Fox News turned to misleading statistics and sensational rhetoric in a renewed attack on government anti-poverty relief programs, federal workers, and public pensions.
On the August 21 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jon Scott invited Fox Business contributor Charles Gasparino to discuss concerns regarding the scope and sustainability of government benefit programs. The two falsely portrayed government employment as a "growth industry" and made a confusing comparison between the total number of Americans receiving so-called "welfare" and the population of Russia. Gasparino lamented that more "stigma" is not attached to receiving federal aid or "living in a housing project," before falsely concluding that public pensions face a "huge looming crisis" and are, in essence, "Ponzi schemes":
GASPARINO: I don't think Americans are against handing people a check if they really need it, if they're starving, if they need welfare, if they need a helping hand. But we have a cultural situation in this country where it is more than that, where it is almost acceptable. The stigma is gone about accepting that check.
GASPARINO: We've become the old Soviet Union! If you threw in the state numbers, it would even be bigger. The pension issue that I brought up is one of the huge looming crisis out there. It's essentially a Ponzi scheme.
Scott's initial claim that "nearly 110 million Americans live in households on welfare," is misleading. According to the United States Census Bureau, in the fourth quarter of 2012 roughly 109.6 million Americans resided in a household receiving "one or more means-tested programs." These include housing assistance, disability and survivor benefits, numerous nutritional assistance programs, Medicaid, and forms of "cash assistance." Only 5.4 million individuals lived in homes receiving from the benefit program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), commonly referred to as "welfare."
The portrayal of government employment as a "growth industry" is also false. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, total government employment across local, state, and federal agencies has declined significantly during the Obama administration and over the past seven years. Total government employment was roughly 22.6 million when President Obama took office in 2009, declining to 21.9 million today:
Gasparino's final claim that public employee pensions are "a Ponzi scheme," is incorrect. A February 2011 report by economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) demonstrated that most of the long-term funding shortfall in public pensions is a result of the 2007-2009 economic crisis and the accompanying stock market downturn. Baker concluded that the debate on pensions had been "seriously misrepresented" and that most public pensions appeared "easily manageable" over the long term.
Fox News and Gasparino have a long history of misappropriating terms like "welfare" and relying on sensational comparisons of pensions to "Ponzi schemes," in addition to unsubstantiated correlations between the number of recipients of a government program with completely unrelated population statistics.
Heritage Foundation chief economist Stephen Moore grossly exaggerated the cost of providing unaccompanied minors access to American public education to stoke fears that the costs might hurt local communities.
On the August 7 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto invited conservative economist Stephen Moore to discuss the purportedly high cost of allowing roughly 50,000 unaccompanied minors access to public schools around the country. Citing his own calculations, Moore claimed that the cost of educating these immigrant children could reach $1 billion annually, adding that "it's unfair to put these costs on the backs of local residents ":
Moore's calculation is problematic for a number of reasons.
According to research from the Heritage Foundation, Moore's current employer, the cost of educating a single undocumented immigrant child is roughly $12,300 per year. Therefore, the cost of educating the roughly 50,000 recent undocumented minors in the U.S. would actually be roughly $615 million per year, according to Heritage's estimates.
Furthermore, Moore's fear mongering over the purported $1 billion price tag ignores the size and scope of the American economy. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the current dollar value of the American economy in the second quarter of 2014 was $17.3 trillion. In other words, the cost to educate these children would be less than 0.006 percent of the value of the economy as a whole. Hardly cause for alarm.
Moore's sloppy calculations have gotten him into trouble in the past, as he employs a façade of "economics" to disguise his conservative political agenda.
Fox News misleadingly attacked the federal food stamp program for being wasteful and unaccountable despite reports that the program achieved the lowest payment error rate in its history in the most recently available data.
Fox New complained about the findings of a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on quality control in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps. The USDA report clearly states that the 2012 fiscal year was "another year of excellent performance in payment accuracy" before noting that the most recent payment error rate of 3.42 percent was once again "the lowest National payment error rate in the history of SNAP."
On the July 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade cast the findings in a negative light, stressing that "the government is overpaying on food stamps by about $2 billion." Co-host Steve Doocy then questioned whether the Obama administration could "be trusted with more money," given the overpayments. Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney went on to chastise the Department of Agriculture for labeling the food-stamp payment error rate of 3.42 percent "excellent," wondering aloud "since when has that been good?"
Fox News' mischaracterization of the SNAP report continued throughout the day. On Happening Now, co-host Jenna Lee called the USDA report "startling" and said that "the administration is having a tough time managing its funds." On The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson claimed that federal spending on nutrition assistance was "reaching a breaking point" before highlighting the growth of participation in the food stamp program since 2007.
Far from indicating a managerial flaw in the Obama administration, the 2012 payment error rate in SNAP is evidence of success in rooting out improper payments. According to the report being derided on Fox News, the national payment error rate in SNAP during President Obama's first year in office was 4.36 percent. That error rate then fell to 3.81, 3.80, and 3.42 percent in fiscal years 2010-2012, respectively.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news coverage of the economy during the past three months focused heavily on policies aimed at spurring job creation and economic growth despite the general lack of input from actual economists. A Media Matters analysis reveals that several topics -- taxes, spending cuts, deficit reduction, economic inequality, minimum wage -- have become highly polarized among major networks.
New Jersey's major newspapers largely failed to cover allegations of ethical misconduct involving the state's public pensions and prominent political donors with ties to the Christie administration, mentioning the alleged "pay-to-play" scandal only three times collectively despite the allegations receiving several months of national media attention.
A recent editorial in The Columbus Dispatch dismissed the impact of federal budget sequestration on jobs and the economy in Ohio, claiming it "did not cause the sky to fall." However, past editorials and news reports published by the paper highlighted the economic repercussions on Ohioans that would result from the cuts.
National Journal's Ron Fournier illustrated in his latest column why it's a bad idea to rely on excerpts from a book for one's commentary rather than actually reading it.
In 2011, a "grand bargain" to lower the long-term debt by $4 trillion by cutting entitlement spending and raising taxes fizzled when Republicans pulled out of negotiations. Some pundits, including Fournier, counterintuitively blamed Obama for Republican refusal to support any bill that increased taxes.
Fournier suggested in a May 12 column that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's new memoir, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, supports that conclusion.
While the book was released today, Fournier clearly has not read it -- he describes it as "forthcoming" and cites excerpts from Politico's Playbook. Unfortunately for Fournier that is a crucial error, as the full text of that section of the memoir makes clear that Geithner blames Republicans, not Obama, for the failure of the debt talks.
Fournier wrote that Geithner's memoir "captures a moment at which President Obama faced a choice between forging ahead with a promise to seek GOP compromise on the nation's debt crisis or bow to pressure from his liberal base. Obama chose surrender." Fournier cites the following paragraphs from Geithner's book, excerpted by Politico, as evidence of that claim:
Dan Pfeiffer, the president's communications director [now senior adviser] and another 2008 campaign veteran, often took the other side of the debate, saying we couldn't afford to alienate our base and split a weakened Democratic Party in pursuit of an imaginary compromise with Republicans who didn't want to compromise.
At another meeting in the Roosevelt Room, I told the president I thought there was a chance that he could break at least some Republicans away from their no-new-taxes mantra and forge a deal to stabilize our long-term debt. It wouldn't be a deal that his base would like, but if he wanted to get anything through the House, he couldn't be bound by the demands of Democrats. "You have a chance to split the Republicans," I said. "But only if you're willing to split the Democrats...."
I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security didn't contribute to the deficit. It wasn't a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute. Pfeiffer said the line was a "dog whistle" to the Left, a phrase I had never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.
Based on the Politico excerpts, Fournier concluded:
Obama decided not to split the Democrats--or to seriously seek compromise. Yes, he did propose a modest adjustment of entitlement spending in exchange for tax cuts on a "grand bargain," but that now appears to have been a mere signal (or dog whistle) to debt-fretting independent voters. It was a game. Liberals played their part and objected to the reforms. Republicans played their part and said they would never raise taxes. Despite advice from Geithner, fellow Democrats, and top Republicans who recognized the GOP negotiating ploy, Obama seized on it as an excuse to surrender to his base.
In fact, Geithner made clear that Obama had sought to "seriously seek compromise," only to be abandoned at the negotiating table. Here is the very next paragraph in Geithner's book following the exchange about Social Security (Kindle location 7177):
On July 21, Boehner, remarkably, stopped returning the President's calls. He soon announced he was abandoning the grand bargain. This time, his rationale was that the President had moved the goalposts by asking for an extra $ 400 billion in revenues. But that was just a pretext; the negotiations were fluid. We had raised the revenue target, and their drafts still were calling for unacceptable political scalps, but the President hadn't drawn a line in the sand. The problem was that most of Boehner's caucus was unwilling to accept any new revenues, and many had pledged never to vote to raise the debt ceiling; he once told us that he was more interested in doing big things than being Speaker, but ultimately he was unwilling to split his caucus and risk his job. The President, by contrast, was willing to alienate some of his Democratic allies to pass an agreement he believed would be good for the country.
Fox News latched onto a study of the first full year of budget sequestration, claiming that the report undermines warnings that across-the-board cuts would cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs. In fact, the federal workforce has been significantly reduced since sequestration went into effect and fiscal austerity continues to drag down job creation and economic growth in the private sector.
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 first quarter of 2014. 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 and the minimum wage are causes of poor job growth.
Fox News' Sean Hannity lauded Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's latest budget, a proposal that has been criticized by economists for its potential destructive impact on the economy, employment, and poverty.
Relentless investigations into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that have been tirelessly cheered on by right-wing media have reportedly cost taxpayers and the Pentagon millions of dollars and wasted thousands of hours of personnel time, according to the Associated Press.
Citing a March 11 Pentagon letter, the AP reported how millions in funding have been funneled away from other Department of Defense responsibilities to "repetitive requests for information from about 50 congressional hearings, briefings and interviews," and the Pentagon determined that "[t]he total cost of compliance with Benghazi-related congressional requests sent to the department and other agencies is estimated to be in the millions of dollars." The AP cited former commander of U.S. Africa Command Gen. Carter Ham's experience as an example:
[He] has briefed or testified before congressional panels five times over two years, and yet both the Armed Services Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform has [sic] asked Ham to submit to additional interviews.
Right-wing media have actively campaigned for these unending investigations, even coordinating with House Republicans to skew evidence. On February 6, Fox host Bill O'Reilly demanded that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) subpoena former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to re-litigate one of Fox's favorite conspiracy theories, and on January 27, host Greta Van Susteren demanded the release of facts already in the public record. Fox has since reached farther to push the Benghazi hoax -- ignoring independent investigations that have turned up no evidence of political scandal.
Despite mounting evidence that low minimum wages put pressure on government finances through the need for expanded safety net programs, over the past year, evening news programs on four major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- have been largely silent about the public cost of low wages.
Fox News is providing ample, uncritical airtime to hype Representative Paul Ryan's (R-WI) report on the alleged ineffectiveness of government anti-poverty programs, despite condemnation from numerous economists that the report is misleading and inaccurate.
From the March 3 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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Coverage of Social Security in three major national print outlets relied on reporting figures in raw numbers devoid of relevant context -- such as previous years' figures -- that could provide a more accurate picture of the program's finances. These findings, calculated since July 2013, are consistent with a previous Media Matters analysis of print media's coverage of Social Security.