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Ezra Klein: Trade “Was Trump’s Best Portion Of The Debate … But He Didn’t Know What He Was Talking About”
Even as they criticized the rest of his performance for its lies and a general incoherence on basic policy specifics, mainstream and conservative media personalities are largely in agreement that Republican nominee Donald Trump earned more style points than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the first half of their presidential debate on September 26, which focused on the economy and international trade.
But as Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein argued in a September 27 blog, the belief among journalists and pundits that Trump “won” the opening economic portion -- or any portion -- of the debate only holds water if you grade the candidate’s braggadocious style as more important than his vacant substance (emphasis added):
This is how it felt to me, too. Stylistically, this section was Trump’s best portion of the debate. He kept slamming Clinton on NAFTA — "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” — and spoke with the confidence of a man who knew what he was talking about.
But he didn’t know what he was talking about.
What was stylistically Trump’s best portion of the debate was substantively among his worst (I say among his worst because it is hard to beat the section where he said he both would and would not honor the NATO treaty, and then said he both would and would not adhere to the first-strike doctrine on nuclear weapons). Trump was arguing the central economic theory of his campaign — and he was just wrong. In a section that began with him demanding solutions for our economic woes, he showed himself completely confused as to the nature of not just our economic problems, but the underlying labor market.
The tone of his voice and the confidence of his delivery shouldn’t distract us from the hollowness of his remarks.
From his introductory remarks, Trump unleashed a torrent of falsehoods during the first presidential debate of the general election. Journalists and commentators from across the political spectrum slammed the GOP nominee for his seeming lack of preparation and inability to execute a clear debate strategy. Focus groups of undecided voters conducted by CNN and by conservative pollster Frank Luntz agreed that Clinton trounced Trump on the stage, and a national poll fielded by CNN showed that debate viewers came away thinking Trump had lost “overwhelmingly.” Trump was even needled by reporters for revealing “his famously thin skin” and for failing to control his impulses and “los[ing] the battle against himself.”
And yet, somehow, numerous professional debate-watchers seemed to think Trump actually performed well during the opening portion of the debate, when he attacked Clinton and President Obama on the economy. Ignoring that the country Trump was describing doesn’t actually exist, journalists largely seemed to agree that Trump’s jeremiad was nonetheless effective.
Professional economists who watched the debate, on the other hand, savaged Trump for his repeated lies about the American economy. Trump falsely claimed the American labor market is being hollowed out by trade even when job creation is steady, he reiterated a false right-wing media claim that American incomes are stagnant when they are rising, he repeated his own false claim that the Federal Reserve is acting “politically” to prop up the economic recovery while claiming at the same time that the economy isn’t really recovering, and he lied about his impossible plan to pay down the national debt. And Trump did all of these things during a segment of the debate that commentators currently argue he won.
For months, media critics have lamented how Trump is often graded “on a curve” for his performances and public statements, noting that he is “held to a different standard than Clinton” and his other political counterparts. The widespread perception that Trump outdid himself during the opening minutes of the debate while spouting a laundry list of lies about the economy and trade, proves how persistent this problem remains.
Trump’s Economic Policy Promises Are “Magic Beanstalk Beans”
Economists and experts slammed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for pushing lies and misinformation about the state of the economy during the September 26 presidential debate.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s penchant for promoting right-wing media myths and other misleading claims presents a unique challenge heading into the first presidential debate of the general election. If the September 26 debate is anything like the opening debates of 2008 and 2012, it will focus heavily on issues relating to the American economy, and both moderator and audience should be prepared for a torrent of misinformation from the GOP standard-bearer.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump updated his tax reform plan in a September 15 speech, just over a month after his initial August 9 revision of the plan. The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation has now scored Trump’s latest tax plan and found it would still cost trillions of dollars in lost tax revenue and would overwhelmingly benefit higher-income earners. Mainstream media are using these findings to push back on Trump’s claims that he supports the middle class and to shine a spotlight on the contradicting statements about the economy his campaign has made.
Latest Census Data Reveal Lingering Impact Of Right-Wing Media’s Obstructionist Campaign Against Obamacare
The Washington Post editorial board used the latest Census data showing that the rate of U.S. residents without health insurance continues to drop as proof that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- commonly referred to as Obamacare -- is working. The paper also argued that Obamacare would help millions more Americans if Republican-led states accepted federal subsidies to expand Medicaid. Right-wing media outlets have spent years encouraging the ongoing obstruction of this key provision of health care reform.
In a September 17 editorial, the Post highlighted the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report on health insurance coverage, which showed that the percentage of people with health insurance had risen to 90.9 percent nationwide in 2015. The editorial board noted that the same report showed room for even more improvement in expanded health insurance coverage if the law were fully implemented at the state level. According to the Census data, the uninsured rate in states that did not accept Medicaid expansion under the ACA is still 12.3 percent, far above the national average and even further still from the 7.2 percent uninsured rate in states that have accepted the law’s allocation of funds for low-income Americans. In the Post’s view, the 19 states that continue to refuse Medicaid expansion are “irrationally holding out,” not only because their refusal of “huge amounts of federal money” has denied 4 to 5 million more Americans access to health care, but also because studies have shown that each state would receive vastly more money from the government than it would spend on expansion. From The Washington Post:
But the overall number could be cut much lower, and quickly, if Obamacare were working as it was meant to. We are not referring to the recent, much-discussed exit of some major health insurers from the marketplaces the law created. We are talking about Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, the state-federal health plan for the poor and near-poor. The Supreme Court in 2012 made the expansion optional for states, and a large chunk, including Virginia, have refused. The Census Bureau found that the uninsured rate was 7.2 percent in expansion states last year and 12.3 percent in non-expansion states. Five states have expanded since, but that still leaves 19, representing 4 million to 5 million people who would otherwise get coverage, irrationally holding out.
Why irrationally? In their effort to hobble Obamacare, state Republican leaders have left huge amounts of federal money on the table. The federal government has offered to pay nearly the whole cost of the expansion, forever. Though states must pitch in a bit, they get a much lower uninsured rate, lower uncompensated care costs and other savings in return. The Urban Institute found last month that the 19 holdout states would get an average of $7.48 from the federal government for every dollar they spent on Medicaid expansion. Even those costs, meanwhile, would likely be further offset by savings elsewhere. States that have already expanded, in fact, have generally seen net revenue gains.
The Post dinged “state Republican leaders” for “their effort to hobble Obamacare,” but continued obstruction to the law remains a feature of right-wing media coverage as well. For years, Fox News fueled obstructionist politicians by promoting myths that expanding Medicaid was costly for states; in reality, states that expanded Medicaid saw slower health care cost increases than non-expansion states, and August 2016 research from the Urban Institute shows that the remaining holdouts stand to benefit enormously from Medicaid expansion. After discouraging states from taking part in the law, Fox absolved itself (and Republicans) of responsibility for the resulting coverage gap, which it framed as as “another problem growing out of Obamacare.”
Right-wing media have smeared Obamacare for years with baseless catastrophic predictions and falsehoods, and while their fearmongering has been stunningly wrong, it has continued unabated. Positive news about Obamacare -- like its role in reducing medical debt and increasing public health, or the record low uninsured rates driven by the law -- goes unmentioned by conservative outlets while they hype isolated program stumbles as the onset of a looming “death spiral” that will destroy the health care system.
Editorial Board Favorably Compares Trump Economic Vision To Jeb Bush’s Plan
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board praised Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s latest update of his tax and economic policy proposals, which he announced during a September 15 speech at the Economic Club of New York. The Journal lauded Trump’s goal of sustained economic growth of 4 percent or more annually -- comparing it favorably to failed GOP candidate Jeb Bush’s 4 percent pledge. Once again, the editorial board ignored both the Journal’s own reporting that 4 percent growth would require economic “wizardry” and criticism from economists and experts who have frequently slammed Trump and Bush’s “nonsense” trickle-down economic plans.
Right-wing media figures advanced Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s suggestion that Ford Motor Company was sending Michigan auto jobs to Mexico despite the fact that Ford CEO Mark Fields said Trump’s innuendo was “absolutely not true” and that “zero” jobs are being exported from Michigan. The auto giant is retooling its Michigan Assembly Plant to focus exclusively on large, profitable trucks and SUVs while reallocating production of less profitable small cars to Mexico in response to changing consumer preferences in the United States.
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump once again updated his tax and economic policy proposals during a September 15 speech at the Economic Club of New York. Journalists and experts immediately slammed Trump’s plan as “a total fantasy,” “pretty much impossible,” and “pie in the sky.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared on The Dr. Oz Show to discuss, among other things, his child care policy proposals. Trump noted that “there are a lot of men involved” in child care and that “under the plan we’re doing they will be helped so much,” yet Trump’s child care plan explicitly excludes fathers from access to parental leave. Oz did not point that out.
Trump’s child care proposal includes a plan for six weeks of maternity leave for new mothers paid through unemployment insurance. By specifying “maternity leave,” as The Associated Press reported, Trump’s “leave program would not apply to working fathers.” ThinkProgress economic policy editor Bryce Covert also noted that Trump’s plan would exclude not only working fathers, but “potentially all adoptive parents” and countless LGBT parents. Trump’s failure to include fathers in his child care proposals is one of several shortfalls journalists should be aware of when reporting on Trump’s plan. From the September 15 edition of ABC’s The Dr. Oz Show:
DONALD TRUMP: In the case of Ivanka, the child care thing has been so important to her for so long, she used to say, “I don’t know who people do it.” Last night -- just one story quick -- we met with about 20 mothers and a couple of gentlemen, too, by the way, who are also, you know, there is a lot of men involved in this that are getting absolutely --
DR. MEHMET OZ (HOST): Mister Moms.
TRUMP: -- they are getting hurt so badly. But, we met with these 20 people, they were incredible people, and they had just unbelievable and sad, very sad stories to tell. And, I got a very heavy dose of what's going on. And, I will tell you, under the plan we're doing they will be helped so much. And Ivanka was always saying, "Dad, we've got to do something about child care. It's just so unfair." And we really talked with those people last night how tough it is.
IVANKA TRUMP: And most people don’t realize that it’s the single-largest household expense in much of this country, even exceeding the cost of housing.
Generally Strong Coverage Of Census Data Shows TV News Outlets Can Still Cover The Economy Well When They Try
The major broadcast evening news programs each provided great examples of how network news can still be a source of concise and informative coverage on the economy this week when they covered new data releases from the Census Bureau.
On September 13, the U.S. Census Bureau released annual updates to its ongoing reports on income and poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States. The reports revealed stunning positive news about the state of the American economy: a record-setting 5.2 percent increase in median household income from 2014 to 2015, median income at its highest point since before the Great Recession, a drop in the official poverty rate of 1.2 percentage points, more than 3.5 million Americans lifted out of poverty, a 1.3 percentage point drop in the uninsured rate, and roughly 4 million fewer uninsured Americans. In response to the data, Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that 2015 marked just the second year since 1988 “that brought simultaneous progress on poverty, median income, and health insurance.”
Print and online coverage of the Census data was overwhelmingly positive, with CNNMoney writer Tami Luhby and Washington Post contributor Paul Waldman both noting that the data undermine a key (albeit, “false”) talking point frequently used by Republicans: that there has been wage stagnation, and President Obama is to blame.
Just as importantly, the positive coverage continued during the September 13 editions of major nightly broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, which collectively draw more than 20 million daily viewers. Only ABC failed to note all three of the key Census data findings -- the increase in median income, the drop in poverty, and the drop in the uninsured rate -- during its reporting.
As is often the case, PBS NewsHour offered the most in-depth and detailed discussion of the Census reports. Correspondent Lisa Desjardins spent just under three minutes detailing the data and discussing its possible political ramifications and effect on the upcoming election. The segment even included some cautionary notes, including reasons that some Americans have not seen a boost in take-home pay despite the surge in median earnings and some potential problems faced by customers on the private insurance market.
Next in terms of quality of coverage were CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, both of which discussed all of the key takeaways from the data. CBS anchor Scott Pelley said the Census reports were “great news” and stood as proof that “more Americans are cashing in on the recovery.” NBC anchor Lester Holt added that “middle class incomes had their fastest rate of growth ever recorded” and “incomes increased across all racial groups.”
ABC’s World News spent the least amount of time on the topic, mentioning the Census data as just part of a discussion about the stock market, but anchor David Muir still noted that the 5.2 percent median income increase was “the largest rise in nearly 50 years.”
The individual segments might not seem like cause for celebration, but, according to recent Media Matters analyses of broadcast news coverage, each segment should serve as an example of how these programs can adequately discuss the economy.
Overall coverage of the economy fell considerably from the first to second quarter of 2016, as the major networks focused more of their limited time on horse-race political coverage detached from the economic issues that actually drive voter behavior. Coverage of economic inequality and poverty also decreased from the first to second quarter of the year overall -- only ABC and CBS focused more attention on those crucial subjects from April through June than they had in the first three months of the year:
Unfortunately, throughout the first half of the year, major news outlets have been focusing less and less attention on the economy, creating a void that can easily be filled with misinformation. As broadcast and cable outlets retreated from covering the economy, misleading and biased stories emanating from Fox News and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accounted for a higher proportion of coverage.
Broadcast evening news shows face considerable challenges in trimming segments down to fit abbreviated commercial schedules, but their coverage on September 13 demonstrated that the flagship programs can still balance brevity and substance when they try.
Right-wing media personalities have long claimed that the economy is worse off than it is in reality by citing inappropriate figures to distort the full picture. They claim that the “real” unemployment rate is much higher than the figure reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and they often point to the labor force participation rate as the main indicator of how healthy job growth is.
Donald Trump has claimed that the unemployment rate is as high as 42 percent, saying “these are the real unemployment numbers – the 5 percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.” PolitiFact gave that claim a rating of “Pants on Fire,” its worst possible verdict, but right-wing media have repeatedly enabled this lie by claiming that as many as 94 million Americans are "not in the labor force," failing to note that this 94 million includes: students, retirees, stay-at-home parents, and those institutionalized in mental health or penal facilities. As of August 2016, the official unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, down from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 following the financial crisis.
Conservative pundits like to cite the labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the population that is in the labor force, as proof that the economy is in decline. They use this rate because it is downward trending while the unemployment rate has been steadily improving for nearly six years. The reason the labor force participation rate is on the decline though, is because "baby boomers" are retiring en masse; in fact, roughly 10,000 people reach retirement age every day. Labor force participation peaked during the Clinton administration, and President Obama inherited an economy in the midst of a deep recession from President Bush. The idea that Obama is to blame for an imaginary economic decline is just misinformation.
Many economists agree that the employment to population ratio is a better measure of economic health -- as it represents the number of jobs available as a proportion of the total population -- and the ratio has been gradually improving since the end of the recession.
These types of myths are harmful. CNN Money recently highlighted a study from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University which found that while the unemployment rate is only 4.9 percent, 57 percent of Americans “believe it is a lot higher” because the “general public has ‘extremely little factual knowledge’ about the job market and labor force.” The article also noted how “Donald Trump has tapped into this confusion” by “repeatedly call[ing] the official unemployment rate a ‘joke’ and even a ‘hoax.’”