Yesterday, FoxNews.com published an article outlining the recent public spat between National Public Radio and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) over his recently reintroduced bill to defund NPR. After playing stenographer to both Rep. Lamborn and NPR, the article concludes:
NPR says only 1 percent to 3 percent of its $166 million budget is funded by taxpayer dollars. But a recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that taxpayers fund at least 4 percent of NPR's budget, while an analyst at the conservative American Thinker estimated it was closer to 25 percent.
So, we have a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service being placed on equal footing with an unnamed "analyst" at a conservative blog.
The "analyst" in question is Mark Browning, who probably does not fit most readers' definition of that term: he teaches English at Johnson County Community College. After he published his piece at American Thinker and a similar op-ed in the New York Post, Browning appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss NPR. The chyron during that appearance billed him as an English professor, and made no mention of any other experience which might qualify him to accurately estimate the funding sources of NPR's budget. To uncritically bill him as an "analyst" implies a level of credibility that simply does not exist, given the available details about his background.
Further, the comparison between these two completely leaves out a number of assumptions Browning makes in his so-called "estimate." Browning contends that federal funds trickle into NPR's national budget in several ways, among them grants from publicly funded organizations, tax-funded university dollars, and deductions for donations. Browning tries to estimate the sum of those funds, and in doing so runs fast and reckless with the numbers. From Browning's article:
At first glance, this distribution of funds seems to confirm that public radio's support does not come in large amounts from the direct allocation of tax moneys. After all, 5.6% is not a gigantic portion of the budget, is it? But let's look more closely. That 10.1% that comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is 99% provided by -- you guessed it -- the federal government. Those university funds, whenever they are provided by a public university, represent taxpayer-provided dollars. We can safely assert that three out of four university-supported stations are publicly funded, which means that more than 10% (three-quarters of that 13.6%) is taken from the taxpayer's pockets.
99 percent of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's budget comes from the federal government? That would come as news to the authors of the Fox article that cites Browning's estimate, seeing as how they report that only 13 percent of CPB's budget is federally funded:
NPR issued a statement this week blasting Lamborn's two bills, one which would defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which receives 13 percent of its funding from taxpayers and awards NPR some grant money. The other would eliminate federal funding just for NPR. Local public radio stations are more dependent on federal funding than NPR is.
Who would have thought we'd see the day when Fox News published an estimate relying on data debunked in its own reporting? Browning continues:
Those university funds, whenever they are provided by a public university, represent taxpayer-provided dollars. We can safely assert that three out of four university-supported stations are publicly funded, which means that more than 10% (three-quarters of that 13.6%) is taken from the taxpayer's pockets.
Uh-huh. That might make sense, if one could credibly argue that public university budgets were entirely comprised of tax dollars. Apparently, despite working for an institution of higher learning, Browning is unfamiliar with the concept of tuition, or donations from graduates. More from Browning:
Obviously the support by individuals, businesses, and foundations does not constitute taxpayer funding, right? Not so fast. These donations are tax-deductible; thus, they are subsidized by the government. Granted, not every gift is actually reflected on an individual or business tax return, and not all of those that are itemized wind up offsetting high marginal tax rates. Still, it is reasonable to believe that on average, these gifts result in deductions at the 25% tax bracket. Since these three categories add up to roughly 64% of station funds, we can reasonably argue that 16% of that money (64% x 0.25) is subsidized by the tax code.
If one considers tax-deductible donations to be a federal subsidy, then all manner of organizations receive so-called federal funding: The Heritage Foundation, Save the Children, The American Civil Liberties Union, and (Gasp!) Media Matters for America. Representatives of conservative organizations would likely balk at the suggestion that their acceptance of tax-deductible donations constitutes federal funding... because that's ridiculous.
If FoxNews.com is going to put an American Thinker post on the same level as a CRS report, they should at least explain how that post arrived at its absurdly higher number.
So to review the entire process chronologically: (1) Browning writes flimsy, hole-ridden estimate of NPR's funding. (2) Fox & Friends, a Fox News opinion program, brings Browning on to discuss NPR. (3) FoxNews.com cites Browning's work, as that of an unnamed analyst, on par with that of the Congressional Research Service, in supposedly straight news reporting. In other words, this is one more time Fox has used opinions from its commentary programming to manufacture so-called straight news.
From the January 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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During a segment decrying Washington's inability to solve the nation's problems, Fox News' Glenn Beck praised Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) for being "actually consistent" on the deficit. "Paul Ryan is one of the good guys, I think," Beck added.
Like Mr Conrad, Mr Ryan was a member of the Bowles-Simpson commission. Unlike Mr Conrad, he voted against its plan to stabilise the debt despite calling it "serious and credible". He opposed it because it left Mr Obama's health-care reform intact, and because it relied too much on tax increases, even though these were smaller than the plan's spending cuts. The opposition by Mr Ryan and his two fellow House Republicans more or less guaranteed the plan would die.
A few days later Mr Ryan congratulated Mr Obama for acting "responsibly" in capitulating to Republicans and agreeing to an $800 billion-plus package that extends all of George Bush's tax cuts and implements new temporary stimulus composed overwhelmingly of tax cuts. Whatever its merits as stimulus, its complete absence of any linkage to long-term deficit reduction is antithetical to the principals behind the Fiscy.
But the most important reason to question Mr Ryan's deficit-hawk credentials was his support for certain changes to the budget process to constrain spending.
John Lott has penned a FoxNews.com op-ed criticizing as "a mess" a recent University of Maryland study which found that Fox News viewers were more likely to be misinformed than those who did not watch the network. However, the op-ed makes its case by misinforming readers on the economic stimulus, health care reform, and climate science.
A post that appeared on the front page of Red State today claimed that "Repeal of the Job-Killing Health Care Act will NOT Increase the Deficit." To defend that argument, Red State reprints Sen. Tom Coburn's distortions of a Congressional Budget Office report on H.R. 2, the proposed repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
Let's break down the claims.
The first claim Red State reprints is:
Repeal Reduces Health Insurance Costs for Americans. "In particular, if H.R. 2 was enacted, premiums for health insurance in the individual market would be somewhat lower than under current law..."
This sounds convincing, until you read the full context of this phrase in the CBO report and find that many people would pay more for health insurance if PPACA were repealed:
In particular, if H.R. 2 was enacted, premiums for health insurance in the individual market would be somewhat lower than under current law, mostly because the average insurance policy in this market would cover a smaller share of enrollees' costs for health care and a slightly narrower range of benefits. The effects of those differences would be offset in part by other factors that would tend to raise premiums in the individual market if PPACA was repealed; for example, insurers would probably incur higher administrative costs per policy and enrollees would tend to be less healthy, leading to higher average costs for their health care. Although premiums in the individual market would be lower, on average, under H.R. 2 than under current law, many people would end up paying more for health insurance--because under current law, the majority of enrollees purchasing coverage in that market would receive subsidies via the insurance exchanges, and H.R. 2 would eliminate those subsidies. (emphases added)
The second claim is:
Repeal Reduces Federal Spending on Health Care. "Last March, CBO estimated that enacting PPACA and the relevant provisions of the Reconciliation Act would increase the "federal budgetary commitment to health care" by about $400 billion over the 2010-2019 period; CBO uses that term to describe the sum of net federal outlays for health programs and tax preferences for health care. In contrast, CBO estimated that enacting that legislation would reduce the federal budgetary commitment to health care during the decade after 2019."
This claim is simply self-refuting. CBO is saying that PPACA increased federal health care by about $400 billion over the 2010-2019 period. But even the part that Red State quoted says that PPACA will "reduce the federal budgetary commitment to health care during the decade after 2019."
Shouldn't an article about Republican pledges to reduce the budget deficit that mentions in its lede the GOP's desire to repeal last year's health care reform legislation mention that doing so would increase the deficit?
Of course it should. The real question: Is anyone awake at the Washington Post?
In the past week, the Post has run at least seven articles mentioning the House GOP's plan to vote to repeal health care reform without mentioning that doing so would increase the deficit. Here's a particularly egregious example:
One urgent concern for lawmakers in both parties is the country's bleak fiscal outlook, stemming from heavy government spending and ballooning retirement costs. House Republican leaders said that immediately after the health-care vote they will debate spending cuts, targeting specific programs such as public television.
Immediately after asserting that Republicans are urgently concerned about the nation's bleak fiscal outlook, the Post notes that Republicans are trying to repeal health care reform -- but doesn't mention that doing so would worsen the nation's fiscal outlook. Incredible. (Note also that the Post asserts that the bleak fiscal outlook stems "from heavy government spending" -- no mention of the revenue side of the equation. The Post's framing plays along with the false conservative claims that only spending counts towards deficits, and only spending reductions should be considered to reduce them.)
New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman takes the media to the woodshed:
I see that the Washington Post editorial board is shocked, shocked to discover that the incoming Republicans aren't serious about deficit reduction. Who could have suspected?
I was going to be snarky all the way here, but actually let's be serious: the gullibility of much of the media establishment on all this amounts to journalistic malpractice.
Republicans have, after all, been the party of fiscal irresponsibility since 1980; the GW Bush administration confirmed, if anyone was in doubt, that unfunded tax cuts are now in the party's DNA.
Why the blindness? I suspect a lot of it had to do with the desire to seem balanced. Journalists felt that they had to find Republican fiscal heroes, just to show how even-handed and open-minded they were. To say that the whole deficit thing was a political ploy, with no substance behind it, sounded shrill.
The truth often does.
Another problem, of course, is that many reporters simply believe conservatives who claim to care about deficits without assessing whether their policy positions are consistent with those claims. It's easier and fits into absurd -- and, as Krugman notes, false -- stereotypes.
Krugman makes another point worth highlighting in desperate hope that his fellow journalists start paying attention:
Then along comes a Democratic president who presides over all of two years of deficits in the immediate aftermath of a severe financial crisis – which is a time when you're actually supposed to run deficits. Republicans begin inveighing against the evils of red ink – and, incredibly, get taken at face value.
Glenn Beck was a guest tonight on 9-11 Truther Andrew Napolitano's show on the Fox Business Network. During the show, Napolitano came out strongly against raising the debt ceiling, calling it "an easy" decision. Beck did take a clear position, but at one point, he said that if Republicans went along with Obama's call to raise the debt ceiling, "that will be the beginning of the end of the Republicans."
Since refusing to raise the debt ceiling would cause the United States to default on its obligations, it would basically throw the country into turmoil. Thus, as conservative blogger Allah Pundit has noted, Napolitano (and possibly) Beck are embracing something resembling the supposed Cloward-Piven strategy of creating a crisis in order to bring about reforms.
Indeed, Beck said that if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, "the rest of the world flees from America," "that means we crash things" and that "our monetary system could collapse." Napolitano said that refusing to raise the debt ceiling "would mean there won't be enough money to pay the troops," and "there won't be enough to pay Social Security." Napolitano added, "It means the government will have to make very hard choices and that's what we elected them to do" and we will learn that "nobody will lend us money in the future and we will have to stick within our means."
One might think Beck would be against such a deliberate collapse of the system. Beck attacks Cloward & Piven all the time for trying to do this. In fact, just today, Beck attacked Frances Fox Piven herself saying that Piven was trying to "cause a revolution by financially collapsing the American system."
From the January 4 edition of Fox Business Network's Freedom Watch:
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Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) publicly urged the other members of his House Republican caucus to vote to raise the debt ceiling, saying: "We're going to have to deal with it as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part."
Leading personalities at Fox Business apparently feel differently. Today on Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto -- also the managing editor of Fox Business -- suggested that raising the debt ceiling would demonstrate that "we're prisoners of the system."
CAVUTO: You know, Gretchen, I talk to a number of them, Democrat and Republican, who are like, "Neil, it's not that simple, it's not that easy to come in and make these broad, sweeping cuts." And in the case of-- I had a former Georgia congressman on at the top of the show who says, you know-- talking about, you know, not extending the debt, or raising the debt ceiling, still sort of a couple of months away, it's suicidal. I hear a lot of "can't," "don't" warnings. Can't be done, not the way things are done here. And I often think that's why we're prisoners of the system.
Later this evening, on Fox Business's Freedom Watch, host Andrew Napolitano also spoke out against raising the debt ceiling:
NAPOLITANO: Alright, White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee claims that if the nation hits the debt ceiling and the government defaults, that will cause an economic collapse far greater than what we saw in 2008, and Stuart Varney agrees. What Goolsbee really means is that big government cannot govern without borrowing money, without spending more than it takes in. America, the government's current fiscal policy of spending for the sake of spending and borrowing more money to cover the cost of borrowing has been described as one of the greatest thefts in American history.
Politicians today are borrowing money for personal pet projects that will be paid for by your children long after those who spent the money have retired or died. The truth is that if we cap the debt ceiling, the government will be forced into fiscal responsibility. We will either default on our debts, in which case no one will lend the government any more money, or we'll cut the budget. Either way, spending will go down. This country needs to live within its means. Reigning in spending is the only way to bring back credibility to our government and its currency. If we cap our debt, in the long run our economy will grow and our society will be prosperous. The sad reality is that when it comes to money, our legislators in Washington act as recklessly as a drug addict, looking for just one more fix. It's time to end their access to limitless cash.
It still remains to be seen whether or not Republican lawmakers will behave like adults, as Boehner urges. But at least now we've been reminded how Fox Business would rather behave.
From the January 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Did Chris Cristie's speechwriters script this CBS report on state budget deficits? It certainly reads that way.
In 2,600 words about state deficits, you won't find the phrase "tax cuts." Instead, CBS adopts the Republican framing that deficits are all about spending -- frequently with loaded phrasing like "gold-plated retirement and health care packages." And throughout the report, CBS allows Christie, New Jersey's Republican governor, to launch attacks on unions and make unsupported claims about budget problems, all without ever challenging his assertions and without including substantive disagreement from Christie critics.
CBS quotes Christie declaring: "We have a benefit problem. … It's not an income problem from the state. It's a benefit problem. And so we gotta change those benefits." No contrary view is included.
Then there's this passage:
Then there's New Jersey. It has the highest taxes in the country, a $10 billion deficit and a depressed economy when first-year Governor Chris Christie took office. But after looking at the books, he decided to walk away from a long-planned and much-needed project with New York and the federal government to build a rail tunnel into Manhattan. It would have helped the economy and given employment to 6,000 construction workers.
Gov. Christie acknowledged that's a lot of jobs. "I canceled it. I mean, listen, the bottom line is I don't have the money. And you know what? I can't pay people for those jobs if I don't have the money to pay them. Where am I getting the money? I don't have it. I literally don't have it."
You'd never know from CBS's handling of the tunnel that there are people, like Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who argue that the tunnel would have had a stimulative effect on the economy, and that killing it was therefore shortsighted, as a stimulated economy produces more tax revenue. No, CBS simply presented Christie's opposition to the tunnel as gospel.
And here's how CBS addressed New Jersey's pension problems:
It's also the truth that some of the responsibility for New Jersey's pension woes lie at the doorstep of the governor's mansion. Christie and his predecessors have failed to contribute to the state's share of its pension obligation in 13 of the last 17 years, one of the reasons the fund is going broke. Christie says it's ancient history.
"We spent too much on everything. We spent too much. We spent money we didn't have. We borrowed money just crazily. The credit cards maxed out, and it's over. It's over. We now have to get to the business of climbin' out of the hole. We've been diggin' it for a decade or more. We've gotta climb now, and a climb is harder. Gotta do it," he said.
You'd never know from CBS' report that a big part of the reason that "Christie and his predecessors" failed to make required contributions to the pension fund is that they decided to use the money for tax cuts instead. (Like I said, the CBS report takes the GOP-friendly stance that deficits are all about spending, not revenue.)
As the New York Times noted on August 19:
Christine Todd Whitman became governor in 1994, and to balance out her deep tax cuts, she reduced the payments to the state's pension funds. That contributed to the growth of the unfunded liability.
If Christie didn't get a producer credit on the 60 Minutes segment, he should have.
And remember: This was CBS, not CNS. The fact that news organizations like CBS routinely produce reports that adopt conservative framing, particularly on economic issues, is yet another reminder that right-wing claims of "liberal bias" are absurd.
UPDATE: AFSCME blasts CBS:
Last night on 60 Minutes, Steve Kroft's segment correctly noted that many of our state and local governments are struggling to close looming budget gaps. But his one-sided report failed to identify the root causes of this crisis, or barely recognize the sacrifices that public employees have made to help to address these deficits since our financial system nearly collapsed more than two years ago. During these difficult times, public employees have helped bring budgets back into balance by sacrificing pay and benefits. However, the 60 Minutes report relied too heavily on testimony by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie which falsely blamed public employees and unions for the fiscal challenges that have arisen because of the irresponsible behavior of Wall Street and Christie's predecessors.
Right-wing media figures used bills currently under consideration in Congress to continue to cheer for a government shutdown. Conservative media had previously welcomed the possibility of winning a Republican majority in Congress in order to shut down the government, "just like in '95 and '96."
From the December 16 edition of Fox Business' America's Nightly Scoreboard:
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From the December 16 edition of Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck:
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