Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
Fox News figures accused the Obama administration of trying to "maximize" sequestration pain on the American people through the Federal Aviation Administration's furloughs of air traffic controllers, despite the fact that federal agencies are required by law to cut their programs evenly.
On April 22, the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration forced the F.A.A. to begin furloughs for air traffic controllers. The unpaid leaves delayed more than 1,200 flights that day, according to the F.A.A.
Although the legislation provides little to no room for agencies to decide how to implement the budget cuts, Fox figures used the furloughs to argue that the administration is trying to inflict maximum pain from sequestration. On his radio show, Fox News host Sean Hannity claimed that administration is furloughing air traffic controllers "because they want to maximize the amount of pain that you the American people are feeling."
In fact, as a New York Times editorial explained, "the sequester law is clear in requiring the F.A.A. and most other agencies to cut their programs by an even amount." This provision prevents agencies from deciding how and where to implement the budget cuts:
As it happens, the sequester law is clear in requiring the F.A.A. and most other agencies to cut their programs by an even amount. That law was foisted on the public after Republicans demanded spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling in 2011. Since then, the party has rejected every offer to replace the sequester with a more sensible mix of cuts and revenue increases.
As Forbes explained, the F.A.A. and other federal agencies "have little or no discretion to target spending cuts":
The across-the-board nature of the spending cuts has been well-noted. Federal agencies have little or no discretion to target spending cuts by, say, getting rid of obsolete or poorly-run programs. They have to cut them all, the good ones and the bad ones alike. They can't lay off poorly performing workers, they must furlough everyone.
But the fact that the legislation prevents the Obama administration from targeting the cuts has not prevented Fox figures from parroting Hannity's claim.
Fueled by a report from the conservative Boston Herald, right wing media outlets such as Fox News, the New York Post, and the Washington Times, are demonizing government assistance programs by tying them to the heinous terror attacks committed at the Boston Marathon. Conservative blogs used sensationalized headlines and rhetoric to make their attacks, like RedState's "Does The US Welfare System Benefit Jihadists?" and Monica Crowley's "Nice Return on Our Investment, Huh?"
On April 24, 2013, the Boston Herald published a report that claimed, "Marathon bombings mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism."
On the April 24 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer hyped the report and complained that "taxpayers were giving money to at least one of the bombing suspects."
In reality, the right-wing smear uses an absurd guilt-by-association non sequitur in an attempt to smear government spending programs. But where does this logic end? The Tsarnaev brothers presumably used taxpayer funded roads to physically reach the Boston Marathon finish line. Will right wing media next attack government spending on highway maintenance for literally paving the way for the Boston terror suspects to commit their crimes?
Conservatives are trying to take advantage of the horrific attacks to taint the public perception of yet another policy they dislike. Since the terrorist attack on April 15, the right wing media has exploited the tragedy in Boston to smear Islam, immigration reform, education, a member of Congress, the Obama administration's foreign policy, and even the constitutional rights of American citizens.
UPDATE: During his radio program, Rush Limbaugh also jumped on this bandwagon. Limbaugh claimed the Herald's report shows "another great example of your tax dollars at work."
LIMBAUGH: Now we hear that the entire Tsarnaev family was on welfare. How could he not be an Obama supporter?
So we have another great example of your tax dollars at work. Your tax money helped to pay for the explosives, as well as Tamerlan's at least two trips back to Dagestan, his late model Mercedes, his $900 shoes. No wonder this guy hated America.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin is seizing on a recent poll showing that George W. Bush's approval numbers are up to declare "Bush is back," arguing that America is starting to appreciate Bush's policies in the light of what she calls the "rotten" Obama presidency. To make her case, Rubin neatly excises from Bush's record every single massive failure and disaster that resulted in Bush leaving office as one of the least popular presidents in history.
Rubin managed to cram so much misinformation and nonsense into seven short paragraphs that it's tough to pick a place to start, but this one is worthy of special attention:
Why the shift? Aside from the "memories fade" point, many of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt). Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11. People do remember the big stuff -- rallying the country after the Twin Towers attack, 7 1/2 years of job growth and prosperity, millions of people saved from AIDS in Africa, a good faith try for immigration reform, education reform and a clear moral compass.
"Aside from the 'memories fade' point, many of his supposed failures are mild compared to the current president (e.g. spending, debt)." Funny thing about those "spending" and "debt" failures of Obama's that make Bush's supposedly seem so mild: Bush-era policies are responsible for the lion's share of the current public debt and will continue exacerbating the debt situation long after President Obama has left office.
"Unlike Obama's tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11." This is false. There were a number of successful terrorist attacks between 9-11 and the end of the Bush presidency, most prominently the DC-area sniper attacks of 2002. But I'm dodging the real problem, which is the phrase "after 9/11." Her argument -- an argument she's made before -- is that the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, despite happening on Bush's watch, doesn't count against Bush. Why? She doesn't say. Rubin doesn't allow Obama any terrorism Mulligans, calling his record "spotty at best with Benghazi, Libya, Boston and Fort Hood."
A Media Matters analysis of news coverage of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline since the 2012 election shows that the media continue to largely ignore the risk of an oil spill, while promoting the economic benefits of the project. Meanwhile, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal have dismissed Keystone XL's climate impacts, instead serving as a platform for the pipeline's champions.
The research consistently cited by media figures to support cutting government spending has recently been invalidated, raising questions about how mainstream coverage of economic policy promoted incorrect data.
In January 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff released a study that suggested when countries reach debt levels of 90 percent relative to GDP, economic growth would be compromised. Conservatives in politics and media alike repeatedly cited the figure in discussions about the economy.
A study released on April 16, however, found that the conclusions reached by Reinhart and Rogoff were based on data that was riddled with errors. Reinhart and Rogoff's response to the critique -- in which they maintain they never implied that rising debt caused lower growth, just that the two were associated -- shows that media's handling of the figure was wrong all along.
These new developments show that media consistently used an apparently incorrect figure for the past few years to call for austerity measures. Here's a look back at how major cable networks cited the figure in its coverage of the budget and economic policy:
Video by Alan Pyke.
A wide swath of media figures have cited economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's January 2010 finding that a country's economic growth becomes impaired when its debt level exceeds 90 percent of gross domestic product. But the Reinhart-Rogoff paper is premised on an Excel error, revealed when other researchers reviewed the data underlying the commonly-cited debt-to-GDP threshold claim.
Austerity proponents, such as House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), frequently claim that a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 percent signals economic doom, using Reinhart and Rogoff's work as leverage for imposing sharp cuts that economists agree would do serious harm to economic growth. Media coverage of budget and economic policy throughout the past three years has also repeated that claim, often without a direct connection to the Reinhart-Rogoff work from which the notion derives.
But that work, arguably the lynchpin of the case for imposing austerity in order to deliver economic growth, is crippled by basic errors, as the Roosevelt Institute's Mike Konczal explains:
From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.
In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.
They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result. [...]
So what do Herndon-Ash-Pollin conclude? They find "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]." Going further into the data, they are unable to find a breakpoint where growth falls quickly and significantly.
Rogoff and Reinhart responded to the criticism, which has since been criticized as a weak rebuttal. But now that those numbers are known to be wrong, the litany of media outlets which have cited them have an opportunity to reexamine their coverage of the austerity premise. Print media, notably The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have frequently reproduced the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis in covering budget and economic policy. Television and radio media have made frequent use of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper, including prominent mentions on NPR, CNN, and Fox Business.
The Reinhart-Rogoff threshold has long been challenged by fellow economists, such as former Federal Reserve economist Joseph Gagnon, Paul Krugman, and Josh Bivens and John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, on the grounds that it gets the directionality of causation exactly wrong. These and other economists argue that high debt levels are a consequence of prolonged weak GDP growth, rather than its cause.
As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker notes, however, the newly discovered errors obviate these more intricate economist responses to Reinhart-Rogoff: "we need not concern ourselves with any arguments this complicated. The basic R&R story was simply the result of them getting their own numbers wrong."
From the April 15 edition of Fox News' America Live:
Loading the player ...
From the April 10 edition of MSNBC's Martin Bashir:
Loading the player ...
Fox News buried Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's (R) decision to back down on his plan to eliminate the state's income tax, praising the now-dead proposal just days after Jindal acknowledged Louisianans reject the scheme.
While the network has not covered* Jindal's April 8 speech rescinding the proposal, Fox News' America's Newsroom dedicated a segment on April 10 to the idea of repealing Louisiana's income tax. Before introducing Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, guest host Gregg Jarrett framed the topic, saying: "Creating jobs and helping put more money in your wallet--the state of Louisiana wants to scrap its state income taxes." As Jarrett continued, Fox displayed a graphical summary of the plan Jindal withdrew two days earlier:
In his speech to state lawmakers, Jindal explained his decision to withdraw that plan as a recognition of fierce opposition to it. From The Times-Picayune:
The speech is a major concession that Jindal's proposal, a complicated plan contained in a total of 11 bills, is unpopular both within and outside the Legislature. The proposal has come under increasingly heavy fire in recent weeks as business groups and advocates for the poor have assailed its effects and think tanks have questioned whether the math in the proposal adds up.
Jindal acknowledges the strong opposition to the proposal in his prepared remarks.
"I realize that some of you think I haven't been listening. But you'll be surprised to learn I have been," according to the text of the speech. "And here is what I've heard from you and from the people of Louisiana -- yes, we do want to get rid of the income tax, but governor you're moving too fast and we aren't sure that your plan is the best way to do it.
"So I've thought about that. And it certainly wasn't the reaction I was hoping to hear. And now I'm going to give you my response and it's not the response people are accustomed to hearing from politicians.
"Here is my response: 'Ok, I hear you,' " according to the text of the speech. "So I am going to park my tax plan."
The governor went on to request that lawmakers write an income tax repeal bill of their own, and his administration has reportedly signaled interest in repealing the income tax even without any accompanying plan to make up the lost revenue.
Numerous major news outlets reported on Jindal's speech as both a setback for his political career and a victory for the poor. MaddowBlog's Steve Benen noticed this is the second such rebuke Jindal's suffered so far this year, after his plan to end hospice care for Medicaid beneficiaries went down in the face of stiff criticism. But on Fox, Jarrett and Moore didn't just ignore Jindal's reversal. They praised Jindal's stillborn plan as a near-heroic effort to boost economic growth in his state. "The real story here is that Bobby Jindal is trying to take on the special interests in Louisiana, trying to make the case that Louisiana could be a really high-flying state if they could get rid of their income tax," Moore said.
Beyond their attempt to recast Jindal's efforts in a more positive light, Moore and Jarrett continued Fox's pattern of misrepresenting the relationship between state income taxes and growth. Fox had previously ignored the regressive nature of Jindal's plan, and the April 10 segment featured the false claim that eliminating income taxes boosts state economic growth. Media Matters has previously shown Moore's work on that subject to be dishonest, and as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown, cuts in state income taxes are correlated with weaker economic growth except in oil-rich states. Furthermore, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported in February that the nine states with no income tax have shown substantially weaker economic growth than those with high income taxes.
*A review of transcripts found that no Fox News Channel shows covered the Louisiana governor's speech from April 8. Fox Business's Stuart Varney interviewed Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform about Jindal's reversal on the April 9 edition of Varney & Co.
Fox News has consistently downplayed positive weekly jobless claims reports, ignoring the standard the network set for signs of labor market improvements.
A Media Matters analysis revealed that despite consistent improvements in the number of people filing for unemployment benefits, Fox's coverage of weekly jobless claims reports was overwhelmingly negative. The network consistently used the reports to bring up unrelated negative economic news, a practice that has become common on Fox when faced with positive economic developments.
On the April 5th edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, science education activist Zack Kopplin confronted The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore over myths about science funding, pointing out that Moore, who questioned the need for funding research on "snail mating habits," is "not a scientist":
As it turns out, the reason actual scientists are conducting this type of research is because snails carry parasitic worms that kill children:
Fox News' coverage of weekly jobless claims in the first quarter of 2013 overwhelmingly focused on negative aspects of the labor market and broader economy. However, weekly claims numbers have been consistently improving, beating Fox's own standard for signs of a positive labor market.
According to Fox News, economists believe when the weekly number of initial jobless claims filed stays below 375,000, it's a sign the labor market is healthy enough to reduce the unemployment rate.
Fox News host Bill Hemmer cited that threshold on the January 10 edition of America's Newsroom, while showing a chart with a bright yellow line across it at the 375,000 mark: "Economists say that weekly claims must consistently fall below 375,000, shown by that yellow line on the screen right there, to indicate that the job market is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate." When the next week's numbers came out on January 17, Hemmer's co-host Martha MacCallum again touted Fox's chart showing the threshold, noting, "You always want to look at the chart, in terms of the long-time trend here." She continued, "Economists say that the weekly claims number has to consistently fall below 375,000 as indicated by that yellow line."
For the first quarter of 2013, weekly jobless claims have consistently fallen below Fox News' threshold of 375,000, signifying an improving labor market.
The final report of the quarter, released on April 4, represents the first one-week spike over the 375,000 threshold in 2013, but the more telling number - the four-week moving average of weekly initial claims - remains well below Fox's bright yellow line. (Other news outlets report that the economists' consensus about the threshold is 400,000 weekly claims, and economist Frank Lysy says that new jobless claims occur at a rate of 310,000 to 320,000 per week when the economy is at close to full employment.)
Despite consistent signs that the labor market is improving (by Fox News' own standards), Fox was overwhelmingly negative when reporting on weekly jobless claims.
When the weekly claims beat consensus expectations or declined from the previous week, Fox News anchors regularly used the positive news to highlight other, unrelated metrics, such as rising gas prices or federal spending. When weekly claims did not meet expectations or rose from the previous week, anchors regularly used the news to paint a negative picture of the economy.
Overall, Fox News was about 13 times more likely to present weekly jobless claims with a negative rather than positive tone. Furthermore, Fox's negative coverage greatly overshadowed neutral reporting.
Media Matters reviewed every Thursday edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, and Happening Now from January 3, 2013 to April 4, 2013 and recorded the amount of time spent discussing the weekly jobless claims report.
We identified "positive coverage" as that which indicated weekly claims were improving, or made broader positive implications for the labor market and overall economy. Positive coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.
We identified "negative coverage" as that which indicated weekly claims were deteriorating, or made broader negative implications for the labor market and overall economy. Negative coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.
We identified "neutral coverage" as that which directly reported the information in the Labor Department's weekly jobless claims report.
When tone of coverage was unclear, Media Matters chose to err on the side of neutrality.
We did not include coverage of topics that were unrelated to the weekly claims report, even if they were brought up in a segment that was primarily focused on the report. For example, the January 3 edition of Fox & Friends contained a segment that introduced the weekly jobless report and pivoted to discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. In this instance, time spent discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill was left out of the analysis. When it was unclear whether coverage of a topic was brought up in relation to the weekly claims report, Media Matters chose to exclude it from the analysis.
In segments where coverage related to the weekly claims report was introduced before the report itself, Media Matters chose to begin time recording when the report was initially introduced.
Fox News' Greta Van Susteren pushed the right-wing talking point that regulation is "strangling" small businesses on Sunday, ignoring reports that have repeatedly debunked her theory.
On ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren got into a debate with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman over the effect that government regulation has on small businesses and the American job market. Though Krugman pointed out that Van Susteren's assertion is not backed up by the data, Van Susteren refused to give his explanation credence.
VAN SUSTEREN: We're strangling small businesses. I mean, you know everyone -- no one's paying much attention to these small businesses. The regulations that are strangling them, some of them are laughable and silly, but they have a profound impact on the job creators, those who are making jobs. They can't afford to hire people.
KRUGMAN: There's been tons, there's been tons of work on this. And what's holding small business back is not regulations, it's just the fact that they don't have sales.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's not all, it's some of it, some of it.
KRUGMAN: It's not. There's no correlation, looking across, you know which parts of the economy do small businesses complain about regulations and which don't they. There's no correlation between that and actual job creation.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there one exception perhaps, on the health care, where, firms that are greater than 50 people, have to pay more and that don't you see some firms cutting off at 49?
KRUGMAN: You really -- there might be. but you can't see that in the numbers. The overwhelming fact of the matter--
VAN SUSTEREN: Well If you talk to them, instead of looking at just the numbers, why don't you sit down and talk to these people, lot of them are struggling with this. They don't understand a lot of those things that happen. They don't understand a lot of the things that are happening in Washington. They're very cautious because they see a real dismal economy out there. And that doesn't --
KRUGMAN: If you actually talk to them, that's not what they say.
Despite Van Susteren's claims, Krugman's position has a strong foundation in official economic data as well as less formal anecdotes and survey responses from business owners.
Investment data refutes Susteren's claim that high regulatory environments tend to suppress growth. An Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of the past four economic recoveries found that the slowest growth actually occurred during the deregulatory Bush administration:
In agitating for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, CNBC host Jim Cramer falsely claimed that the transnational oil pipeline could create 60,000 jobs in four weeks and further erroneously claimed that pipelines "have been the largest producer of jobs in the past four years" in the United States. In fact, evidence from the State Department and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate Cramer has vastly overestimated both Keystone XL's job creation potential as well as the impact of the pipeline industry as a whole in adding jobs to the economy.
Cramer's erroneous comments about Keystone XL came during the April 7 edition of Meet the Press on NBC:
Contrary to Cramer's assertion, a State Department report on Keystone XL released on March 1 found that the pipeline would create approximately 42,100 jobs for a one-to two-year period, including 3,900 annual construction jobs during this period. However operation of the pipeline would only create "35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs" meaning that Keystone XL "would have negligible socioeconomic impacts."
Cramer is also wrong that pipelines "have been the largest producer of jobs in the past four years." According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the pipeline industry employs approximately 43,310 individuals annually, with jobs involving the transportation of crude oil accounting for 8,680 of that total. By comparison, the BLS estimates that, in the private sector alone, over 2.5 million individuals are employed in "green goods and services," a designation created by BLS to describe jobs and businesses "that produce goods and provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources."