. We do not know exactly how much of Planned Parenthood's funding comes from the federal government.
According to Planned Parenthood's most recent annual report, the organization received $528.4 million from "Government Health Services Grants & Reimbursements," which amounted to just over 46 percent of its operational revenue as of June 30, 2014. Some of this funding came in the form of federal Medicaid reimbursements for health care services for low-income Americans, while other funds came from various local, state, and federal grants -- the Hyde Amendment "excludes abortion from the comprehensive health care services provided to low-income people by the federal government through Medicaid."
After incorrectly assuming that all public money received by Planned Parenthood comes from the federal government, Fox News staff then based their taxpayer contribution calculations on the proportion of federal tax revenue derived from different income tax brackets. Federal income tax rates are higher than state and local income tax rates. In fact, seven states levy no income taxes at all while two others tax only capital gains and dividends, not traditional wages. Fox's sloppily constructed "average taxpayer share" does not reflect reality -- it's simply the highest estimate the network's research team could produce.
Finally, Fox's investigation of Planned Parenthood's revenue and the American taxpayer's contribution to that revenue provides no useful context for the viewer. In 2014, the federal government spent nearly 900 times more than Planned Parenthood collected from all government sources in 10 years; the $4.3 billion price tag Fox highlighted represents a miniscule portion of total government spending over the same period. Likewise, the 10-year burden shouldered by Fox's "average taxpayer" represents a tiny fraction of their total income over that period. According to Fox News, a taxpayer with earnings in excess of $2.5 million over a decade would contribute only about $40 annually. Meanwhile, the average taxpayer, with a median household income of roughly $52,000 per year, would contribute only about $1.50 per year to Planned Parenthood, according to Fox's own calculations.
The deceptive "Taxpayer Calculator" is a continuation of Fox News' long campaign of deceit against Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the work performed by the organization (97 percent) is not related to abortion services. Fox has demonstrated on many occasions that it has no clue what Planned Parenthood does or the vital services it provides for millions of men and women every year; including cancer screening and preventative treatment, contraceptive services, family planning, STI/STD screening, and assorted other women's health services.
A Fox News report on the so-called "unintended consequences" of Seattle, Washington's municipal minimum wage increase included the unsubstantiated claim that better pay is encouraging workers to work less so that they stay in poverty and continue receiving government benefits. This report fits the network's anti-minimum wage, poor-shaming narrative, but ignores the many benefits of increasing the minimum wage.
In June 2014, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved legislation increasing the city's minimum wage to $11 per hour for most employees on April 1, 2015 and to $15 per hour over the course of a 3-to-7-year phase-in period. The decision was praised by many groups like the National Employment Law Project (NELP) as a necessary step toward alleviating inequality and lifting low-wage workers out of poverty.
On the July 22 editions of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Happening Now, and Special Report, correspondent Dan Springer reported that Seattle is facing the "unintended consequences" of increasing its minimum wage. The worst of these consequences, he claims, is that some employees "make too much money to stay on certain welfare programs" and are requesting fewer hours because "the raises [are] pushing them over the income threshold and out of welfare programs like subsidized food, child care, and rent." In all three segments, Springer's evidence for this alleged poverty trap was an interview with Seattle-based radio host Jason Rantz, not with actual recipients who rely on government assistance.
Other so-called "consequences" of the increased minimum wage included restaurants raising prices and requesting patrons not to tip their wait staff. Springer also cited a comic book store in San Francisco (not Seattle) which blames that city's increased minimum wage for its lack of profitability:
The core of Fox's claim that many low-income Americans would rather stay on anti-poverty relief programs than work fits the network's long-standing campaign to attack and shame low-income workers. It is also a variation of the discredited "Welfare Cliff" argument frequently pushed by the network.
In addition, the claim that increased wages are boosting restaurant prices, and thereby hurting tipped workers, is blatantly misleading and plays into Fox's misinformation campaign against the minimum wage. For example, Ivar's Salmon House, a Seattle icon, increased its menu prices and no longer accepts tips. But, according to NPR, the restaurant decided to institute the full $15 minimum wage three years ahead of schedule for its employees and now automatically prices gratuity into the bill, which thus far has not hurt sales or workers. Several restaurants, including one in the District of Columbia, have responded to calls for an increased minimum wage by unilaterally raising their own pay and informing customers that it is no longer necessary to tip wait staff.
Conservative media have claimed for more than a year that Seattle's minimum wage would hurt the city's restaurants and small businesses, but a March 17 report by The Seattle Times revealed little anxiety about the pay increase. In fact, according to data from the Seattle Office of Economic and Financial Analysis, the city witnessed a small spike in restaurant permit requests in the month before wage increases were set to go into effect but otherwise requests have remained relatively flat. Finally, according to a June 4 report by Common Dreams, several of the most outspoken local opponents of Seattle's minimum wage increase have actually opened new restaurants and increased staff hiring since the ordinance went into effect.
Fox host Sean Hannity allowed Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich to walk back comments he made during a 2013 New York Times interview in which Kasich expressed his concern "about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor" emanating from his own party.
On the July 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity interviewed newly-declared Republican presidential candidate John Kasich at Ohio State University. Kasich used the softball interview to rehabilitate his conservative credentials while quietly disavowing his previous comments about the draconian agenda of GOP policymakers on Capitol Hill. When asked whether or not he truly believed "Republicans are waging war" on the poor, Kasich deflected the question by saying, "I don't know where that came from." Both then impugned the credibility of The New York Times while Kasich outlined the ways he plans to help poor and struggling Americans as president, including repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA):
HANNITY: Let me ask you, in the lead up to this, a lot of articles were written -- "Is John Kasich conservative enough?" Now, you were quoted in The New York Times as saying about your party, the Republican Party, that it's waging "a war on the poor." When you accepted Medicaid expansion, you went out there and you talked about St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, he's not gonna ask me if I decreased the size of government but whether I helped the poor. Do you really believe Republicans are waging war on--
KASICH: No, no, but look, I don't know where that came from, but here's what I will tell you--
HANNITY: The New York Times.
KASICH: Yeah but, I-- Okay, well then it has to be true, okay? But here's the thing--
HANNITY: How dare I quote a New York paper.
In fact, during an interview with a New York Times reporter following his October 22, 2013 decision to accept Medicaid expansion in the state of Ohio under the ACA , Kasich expressed his concern that "there seems to be a war on the poor" coming from Republican ranks, including the stigma that low-income Americans are "shiftless and lazy":
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In his grand Statehouse office beneath a bust of Lincoln, Gov. John R. Kasich let loose on fellow Republicans in Washington.
"I'm concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor," he said, sitting at the head of a burnished table as members of his cabinet lingered after a meeting. "That if you're poor, somehow you're shiftless and lazy."
But few have gone further than Mr. Kasich in critiquing his party's views on poverty programs, and last week he circumvented his own Republican legislature and its Tea Party wing by using a little-known state board to expand Medicaid to 275,000 poor Ohioans under President Obama's health care law.
Kasich's remarks were widely reported at the time by numerous reputable news outlets, including New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. A November 1, 2013 column by Salon editor-at-large Joan Walsh pointed out the hypocrisy of Kasich lamenting his party's "war on the poor" while he simultaneously pushed an initiative to cut food assistance for up to 130,000 Ohio residents. Kasich's supposed willingness to take on the GOP's backwards anti-poverty agenda is often pointed to as an indication of his seriousness as a president candidate.
Fox's decision to let Kasich disavow his "war on the poor" comment is interesting, particularly in light of recent criticism from Heritage Foundation economist and Fox News contributor Stephen Moore that the governor's stance on poverty is "not an answer that conservatives are very persuaded by." Moore's intuition may be right. Kasich is a distant 11th -place contender in the Real Clear Politics polling average of the 16 declared Republican candidates. Kasich is also far behind in the crucial Fox News Primary and is in desperate need of positive exposure on the network.