From the October 23 edition of Cumulus Media Networks' The Mark Levin Show:
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In the week following the end of the 16-day government shutdown, major print media outlets shifted their attention to upcoming bipartisan budget negotiations. This coverage of budget priorities was far more likely to mention the need for deficit and debt reduction than economic growth and job creation, despite economists warning that growth is the more pressing concern.
From the October 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore altered his previous position on the effect of Obamacare on the growth of part-time jobs to push the dubious claim that health care reform will increase part-time work in the future.
On the October 23 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, co-host Bill Hemmer interviewed Moore on the potential effects of Obamacare implementation on the growth of part-time work. When asked by Hemmer if the law has already played a role in increasing part-time work, Moore responded, "We are going to probably see that number [of part-time employment] rise next year, because that's when the Obama requirements really take effect. In January."
Moore's position, that Obamacare is not currently increasing part-time work, reverses his previous stance on the subject. Moore has played a significant role in creating and perpetuating the myth that the reform is the driving force behind increasing part-time work.
Since the beginning of 2013, the Wall Street Journal editorial board -- of which Moore is a member -- has published as least four editorials claiming that Obamacare is directly linked to the growth of part-time work at the expense of full-time employment.
Indeed, Moore has repeated these claims directly. In a July 5 WSJ Live segment on the "ObamaCare Jobs Report," co-editorial board member Mary Kissel asked Moore what was behind the rise in part-time work in the June jobs report. Moore responded, "clearly Obamacare."
Moore's decision to finally acknowledge facts that have long been noted by professional economists is a welcome change. Unfortunately, his admission came while pushing yet another unsubstantiated claim; that part-time work will increase when the employer mandate -- penalties for which were delayed until 2015 -- takes effect.
In an analysis of the effect of Obamacare on employer practices, economists Dean Baker and Helene Jorgensen noted that initial indications of an increase in part-time work resulting from Obamacare would have materialized by January 2013, "since under the original law employment in 2013 would serve as the basis for assessing penalties in 2014." Jorgensen and Baker conclude by noting that that in the first few months of 2013, before the mandate was delayed on July 2, "employers [did] not appear to be changing hours in large numbers in response to the sanctions in the ACA." If this evidence has any implications for the future, there will be no part-time work shift as a result of Obamacare, as Moore suggests.
Indeed, after previously suggesting that the law may cause part-time job growth, Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, said recently of the part-time work claim: "I don't see it in the data."
Fox News promoted a false attack on a federal program that expands access to free school meals by dismissing child hunger and claiming that the program will harm low-income families. But studies have shown the school meals program helps alleviate the high levels of hunger that exist among low-income children, improves their access to key nutrients, and increases academic performance.
The Wall Street Journal's economics blog debunked the claim that the Affordable Care Act is leading to increased part-time unemployment -- a myth that has been repeatedly pushed on the Journal's editorial page.
During a discussion of the latest jobs report, The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore ignored the prominent role sequestration cuts played in depressing job growth, choosing instead to make the reality-defying claim that sequestration has in fact been a boon to the economy.
On October 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly unemployment report for September. According to the report, payrolls rose by 148,000, while the unemployment rate dropped from 7.3 to 7.2 percent. Those positive gains, a welcome change from losses sustained after the financial crisis, nonetheless fell short of expectations that 180,000 to 200,000 jobs would be created in September.
WSJ's Moore reacted to the jobs report during an interview with Fox News host Jenna Lee on Happening Now. He claimed the numbers represented an economy in "stagnation" that is "middling at best" and "kind of limping forward." Lee followed up, asking whether automatic spending cuts known as sequestration were to blame. Moore responded:
MOORE: Well first of all, I think the sequester has been very good for the economy, not bad. When you cut government spending, that frees up resources for private businesses. So the sequester has been, in my opinion, a very positive force and it's bringing down the deficit in spending.
Moore's cheerleading of sequestration while complaining about an under-performing economy is ironic because the slowdown of the recovery has been caused in large part by the sequester, which, according to Yahoo! Finance, is "finally dinging the economy":
Forecasting firm MacroEconomic Advisers has lowered its second-quarter forecast for GDP growth from 1.8% to 1.3%. That's very weak growth that will probably hold back hiring and spending, and depress confidence. "The sequester is expected to slow growth this year, and largely accounts for the weak second-quarter growth and lackluster third-quarter growth," the firm said in a recent report.
Pullbacks in the job market seem likely during the next few months. After five straight months of improvements, small businesses surveyed by the National Federation for Independent Business curtailed hiring in May. The latest jobs report from ADP showed private-sector firms created about 30,000 fewer jobs than expected in May, with companies hiring at a pace too slow to bring down the unemployment rate. Manufacturing activity, which is directly affected by federal spending on defense contractors, has fallen below the level generally considered to be recessionary.
Tony Nash of forecasting firm IHS warned recently on CNBC that the effects of the sequester should build as the year goes on. Even the Federal Reserve mentioned the sequester in its latest "beige book" report on regional economic conditions, citing concerns about defense-industry cutbacks in the Cleveland and Richmond regions.
According to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, the sequester has impacted job growth throughout the country. CNN recently confirmed an earlier report that the sequester has slowed economic growth. Worse still, an October 2013 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that the "full brunt of the [sequester] cuts hasn't hit yet, and if we go down the sequester path for too long, we won't be able to reverse the devastating impacts."
Furthermore, repealing the sequester would stimulate the economy. According to an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), canceling sequestration would increase the United States' Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $113 billion and generate 900,000 new jobs, which the Economic Policy Institute noted, is "a number akin to 40 percent of the total number of jobs created over the last twelve months."
Moore's ignorance is not new. He previously claimed that sequestration was a "success" free of "negative consequences," a sentiment echoed throughout the right wing media. Instead of spending cuts, Moore would do well to turn his attention to job creation.
The lackluster September unemployment report highlights the need for a focus on job creation, a priority that is likely to be ignored by media.
On October 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its unemployment report for the month of September, which found that payrolls rose 148,000, edging the official unemployment rate down from 7.3 to 7.2 percent. While the report found positive gains in the labor market -- a welcome change from losses sustained after the financial crisis -- job creation fell far short of economists' expectations, which predicted 180,000 to 200,000 jobs would be created in September.
The underperforming labor market, identified in this month's report, presents an opportunity for the media to focus on job creation and economic growth.
Unfortunately, this opportunity is likely to be squandered in favor of promoting discussion on spending cuts and deficit reduction, as evidenced in past reporting.
Media's focus on deficits and debt instead of economic growth and jobs has long been criticized by economists. Previous coverage of budget negotiations show that media place overwhelming focus on the need to reduce spending, often leaving the more pressing need for economic growth largely unmentioned.
Indeed, this issue has already been raised by economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a post on The New York Times Economix blog, Bernstein expressed fears that after concluding the 16-day long government shutdown, the media will undoubtedly pivot focus to deficit and debt reduction. Bernstein explains that the debate over spending and deficit reduction will crowd out discussion on the more immediate jobs crisis:
Imagine instead that the politicians turned not to the budget deficit but to the jobs deficit, the infrastructure deficit, to poverty, wage stagnation, immobility and inequality. Along with a budget conference -- and don't get me wrong; I'm glad they're talking -- imagine there was an economic conference to make recommendations on what's really hurting the country, which I assure you is not our fiscal situation. That's taking care of itself for the short term, as is always the case after a recession (deficits go up in recessions, for obvious reasons).
I'm surely going to jump into the budget debate myself any minute now, but before I do, I wanted to point out that this is not the debate we should be having. It's the preferred debate of those who seek to shrink the role of government, to undermine social insurance, to reduce needed investments in public goods and human capital, and to protect the concentrated wealth of the top few percent.
Bernstein's fear of undue focus on debt and deficits has already been realized.
Reacting to the deal that ended the recent government shutdown, Fox News host Megyn Kelly claimed it wasn't a "win for the American people" because it didn't reduce the national debt. CNN reported that the shutdown deal shouldn't be celebrated because it "kicks the can [of budget negotiations] down the road." Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore immediately declared the preservation of sequestration cuts -- which will continue to reduce spending and deficits -- the "winner" of the shutdown, and the Journal preemptively told Republicans to stand firm on sequestration cuts in any budget deal in an October 13 editorial.
If history and early reports are any indication, media will continue their habit of promoting deficit reduction as budget negotiations take place.
Right-wing media dishonestly accused President Obama and the Justice Department of "McCarthyism," "extortion," and carrying out a "vendetta" against JPMorgan Chase (JPM) after the two parties reached an historic $13 billion settlement over the company's role in the 2008 financial crisis. The attacks characterized the settlement as politicized "medieval justice," excusing JPM's responsibility for its own alleged wrongdoing and those of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual -- two entities which played a large role in the collapse that were later acquired by JPM.
From the October 21 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ:
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The New York Times indicated that it will take steps to more accurately present numbers-based stories, a change that will ensure readers are better informed on economic issues.
In an October 18 post, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan addressed growing concerns that the outlet relies too heavily on reporting numbers-based stories in terms of raw figures. According to Sullivan:
Many readers have written to me recently, given the federal budget crisis, to make a simple request: Please advocate for news stories that put large numbers in context. If The Times does not do that, they say, it is part of the problem, and if it does do so, other news organizations are very likely to follow suit.
Sullivan explained that she met with Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt to discuss ways in which the Times can direct its reporters to provide relevant context when writing about large numbers, such as the federal budget or national debt.
The Times' decision to begin providing context for large numbers is a welcome change. According to a Media Matters' analysis of major print outlets over the first half of 2013, the paper largely failed to provide relevant context -- such as comparable numbers or addressing figures in percentage terms -- when reporting economic data. The paper failed to provide context in 67 percent of articles that mentioned economic data.*
Many economists have noted concerns over reporting very large economic numbers without relevant context, claiming that it often amounts to little more than scare tactics used to stoke fears about the size of the national debt and deficits. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has led the charge against this type of unintentionally misleading reporting, noting that the overreliance on very large raw numbers also increases the likelihood that they will be misreported. Leonhardt acknowledges that pressure to change their economic reporting came from "the left," but explains that it's not a partisan issue:
And while he noted that the recent pressure for change is "coming from the left," specifically the economist-writer Dean Baker and MoveOn.org - which now has more than 18,000 signatures on a petition -- this is not a partisan issue.
"Math has neither a conservative nor a liberal bias," Mr. Leonhardt said.
Leonhardt explained that it is difficult for readers to conceptualize large numbers such as the the dollar amount of the national debt. Additionally, Leonhardt admitted that even he confused the distinction between millions and billions of dollars when reporting a large figure on the front page of the paper.
The Times' move away from relying on raw numbers could go a long way in educating the public about economic issues. Polls consistently show that voters are generally unaware of the size and scope of federal programs, perhaps in part because news outlets rarely put the numbers in context.
According to Sullivan and Leonhardt, directives may take the form of new stylebook guidelines or staff-wide emails, and will be "determined within a couple of months."
*updated for clarity
From the October 18 edition of Fox News' The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson:
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Fox News has downright ignored the billions lost in productivity as a result of the government shutdown, which stands in stark contrast to the network's years-long attack on minimal waste and abuse in food assistance programs.
On October 16, the financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's released its estimate of the economic cost of the 16-day long shutdown of the federal government, concluding that it cost the American economy $24 billion in lost productivity. The agency also cut its forecast for economic growth in the upcoming fiscal quarter by at least 0.6 percentage points.
Since the shutdown was lifted on October 16, Fox News personalities have expended considerable effort downplaying the effect the shutdown had on the economy.
On October 16, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs cited a slight uptick on the Dow Jones industrial average throughout the shutdown as evidence that the nationwide closure of federal lands and agencies had a negligible economic effect. Fox Business' Melissa Francis made a similar argument, claiming that the shutdown had shown Americans they could live with "a lot smaller government." On the October 17 edition of The Five, Fox News host Eric Bolling questioned the validity of S&P, and other agencies, that report economic losses from the shutdown, baselessly suggesting that their reports are influenced by political factors.
Fox's continued denial of the ruinous economic effect of the government shutdown reveals the network's hypocritical and overzealous reporting on waste and abuse in federal anti-poverty programs.
In August, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), updated its figures for "trafficking," or when SNAP recipients sell their benefits for cash, in the program. Its data reveal a slight increase in trafficking rates from 1.0 percent in 2006-2008 to 1.3 percent in 2009-2011. The total value of trafficked benefits during the last three year period is estimated to be $858 million annually.
Rather than acknowledging that SNAP trafficking rates were still near historic lows, Fox misleadingly highlighted what it called a "30 percent" increase in abuse. Days previously, Fox dedicated another segment to attacking food assistance that included host Eric Bolling overestimating SNAP fraud and abuse rates by 5,000 percent.
The amount of yearly trafficking abuse in SNAP amounts to less than four percent of the wasted economic output caused by the government shutdown. In other words, the cost of the 16-day shutdown is nearly 28 times larger than a full year of food assistance abuse. While Fox has repeatedly claimed that waste in SNAP cannot be tolerated, the network has yet to acknowledge that waste from the shutdown even exists.
Of course, this should come as no surprise given the network's efforts to encourage the shutdown and resulting economic fallout. Fox News played a prominent role in encouraging and facilitating a partial government shutdown that cost the economy billions of dollars in lost productivity while producing zero policy gains for the Republican Party or its right-wing media champions. Fox has tried repeatedly to find scapegoats in the administration to shift blame away from allies in the House GOP caucus.
According to the USDA, "fluctuations in the number of SNAP participants in the last 16 years have broadly tracked major economic indicators." With the Republican-led shutdown effectively draining tens of billions of dollars out of the economy, SNAP registries are likely to increase in the near-term as the shutdown and lingering fiscal austerity drag down recovery.
If that happens, recipients of federal anti-poverty assistance can expect a resurgence of Fox attacks.
Fox News offered the Republican Party advice on how they might recover from the GOP-led government shutdown that damaged the images of both Republicans and the tea party and caused at least $24 billion in economic harm.
Late in the evening of October 16, the federal government reopened after a 16-day shutdown, which began after Republicans in Congress refused to pass any bill to fund the government if it included funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Republican tea party members of Congress like Sen. Ted Cruz led the shutdown effort, which according to The New York Times was conceived by conservative activists months in advance. After two weeks, Standard and Poor's estimated the shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion, and the company reduced its forecast for economic growth as a result. And this cost is still climbing.
Following the shutdown, Republican party approval ratings plummeted to all-time lows, while the percentage of Americans with an unfavorable opinion of the tea party is at an all-time high. According to NBC News, 53 percent of Americans blame the GOP for the shutdown, versus 31 percent who blame the president -- a 22-point spread. Those numbers have led some political analysts to predict the GOP may lose its House majority in the upcoming mid-term elections.
Fox News responded by launching into damage-control mode. On the October 17 edition of The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, Carlson and Fox contributor Rich Lowry attempted to advise the GOP on ways it could "get its mojo back" after the shutdown debacle.
Ironically, Fox is attempting to clean up a mess they helped create -- the network was instrumental in the creation of the tea party, and its own pundits cheered on the shutdown-strategy both before and after its implementation.
Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano falsely claimed that Congress' decision to raise the debt limit means that President Obama can now "spend as he wishes," even though the debt limit only affects the government's ability to meet past financial obligations, and government spending has always been checked by congressional allocations.
A day after Congress agreed to a deal that would end 16 days of government shutdown and avert the financial crisis that would have resulted from a failure to raise the debt limit, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy asked Napolitano to comment on whether the decision to raise the debt ceiling was "a deal or raw deal." In response, Napolitano summarized: "because the Democrats bullied the Republicans last night, they have the ability to borrow more money and the president can spend as he wishes for another 90 days." Meanwhile, an on-air graphic framed the congressional deal as a "borrowing binge."
But Napolitano misrepresented the way that government spending functions. As the Government Accountability Office has previously noted, the debt ceiling places a "limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred." Raising the debt ceiling would only allow the government to meet "existing legal obligations," which, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has pointed out, does not authorize new spending.
Furthermore, Napolitano's claim that reopening the government would allow Obama to "spend as he wishes" is a common right-wing myth that has been repeatedly debunked. As PolitiFact noted, "[o]nly Congress can appropriate money. Obama can only spend what he's given." The "Power of the Purse" is a congressional responsibility that places restrictions on the executive branch's ability to spend.
The idea that a debt ceiling deal amounts to a "blank check" is a right-wing talking point frequently parroted by the media. Indeed, Fox has previously suggested that a debt ceiling increase would allow the president to take over Congress' power to dictate spending.