Right-wing media are using the firing of fictional cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants to attack the social safety net and those who rely on it.
The New York Post reported on October 30 that in an upcoming episode of the Nickelodeon cartoon, SpongeBob is fired from his job working in the underwater fast food restaurant "the Krusty Krab" after his boss discovers he can save a whole nickel by eliminating SpongeBob from the payroll.
The Post used the cartoon's plot development to attack people who rely on government assistance, referring to individuals who rely on food stamps as "mooching off the social services" and applauding SpongeBob for instead quickly returning to "gainful employment":
So what's a hardworking sea sponge to do?
Lest he sit around idly, mooching off the social services of Bikini Bottom, a depressed SpongeBob sets out to return to gainful employment wherever he can find it.
No spoilers -- but it's safe to say that our hero doesn't end up on food stamps, as his patty-making skills turn out to be in high demand.
Fox News parroted the Post's attack, with Fox & Friends' Heather Nauert claiming that "the harsh economic climate has hit the underwater community," but "instead of mooching off social services at Bikini Bottom, that's the town, SpongeBob sets out to return to the work force."
Previously, Fox News repeatedly criticized a SpongeBob SquarePants book and video about manmade global warming, claiming the program based on scientific evidence was "pushing a global warming agenda" and "indoctrinating children."
Right-wing media have a long history of attacking the social safety net. Recently, Fox attacked low-wage workers in the fast food industry who have to rely on necessary federal benefit programs because they earn below subsistence wages.
Media reports suggested that it was previously unknown that some in the individual insurance market would have to seek new health care plans due to the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) regulations. In fact, the administration announced in 2010 that some insurance policies would not be "grandfathered" in under the new law, largely due to regular turnover in the health insurance marketplace.
Fox News falsely claimed the Obama administration hid the fact that some individuals would experience changes to their insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), when in fact Fox itself reported on the administration's announcement of the underlying "grandfathering" policy in 2010.
On October 28, NBC News reported that some Americans would change insurance policies over the next year as a result of the new health care law, and noted that this was unsurprising to the Obama administration. The law required that policies that were already in effect prior to March 23, 2010 to be "grandfathered" in, but not if those policies were significantly changed by the insurance company in a way that increases costs for consumers or reduces benefits between 2010 and 2014. Furthermore, language in the 2010 regulations acknowledged that "40 to 67 percent" of customers would likely not keep their policies during this period, based on normal turnover in the individual insurance market.
Fox & Friends latched on to this report on October 29 to claim the administration misled Americans, with co-host Steve Doocy falsely claiming that "back in 2010, they knew millions would lose it and they didn't say a word":
DOOCY: How many times did we hear the president promise ... that if you liked your health insurance, you would be able to keep it? Well now it has been revealed, in fact Jay Carney pretty much revealed yesterday, that there would be millions of Americans whose current policies do not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act ... You know when the administration knew that millions would lose it? July of 2010. So you've seen the president and a number of Democrats, high ranking officials say, if you like your insurance, you can keep it -- back in 2010, they knew millions would lose it, and they didn't say a word.
Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck further claimed this information was "buried in Obamacare," asking earlier in the show "Where was that information up at the top? Where was that in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012? Where was that information?"
The information was on Fox News and in press announcements issued by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Back in June 2010, Fox News' Molly Henneberg reported on Special Report that "the Obama administration's own estimates say that up to 80 percent of small businesses and 64 percent of large businesses may have to give up the plans they had today within three years," as some plans would not be grandfathered in. The report included video of Sebelius making the announcement about the administration's grandfathering regulations on June 14, 2010.
It was known before the ACA's enactment that policyholders in the individual health insurance market that many of these policies would be changed, despite the grandfathering. A letter from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to former Senator Evan Bayh, dated November 30, 2009, explained that "because of relatively high turnover in that market (as well as the incentives for many enrollees to purchase a new policy in order to obtain subsidies), CBO and [the Joint Committee On Taxation] estimate that relatively few nongroup policies would remain grandfathered by 2016."
Fox News used a dishonest graphic that inflated a comparison between the number of people receiving federal benefits to those working full-time by 500 percent to misleadingly imply more people receive government benefits than work.
The October 28 edition of Fox & Friends aired a graphic which purported to compare the number of people who received means-tested federal benefits to the number of people with full-time jobs in 2011. However, the chart used a truncated y-axis, and showed the number of people on welfare -- 108.6 million -- as approximately five times greater than 101.7 million, the number of people with full-time employment.
Moreover, Fox's comparison of the two figures compares apples to oranges.
Fox's 108.6 million figure for the number of "people on welfare" comes from a Census Bureau's account (Table 2) of participation in means-tested programs, which include "anyone residing in a household in which one or more people received benefits" in the fourth quarter of 2011, thus including individuals who did not themselves receive government benefits. On the other hand, the "people with a full time job" figure Fox used included only individuals who worked, not individuals residing in a household where at least one person works.
Furthermore, many people who receive federal benefits also work. The means-tested programs in the Census Bureau report included Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, which includes strict work requirements. In 2011, 6.4 million households with earnings also participated in food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And public or subsidized rental housing provides rental assistance to low-income families -- families who have an income which is 50 to 80 percent below the median income for the area.
Fox has a history of displaying error-riddled and deceptive graphics to reinforce conservative attacks on the Obama administration, and has previously had to issue a correction for a dishonest graphic that misrepresented the unemployment rate.
But Fox seems to have not learned from its past mistakes, and ignored the facts to misleadingly attack federal benefit programs, with Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy asking "is the number one occupation in this entitlement nation now, welfare?" while Fox Business host Stuart Varney baselessly suggested that President Obama personally encouraged "handouts" as a means of "buying votes."
Watch the full segment:
Fox News promoted a false attack on a federal program that expands access to free school meals by dismissing child hunger and claiming that the program will harm low-income families. But studies have shown the school meals program helps alleviate the high levels of hunger that exist among low-income children, improves their access to key nutrients, and increases academic performance.
Fox News whitewashed the record of the anti-gay hate group the American Family Association (AFA), falsely claiming an army training that highlighted the group's attacks on gay marriage was targeting Christians and "traditional" values.
On October 15, Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes attacked a military training session in Mississippi on domestic hate groups that included the AFA, calling the training "anti-Christian activity." Co-host Steve Doocy claimed the AFA was a "well-established, traditional Christian ministry," that simply "opposes gay marriage." Starnes concluded by falsely claiming that the military was targeting Christian groups exclusively, despite the fact that an on-air graphic identified the Nation of Islam as one of several groups the military presentation identified.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designated AFA as a hate group for promoting anti-gay attacks that harm individuals and threaten human rights. According to the SPLC (emphasis added):
The AFA has declared that "homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler ... the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews," suggested that gay sex be punished like heroin use, and said that the "homosexual agenda" endangers "every fundamental right" in the Constitution, including religious freedom. Both [the AFA and the Family Research Council] have enthusiastically promoted "reparative therapy," which claims against the bulk of the evidence that it can "cure" gay men and lesbians and make them heterosexual, but in fact has left a string of people behind who were badly hurt by the process.
Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association's unofficial spokesman and the group's director of issues analysis, has previously called on the government to prohibit mosques from being built anywhere in the United States, suggested "the most compassionate thing" America can do is deport all Muslims, and wrote that "gay sex is a form of domestic terrorism."
The American Family Association has also enthusiastically endorsed Russian President Vladimir Putin's draconian anti-gay laws, with Fischer stating that the country isn't being homophobic but "homorealistic."
A Wall Street Journal article promoted false Republican claims which disputed the devastating effects failure to raise the debt ceiling on October 17 would have on the U.S. economy, despite recent Journal reporting which admitted default could have "cataclysmic" consequences.
In an October 9 article headlined "Obama's Default Scenario Derided," the Journal noted that according to President Obama, "if Congress doesn't raise the country's debt ceiling soon, an economic crisis with skyrocketing interest rates and a crashing stock market could follow," as the U.S. would default on its pre-existing debts -- an understanding of the manufactured impending fiscal crisis which is supported by economists and the Treasury Department.
But rather than confirm this factual assertion, the Journal instead provided a platform for Republicans who baselessly "say they don't believe" default will lead to devastating negative effects and have even "questioned what the word 'default' really means." The Journal hyped Republican claims that the White House could choose to prioritize which payments to make once the deadline hits, and claimed these misleading remarks had credence because the U.S. has never defaulted before, making the potential crisis "unchartered waters."
In reality, the Treasury Department does not have the legal authority to prioritize payments if the debt ceiling is not raised, and economists agree that congressional failure to raise the debt limit could be catastrophic, setting in motion a financial crisis in the United States and around the globe.
The "debt ceiling" was officially breached on May 17 of this year. Since that date, the Treasury has implemented "extraordinary measures" to avoid defaulting on American sovereign debt obligations by shifting funds from various accounts. The New York Times reported that these measures will be exhausted by October 17:
Economists of all political persuasions have warned that a failure to raise the debt ceiling by the Treasury's deadline of Oct. 17 could be catastrophic. The world economy's faith in the safety of Treasury debt would be shaken for years. Interest rates could shoot up, and stock prices worldwide would most likely plummet.
The Journal itself has previously reported the devastating consequences the prospect of default is already having on the worldwide economy. On October 8, the Journal reported that short-term U.S. debt prices had fallen "amid rising investor concern about the prospect of a government-debt default, sending the yield on one-month U.S. Treasury bills to its highest level since the financial crisis." The same day, the Journal reported that China had warned the U.S. of default's "global ramifications," and that banks in the United Kingdom have begun "stockpiling cash" and preparing for "cataclysmic" consequences.
Domestically, money for government employees, the military, Social Security, Medicare, food safety inspections, and more could cease or be delayed, and CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik reported that "if a default happens, there's one analyst who says that the S&P 500 could drop 45 percent."
Furthermore, the claim that the administration could choose to prioritize some payments over others in order to avoid default is false. Tony Fratto, a former Treasury Department assistant secretary and senior George W. Bush White House staffer called payment prioritization "fanciful," and Treasury Department Inspector General Eric M. Thorson reported to Congress that the Treasury had no means or capacity to prioritize certain payments over others. Slate economics blogger Matt Yglesias explained that Treasury has "no more legal authority to prioritize payments than they do to borrow extra money."
Fox hyped a discredited report on federal disability benefits to falsely claim that the Obama administration purposely made it easier to claim disability in order to keep the unemployment rate low. In fact, it is harder than ever to receive benefits as the percentage of approved claims has fallen since 2007, and experts agree disability is not connected to a decrease in the labor force.
National disability organizations have criticized a misleading CBS News 60 Minutes report on Social Security disability which relied on anecdotal evidence to deceptively portray the vital program as wasteful and unsustainable, despite the fact that award rates fell during the recession and that fraud is less than one percent of the program.
On October 6, 60 Minutes stoked fears that the Social Security Disability Insurance program is "ravaged by waste and fraud," relying on Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) bipartisan* investigation and anecdotal evidence to hype growth in the program while misleadingly claiming that it "could become the first government benefits program to run out of money."
In response, organizations that advocate for and support people with disabilities nationwide have criticized the report. Rebecca Vallas, co-chair of the Social Security Task Force at the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities -- a coalition of approximately 100 national disability organizations -- told Media Matters the coverage was "sensational" and did a "tremendous disservice" to people with disabilities:
The recent 60 Minutes broadcast is just the latest in an array of sensational and misleading media reports that have perpetuated myths and stereotypes about the Social Security disability programs and the people they help. These media reports do a tremendous disservice to viewers as well as to people with disabilities. Any misuse of these vital programs is unacceptable; however it is unfortunate and disappointing when media reports mislead their viewers by painting entire programs with the brush of one or a few bad apples, without putting them in the context of the millions of individuals who receive benefits appropriately, and for whom they are a vital lifeline -- as well as the many disability advocates around the country who work hard to protect the rights of individuals with significant disabilities and serious illnesses who have been wrongly denied Social Security disability benefits.
Lisa Ekman, Director of Federal Policy at Health & Disability Advocates, said the organization was "extremely disappointed that 60 Minutes chose to air such a one-sided story based on anecdote and supposition ... Misleading media reports like the one on 60 Minutes distract from focusing on the real issue of helping American workers with and without disabilities achieve economic security."
The myths pushed by 60 Minutes have been repeatedly debunked by experts. The report admitted that the vast majority of people applying for benefits are denied, but ignored the fact that the majority of appeals are also denied, and that award rates have actually fallen during the economic recession. In April, the Wall Street Journal called the claim that federal disability benefits were to blame for people leaving the labor force "exaggerated," explaining that disability was in fact the least common reason individuals left the workforce.
As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker noted, the report also "completely ignored all the comments from experts in the field ... pointing out that fraud is in fact not rampant in the disability program." Indeed, the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly found that fraud accounts for approximately one percent of all disability payments.
Fox News cherry-picked enrollment data in the new health care exchanges to suggest the Affordable Care Act was a failure, ignoring the fact that thousands of people successfully enrolled in health insurance plans the first day.
On October 3, the hosts of Fox & Friends criticized media for accurately reporting thousands of people attempted to access the online health care exchanges on October 1, suggesting that because Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana got "zero enrollees" the first day the exchanges were open, the law was a failure. Co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that due to technical glitches on the enrollment sites caused by the heavy traffic, "no one can get in and they're frustrated and not getting involved and worried about their personal information leaking."
But thousands of people in other parts of the country have successfully signed up for health coverage through the online marketplaces, and many more have successfully created accounts with which they can enroll at later dates. The Huffington Post reported:
Kentucky's health insurance exchange, Kynect, enrolled almost 3,000 households into health coverage by 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time Wednesday, and nearly 110,000 people viewed more than 1.6 million pages on the website, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) announced in a press release. Kynect had started almost 10,800 applications and completed more than 6,900 of them, according to the press release.
Rhode Island's Health Source RI already has signed up some consumers, Kaiser Health News reported Wednesday, and Connecticut's Access Health CT reported enrollments Tuesday.
Colorado postponed online sign-up for the first weeks of enrollment, but about 6,900 people created accounts on Connect for Health Colorado and the website saw 104,000 unique visitors as of 3:15 p.m. Mountain Time on Wednesday, the exchange announced on Twitter.
More than 18,000 people created accounts on Nevada Health Link and more than 63,000 people visited the site by 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time, according to a statement on Twitter. More than 120,000 people went to Covered Oregon, which is not yet accepting online enrollment, by 8:00 a.m. PDT Tuesday, according to a statement on its website, as officials asked consumers for patience, the Oregonian reported.
Louisiana's The Times-Picayune reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield had no enrollees the first day, but that other companies offering insurance in Louisiana through the online marketplace had not yet received the data to determine their level of enrollment.
The Department of Health and Human Services said the main website for the exchanges, HealthCare.gov, had successfully enrolled customers into health insurance on October 1, but according to a spokeswoman the department is unlikely to be able to exactly determine how many have enrolled until November.
Right-wing media have frantically attempted to spin the success of the health care exchanges into failure since day one of open enrollment.