Fox News is helping promote a baseless conspiracy accusing the Obama administration of manipulating employment data for political gain. The accusation, fed by a thinly sourced New York Post column, is now being used to push for congressional investigations.
On November 18, The New York Post blasted the headline: "Census 'faked' 2012 election jobs report." The basis of that claim is a single source, a Census worker who allegedly was caught fabricating data while measuring unemployment in 2010. Beyond that uncorroborated evidence, the Post offers a single anonymous source who claims that Census employees manipulated unemployment data throughout 2012. The Post concluded by calling for a congressional investigation into the supposed "manipulation of data."
Fox cited that report and extended the conspiracy theory beyond low-level Census employees to accuse the White House of knowingly manipulating jobs numbers. The hosts of Fox & Friends argued that the Post reporting corroborated the 2012 conspiracy theory pushed by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch that "these Chicago guys" in the Obama administration and campaign were skewing the jobs data:
KILMEADE: How the number is calculated is one issue. But the issue that we're talking about is how the number was skewed and was fudged, because we're talking about, out of nowhere the unemployment rate dropped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent at the crucial time between August and September.
So -- the conventions are over. You wonder if the economy is on track, you've got Mr. Economic Business Wiz Mitt Romney coming up the rear. And all of a sudden the unemployment rate is dropping. And you're thinking maybe we are on the right track.
Jack Welch comes out and says, it's amazing - and I'll just paraphrase -- it's amazing what these Chicago guys will do to win an election.
Later in the show, on-air graphics insinuated that the White House was "cooking the books."
This unsourced rumor, however, provides no evidence that the jobs numbers were manipulated to improve the unemployment rate, nor does it reveal that anything "unusual happened with the September  report," as Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal explained (emphasis added):
The allegation is interesting. It claims that surveyers conducting the Household Survey -- which is what establishes the unemployment rate -- were pressured to fake surveys in order to fill in data gaps, when it was difficult to get adequate response rates on its surveys.
It also claims that instances of bad data being filled in is something that was going back to 2010 -- in other words, this is not a story about the infamous September 2012 jobs report. There's also no allegation here that there was pressure to manipulate the number up. The only claim is that there was pressure to fill in gaps where there was a shortfall in the number of survey respondents.
There may be more information to come to light on this, but at least this particular report doesn't jibe with Welch's claim that something unusual happened with the September report to artificially push the number down.
In a later post, Weisenthal expanded on his criticism of the New York Post piece, noting that "While it's true that at the time the September Jobs Report looked very weird, in retrospect that drop-off in the unemployment rate looks totally on-trend," and explaining that the supposedly-suspicious regional data didn't seem to match a noticeable dip in unemployment in the same regions.
Right-wing media have a long history of attempting to discredit employment data. As early as February 2012, Fox's Steve Doocy claimed the unemployment data was "fishy," while Fox's Eric Bolling asked if the Labor Department was "playing around with the numbers."
UPDATE: In a November 19 Twitter post, CNBC senior economics reporter Steve Liesman reported that the worker named in the New York Post article has not worked for the Census Bureau since August 2011:
As part of a campaign to pressure CNBC to improve its climate change coverage, mobile billboards are circulating the financial districts of New York City and Chicago on Thursday and Friday. However, rather than airing accurate information on how prominent business leaders use climate science to optimize their risk management strategies, CNBC has continued to air people denying climate change entirely.
The campaign by Media Matters, Forecast the Facts, and Environmental Action was hosted on fuel-efficient trucks to highlight Media Matters' studies finding that the majority of CNBC's relevant coverage casts doubt on the basic scientific consensus that climate change is real and manmade. So far, CNBC has not shown any signs of improvement -- even after a 45,000-signature petition called on CNBC to improve its coverage.
Most recently, CNBC hosted Joe Bastardi, whose arguments for climate change denial have been called "utter nonsense," "very odd" and "simply ignorant" by scientists, to discuss Super Typhoon Haiyan. When another meteorologist noted that rising sea levels have worsened the damage from storms such as Haiyan, Bastardi -- who has claimed contrary to basic physics that carbon dioxide "literally cannot cause global warming" -- predictably dismissed the greenhouse gas connection:
Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers attacked the new health care law for requiring all new insurance plans to cover essential services such as maternity care and mental health care, ignoring the fact that individuals with these conditions are often discriminated against in the insurance market and that requiring coverage for these services will help the economy and reduce economic insecurity.
On the November 12 edition of Special Report, Powers complained that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance plans are now required to cover benefits such as maternity care and mental health care, despite the fact that an individual might not ever need to use these services:
POWERS: The idea that they think that 50-year-olds should have maternity care is very concerning to me. You know, people are being forced to pay for things that they will not use. It is not for them to tell people -- I don't need to be told I need to have mental health coverage. If I wanted it, I would have gotten it. And I think people are getting a little fed up, even Democrats, with this stuff.
In fact, without the ACA's requirement that essential health benefits be covered by new insurance plans sold on the exchanges, Powers may not have been able to get mental health coverage or maternity care if she wanted it. Individuals who needed those services before the law's passage were routinely discriminated against while trying to obtain necessary health insurance, by being required to pay significantly more for coverage, left unable to get a plan offering specific coverage, or rejected from health insurance all together.
As CNNMoney explained, previously insurance companies were able to keep costs down for many by offering plans without some essential benefits, like maternity care and mental health services, and cherry picking "among applicants to only pick the healthiest ones." The New York Times reported that in 2011, "62 percent of women in the United States covered by private plans that were not obtained through an employer lacked maternity coverage," and a Washington Post columnist explained that according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly 20 percent of people currently in the individual market have "no coverage for mental-health cases, including outpatient therapy visits and inpatient crisis intervention and stabilization." (Approximately 57.7 million Americans experience a mental health condition per year, and half of all Americans will experience one in their lifetime.) Many individual market insurance plans did not offer these services.
The entire concept behind the Affordable Care Act was to change this, ensuring that all Americans, regardless of their personal finances or current health states, could have access to quality, comprehensive health insurance that covered their needs. The law thus mandates ten essential health benefits -- including maternity care and some mental health services -- that all new insurance plans must include at minimum for every American.
Powers' argument also ignored that requiring insurance companies to cover these essential services in all health plans has significant economic benefits.
Fox News overstated the costs of Medicaid expansion for states by ignoring research and evidence showing that expanding Medicaid actually saves money for many states because of the high share of the cost being picked up by the federal government in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the reductions in money spent by states on uncompensated care.
From the November 12 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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The Wall Street Journal hid widespread popular support for Obama administration initiatives, including immigration reform, expansion of early childhood education, and increasing the minimum wage.
A November 10 Wall Street Journal article suggested that a recent dip in the president's approval ratings created "new complications for his second-term agenda" and could hinder his efforts to "enlist the public as allies in the push to pass an immigration overhaul, expand access to early-childhood education and raise the minimum wage." The Journal's suggestion ignores that immigration reform, early childhood education, and a minimum wage increase already draw high levels of popular support.
Public support for immigration reform is high. A January Associated Press poll on Americans' view of immigration reform found "major increase in support" for immigration reform efforts following the 2012 election, as "more than 6 in 10 Americans now favor allowing illegal immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens." Politico reported on November 7 that recent polling reveals this support has remained strong; a majority of Americans are now "more likely to support a candidate who backs immigration reform," and 73 percent of voters surveyed nationwide would support a pathway to citizenship, "if it includes requirements to cough up penalties, learn English, pass background checks, pay taxes and wait at least 13 years."
The President's immigration proposal includes those provisions, creating a pathway that requires applicants to wait multiple years before obtaining citizenship, pay their taxes and a penalty, learn English, and undergo background checks. A Congressional Budget Office found that the proposal would greatly benefit American workers and the economy over the long term, increasing wages and GDP over the next twenty years.
Studies from the National Bureau Of Economic Research and the Economic Policy Institute have also found that immigration tends to increase average wages for native-born workers over the long term, and UCLA professor and immigration expert Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda found that passing comprehensive immigration reform would add at least $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy over 10 years.
Early Childhood Education
Gallup polling found that 84 percent of Americans believe that investing in early childhood education is either "very important" (61 percent) or somewhat important (23 percent) to America's future, and found that almost two out of three Americans are willing to support preschool programs for children from low-income households with taxes.
Obama has proposed the Preschool for All Initiative, aimed to improve quality and expand access to preschool for low- and moderate-income children, in addition to expanding Head Start, a grant program that funds comprehensive early childhood education programs across the country, which include health, nutrition, and social services.
Studies from Health and Human Services have shown that Head Start programs had significant health benefits for children and parents, and the National Bureau of Economic Research found that many Head Start participants were more likely to complete high school. The National Education Association (NEA) says that early childhood education programs generate a twelve percent return on investment, making it "one of the best investments our country can make," which "yields significant long-term benefits" for students later in life.
A strong majority of Americans support increasing the minimum wage. In July 2013, a poll by Hart Research Associates found that 80 percent of Americans supported President Obama and Senate Democrats' proposal of increasing the minimum wage to $10.10. Among Republicans, 62 percent agreed. Support for such proposals is consistently high. In February 2013, after President Obama pushed for a minimum wage increase to nine dollars during his State of The Union Address, a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll found that 71 percent of Americans supported the plan.
At the ballot box, all of the statewide minimum wage increases that have been proposed since 1998 have passed, including a recent constitutional amendment in New Jersey which voters overwhelmingly supported. Business owners also favor an increase: an April poll by Small Business Majority found that a "67% majority of small business owners agree the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour should increase, and that it should be adjusted annually to keep pace with the cost of living."
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) says that a minimum wage increase to $10.10 would be a "win for workers," positively impacting "nearly one in every five workers in the country." A February 2013 survey of economists conducted by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business found broad support for President Obama's previous call for raising the minimum wage to $9.00. The Center for Economic and Policy Research has explained that raising the minimum wage has no "discernible impact" on employment, and that wage increases often result in more jobs rather than less.
Fox News pushed a number of discredited myths to attack renewed calls for raising the minimum wage, ignoring research and prevailing opinions' of economists.
On November 7, President Obama expressed support for the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which seeks to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
Reacting to the renewed call to raise the minimum wage on the November 8 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, reporter Doug McKelway dedicated a segment to discussing its potential economic effects. McKelway expressed doubt over the economic merits of raising the minimum wage and claimed that it would force companies to "cut back by getting rid of workers or increasing the price of goods they make or sell."
Instead of informing viewers with research about the effects of raising the minimum wage, McKelway's report largely hinged upon an interview with construction contractor and conservative activist Brett MacMahon and anecdotal evidence. Had McKelway attempted to give a fact-based report on the minimum wage, viewers would know that increasing it has been found to have a positive impact on job creation and economic growth.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which recently examined research on the minimum wage since 2000, "[t]he weight of that evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage." Indeed, CEPR's findings back up previous studies, one of which found that hiring responses to minimum wage hikes are more likely to be positive than negative.
A minimum wage analysis published by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) revealed the broader impact of gradually raising the federal minimum wage above $10 per hour by July 1, 2015. According to EPI, increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would result in over $51 billion in additional wages paid to roughly 30 million American workers. The wage increase would stimulate nearly $33 billion of increased GDP growth while creating as many as 140,000 new jobs.
According to EPI tabulations, increasing the minimum wage would have its largest impact on workers at the lower end of the income bracket, but the positive side effects would still be felt by hundreds of thousands of households with income in excess of $150,000 annually.
McKelway continued pushing his inaccurate minimum wage reporting later on Fox News' America's News HQ. The segment focused heavily on the alleged negative impact an increased minimum wage would have on young and teen workers. However, according to the aforementioned EPI study, a gradual wage increase similar to that supported by President Obama would largely affect workers aged 20 years or older, with teenage workers only representing a little more than 11 percent of those receiving increased wages.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour is supported by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which claims such a wage increase would positively impact "nearly one in every five workers in the country." Furthermore, a February 2013 survey of economists conducted by the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business found wide support for President Obama's previous call for raising the minimum wage to $9.00.
On her radio show, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham blamed immigrants, specifically Latino and Asian immigrants, for California's high alternative poverty rate, claiming that passing immigration reform would translate into more poor people nationwide. In fact, California's high cost of living and narrowed access to anti-poverty benefits are the real reasons behind the state's high alternative poverty rate.
On November 6, the Census Bureau released a report showing that under an alternative method of measuring poverty -- one that takes into account the value of anti-poverty programs and living expenses such as rent and mortgage payments, work-related transportation costs, and child and health care spending -- California's poverty rate jumps to 23.8 percent from the official government figure of 16.5 percent.
Discussing the findings on her radio show, Ingraham stated that California is where "most newly amnestied people initially settled after the '86 amnesty" and that "it has the largest percentage of Latino voters in the United States and Latino residents, new immigrants, also Asian residents." She added: "I say we keep going down this road of immigration, quote, reform and we can all look forward to having a poverty rate as high as -- at least under this alternative measure, which looks like a better measure of poverty."
In fact, according to experts, the alternative poverty rate in California "is really driven by the cost of housing."
As the San Jose Mercury News reported:
The alternative yardstick, known as the supplemental poverty measure, found nearly 2.8 million more people are struggling across the country than the traditional benchmark shows.
That makes a big difference in California, where the broader measure counts more than 8.9 million people living in poverty between 2010 and 2012 -- a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows -- far higher than the 6.2 million living in poverty tallied the official way.
"Anyone who has moved to California from somewhere else knows the dramatic increase of the cost of living," said Ann Stevens, director for the Center for Poverty Research at UC Davis. "It's not more surprising that California looks more impoverished. It is really driven by the cost of housing. California is a very expensive place to live."
Using the alternative measure, California had the highest poverty in the country between 2010 and 2012 -- 23.8 percent -- followed by the District of Columbia and Nevada. The official measure ranked Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico at the top during that period.
In rural parts of North Dakota, Kentucky and West Virginia, the poverty level is around $18,000 for a family of four without a mortgage. In the San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland metropolitan areas, the Census Bureau says, it's $35,500 for a family of four with a mortgage.
That $35,500 "may look pretty good to someone in a rural area," Stevens said. "I don't think too many people in San Francisco would think that."
Media coverage of nuclear power often suggests that environmentalists are illogically blocking the expansion of a relatively safe, low-carbon energy source. However, in reality, economic barriers to nuclear power -- even after decades of subsidies -- have prevented the expansion of nuclear power. While nuclear power does provide meaningful climate benefits over fossil fuels, economic factors and the need for strict safety regulations have led many environmentalists to focus instead on putting a price on carbon, which would benefit all low-carbon energy sources including nuclear.
Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham tried to downplay the effects of the recent government shutdown by citing data from before the shutdown even began.
On November 7, the Commerce Department released its latest economic growth estimate for the third quarter of 2013. These data, which track the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) from July through September 2013, revealed a 2.8 percent growth rate over that three-month period.
On Twitter, Ingraham interpreted the reported 2.8 percent GDP growth rate as evidence that the 16-day government shutdown -- orchestrated by the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives and emboldened by favorable right-wing media coverage -- actually had little effect on the economy.
If Ingraham had taken time to read actual reporting on the subject, she would have seen that the third-quarter report (July-September) does not include any negative effects of the government shutdown, which started on October 1. From the LA Times:
The third-quarter outcome was nearly a full percentage point stronger than most economists had predicted. Analysts expect the shutdown will slow growth in the October-December quarter.
A widely-reported impact estimate from financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's put the cost of the government shutdown at roughly $24 billion. The agency also lowered its growth forecast for the last quarter of the year (October through December). Economists argue that the shutdown will have lingering effects on the labor market and overall economy for the foreseeable future. The shutdown also eroded consumer confidence and may have derailed our gradual economic recovery.
Ingraham's faulty attempt to downplay the negative economic consequences of the government shutdown reveals a clear misunderstanding of the facts and of calendars.
UPDATE (11/7): Ingraham has since deleted her tweet and has issued no correction to her Twitter account at time of posting.
Fox News pushed myths about the economic impact of raising the minimum wage as New Jersey voters decide whether to increase it.
A ballot measure in the November 5 election would, if it passes, increase New Jersey's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.25 and change the state constitution to tie future increases to inflation. According to The Washington Post, public opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of voters support the measure.
But the morning of the election, Fox & Friends misled New Jersey residents about the increase in wages. Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano falsely claimed the measure would reduce employment in the state and increase poverty:
NAPOLITANO: The minimum wage is something that the government uses to force employers to pay low-end employees more than they're worth, and it actually results in putting people out of work. When the minimum wage goes up and employers are forced to pay entry-level people more than they're worth, they'll hire few[er] of them. So the president says nobody who works full-time should be below the poverty line, he's actually going to put more full-time people into, below the poverty line, because he's going to kick them out of work. And if your and my fellow voters in New Jersey pass this, and it looks like they will, that's going to result in more unemployment.
Napolitano ended by confirming he was voting against the measure. He also called it "very dangerous" to enshrine automatic minimum wage increases in the constitution, but as the Post reported, four other states have already done this.
Numerous studies have shown that minimum wage increases have little to no effect on jobs, and may even increase hiring. In fact, after New Jersey enacted a minimum wage increase in 1990, economists David Carr and Alan Kreuger surveyed restaurants in south Jersey and Pennsylvania and found the number of jobs grew. Research also shows minimum wage increases improve the economic performance of small businesses, and the Economic Policy Institute predicts that nationwide minimum wage increases could grow the economy.
In July, Media Matters found that the vast majority of Fox News segments on the minimum wage included the myth that increasing the minimum wage would cause job losses.
Fox News cherry-picked numbers to suggest that the cost of extreme weather events has decreased in past decades in order to attack President Obama's executive order to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change. However, the damages from extreme weather events have been on the rise since 1980 and are projected to increase in part due to climate change.
On Fox and Friends' November 4 show, contributor Stuart Varney denied the link between climate change and certain extreme weather events in the United States, denouncing Obama's executive order on climate preparedness. To assist his claim, Varney cherry-picked statistics to falsely suggest that disaster costs have decreased since the 1980s -- including an incorrect statistic on Hurricane Sandy.
Though damages from Sandy totaled approximately $65 billion, according to the National Climatic Data Center, Varney incorrectly asserted that Sandy cost $19 billion in damages (this outdated number represented predicted damages to New York City only). He contrasted his $19 billion statistic to the $160 billion in losses from extreme weather events in 2005 -- the most costly year on record in terms of extreme weather events -- and the fact that weather disasters have cost the United States over $1 trillion since 1980. After prattling off these numbers, Fox and Friends co-anchor Brian Kilmeade exclaimed, "look how they've gone down, the number of disasters and the price!"
In reality, spending on weather disasters has increased since 1980, alongside the rise of extreme weather events costing at least one billion dollars in damages:
Despite Varney's claims, five top insurance companies have recognized that disaster losses are increasing, which may be related in part to climate change:
In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
The four major network Sunday news programs failed to report on the newly enacted decrease in food stamp benefits, which affects more than 47 million Americans.
On November 1, USDA reported that "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients will see their monthly benefits decrease" after the expiration of benefit increases enacted in the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA). But Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet The Press, ABC's This Week, and CBS' Face the Nation all failed to bring up the issue on the November 3 editions of their respective shows.
Writing at Salon, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich explained: "As of November 1 more than 47 million Americans have lost some or all of their food stamp benefits." He added that "Half of all children get food stamps at some point during their childhood." CBS News reported that the SNAP benefit cuts would shrink benefits for a family of four by as much as "$432 over the course of a year." The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) highlighted how SNAP benefit cuts would affect hundreds of thousands of veterans:
Many veterans returning from service face challenges in finding work. While the overall unemployment rate for veterans is lower than the national average, the unemployment rate for recent veterans (serving in September 2001 to the present) remains high, at 10.1 percent in September 2013. About one-quarter of recent veterans reported service-connected disabilities in 2011, which can impact their ability to provide for their families: households with a veteran with a disability that prevents them from working are about twice as likely to lack access to adequate food than households without a disabled member.
Veterans who participate in SNAP tend to be young, but their ages range widely: 57 percent of the veterans in our analysis are under age 30, while 9 percent are aged 60 or older. They served during many conflicts, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, and in some cases, Korea and World War II, as well as in peacetime.
The media continues to ignore food stamp cuts that affect millions of Americans and negatively impact the economy.
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.