Coverage of the economy on weeknight television news shows during the last six months of 2014 continued to focus heavily on policies meant to boost job creation and economic growth, but discussions overwhelmingly lacked input from actual economists. Additionally, a Media Matters analysis uncovered a relative decline in the number of segments promoting the conservative media myths that Obamacare and increasing the minimum wage hurt the labor market.
From the January 20 edition of CNN's CNN Tonight:
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Fox News misleadingly asked whether President Obama's new tax initiative which proposes to cut taxes on the middle class was "raising your taxes?" In reality, Obama's plan lowers middle class taxes and is funded by closing tax loopholes and increasing capital gain taxes on the top one percent of earners.
Misinformer of the Year George Will reversed the timeline of events surrounding President Obama's threat to veto a bill forcing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and distorted a quote from Obama about the number of jobs Keystone XL would create.
In his January 15 syndicated column, Will wrote, "[T]here no longer is any reason to think [Obama] has ever reasoned about [Keystone XL]. He said he would not make up his mind until the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled. It ruled to permit construction, so he promptly vowed to veto authorization of construction." However, Will's version of events is backward.Obama announced on January 7 that he would veto H.R. 3, the House of Representatives bill that would force theapproval of Keystone XL. That was two days before the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on January 9 that a group of landowners did not have standing to challenge the state over a law that approved the pipeline's route through the state.
Moreover, Obama emphasized in his announcement that he would veto the bill not just because of ongoing litigation in Nebraska, but also because the bill "seeks to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether cross-border pipelines serve the national interest." When asked about the Nebraska court decision on January 9, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz similarly stated that the Obama administration's "position hasn't changed" and that Obama would still veto the bill and then wait for the State Department review process to play out before he "makes any decisions" regarding Keystone XL.
Will also mischaracterized a quote from Obama to falsely suggest the president had touted job numbers for the pipeline that were at odds with the State Department's own estimates. Will claimed: "[Obama] said it would create 'a couple thousand' jobs (the State Department study says approximately 42,100 'direct, indirect, and induced')." However, the full quote shows Obama said that "the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs" (emphasis added). Obama's figure is entirely consistent with the State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which said:
During construction, proposed Project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs (direct, indirect, and induced), and approximately $2 billion in earnings throughout the United States. Of these jobs, approximately 3,900 would be direct construction jobs in the proposed Project area in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas (3,900 over 1 year of construction, or 1,950 per year if construction took 2 years).
Finally, Will turned to mocking the environmental concerns of pipeline opponents: "To oppose the pipeline is to favor more oil being transported by trains, which have significant carbon footprints, and accidents. To do this in the name of environmental fastidiousness is hilarious." However, there is no shortage of studies that back up environmentalists' concerns and contradict Will's claim that the tar sands oil that would flow through Keystone XL will simply be "transported by trains" if the pipeline is not built. In fact, even the State Department report, which considered it unlikely that building Keystone XL would significantly affect the production of carbon-intensive Canadian tar sands oil, noted that the pipeline could do so if oil prices fell below $75 a barrel -- which is exactly what has happened since the report came out.
Environmentalists view stopping Keystone XL as a critical part of addressing climate change, and Will has a long record of denying that climate change is a real, manmade problem with drastic consequences.
Congressional Republicans are borrowing from years of right-wing media attacks on federal disability benefits to justify their recent attempt to snarl funding for Social Security programs.
On January 6, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a change to legislative rules that restricts the historically routine transfer of tax money from the Social Security retirement fund to the Social Security disability program. Such transfers have helped keep both Social Security programs solvent. In practice, the rule change makes these reallocations nearly impossible by requiring that they be "accompanied by 'benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of both funds.' " As the Los Angeles Times' Michael Hiltzik explained, because the disability fund is on track to "run dry as early as next year," this could mean "disability benefits for 11 million beneficiaries would have to be cut 20%."
In a January 6 statement justifying the rule change, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) called the disability program "fraud-plagued." And during a January 14 event in New Hampshire on the long-term future of safety-net programs, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) claimed many who receive disability benefits are "gaming the system" and downplayed disabilities, saying, "over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club."
From the January 13 edition of Premiere Radio Network's The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Media outlets have uncritically promoted House Speaker John Boehner's latest attempt to frame the Republican Congress' harmful agenda as a set of "jobs bills." But the Republican plan offers negligible hiring incentives, will cost over a million workers their health care coverage, and will increase the budget deficit by billions.
Fox News co-host Eric Bolling claimed unequivocally that minimum wage increases "cost jobs, period," citing the story of a Michigan restaurant that closed after the state increased its minimum wage in September. In fact, the unemployment rate in Michigan has decreased since the wage increase took effect.
On the January 5 edition of The Five, Bolling criticized minimum wage increases that took effect in states across the U.S. on January 1. Bolling highlighted the case of a Michigan restaurant that closed after the state raised the minimum wage as evidence for his claim that "minimum wage rate hikes do cost jobs, period."
But Michigan's unemployment rate has fallen after the state increased the minimum wage. Starting on September 1, 2014, Michigan's minimum wage rose from $7.40 an hour to $8.15 an hour. In the months following the wage increase, the unemployment rate fell from 7.2 percent in September to 6.7 percent in November, the lowest since April 2006.
Conservative media outlets amplified a misleading study from the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, which claimed that "all net employment growth has gone to immigrants" between November 2007 and November 2014. But data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that job growth among the native-born has far outpaced job growth among immigrants during the economic recovery.
The Wall Street Journal is attacking the equal employment provision of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, claiming that this historic civil rights law's protection is unnecessary since "market forces" will ultimately reduce such workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.
On December 3, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Young v. UPS, a pregnancy discrimination case where former UPS driver Peggy Young alleges that her employer failed to treat her equally during her pregnancy. Even though UPS had previously accommodated other drivers who were unable to perform the specific duties required for their jobs, the company refused to reassign Young after her doctor told her she should avoid lifting more than 20 pounds. Because of this unequal treatment, Young is arguing that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, whose statutory text clearly guarantees pregnant workers the right to be "treated the same for all employment-related purposes" as other workers "similar in their ability or inability to work."
The Journal isn't convinced that Young has been discriminated against, however, or if she was, whether she deserved the protection of civil rights law. In a December 2 editorial, the Journal admitted that UPS had "acted like dunderheads" when they refused to accommodate Young's pregnancy and argued that "[s]ympathetic plaintiffs make good headlines, but they often make bad law." The Journal rejected Young's sex discrimination claim, suggesting that UPS's "pregnancy-neutral policies" were sufficient and that Young was asking for "a special accommodation" that her employer shouldn't have to provide.
The editorial went on to criticize Young's decision to sue, suggesting that she should have skipped the lawsuit and let "market forces" correct UPS' "dumb corporate behavior":
Typically, discrimination claims are brought either by showing disparate treatment of an individual or disparate impact on a group based on statistical evidence. Ms. Young took neither path. Her argument is that UPS is liable because it failed to extend a special accommodation beyond the neutral policies that otherwise cover workplace disability.
The effect would expand the boundaries of discrimination law and ramp up penalties for businesses. If Ms. Young's theory succeeds, Title VII would have a third category of discrimination for which employers could be accused of discrimination even if their policies were neutral.
In the real world, most employers aren't in the habit of picking fights with their pregnant employees to make their lives miserable. UPS had accommodated Ms. Young during previous pregnancy-related requests, including rounds of in vitro fertilization. We agree with Ms. Young that UPS managers acted like dunderheads when they sent a longtime employee on unpaid leave, but not being nice enough is not the same as discrimination under the law.
The answer to dumb corporate behavior is market forces, not more legislating through regulation or the courts. UPS has since changed its policy and other companies have been put on notice. We hope the Justices will resist creating a long-term problem to fix a temporary condition.
A Chicago Tribune editorial claimed the city council's decision to increase Chicago's minimum wage to $13 by 2019 would drive business to the suburbs where labor is cheaper. Yet, research shows that city-wide minimum wage increases have little to no impact on the movement of the labor force within a state and that wage increase can benefit local businesses.
ABC's World News Tonight pushed the myth that building the Keystone XL pipeline could create up to 40,000 jobs. In fact, the pipeline is expected to create as few as 50 permanent jobs.
During a November 18 report on the failed Senate vote to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, World News Tonight anchor David Muir stated that "many argued it could have created thousands of American jobs." ABC White House correspondent Jonathan Karl added that "the jobs estimates range from 4,000 to 40,000 jobs. Proponents say it not only creates jobs, but it could lead to energy independence."
But PolitiFact has classified similar claims that the construction of the pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs to be "mostly false," because a vast majority of the jobs would be temporary, and it "does not amount to tens of thousands of full-time jobs in the most common sense of employment." According to PolitiFact, "the State Department estimates the operation of the pipeline will only create 35 permanent, full-time jobs and 15 temporary contractors" once construction is complete.
The pipeline would also do little for "energy independence." Much of the oil that would be carried by the pipeline is slated for export, and U.S. imports of oil would be minimally affected by the supply that would flow through the pipeline.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough peddled the myth that building the Keystone XL pipeline would "create 50,000 new jobs," even though independent fact checkers have called that figure false. The pipeline is projected to create as few as 50 permanent jobs.
The House of Representatives passed a bill to fast-track approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for the ninth time on Friday. A parallel measure will be considered in the Senate on Tuesday. The administration has indicated that it plans to delay approval of the pipeline while a legal challenge to the proposed route proceeds and suggested that President Obama would veto the effort to accelerate the process.
Scarborough questioned any decision to delay the pipeline on the November 17 edition of Morning Joe and wrongly claimed that the project would "create 50,000 new jobs."
The implication that building the pipeline would create 50,000 jobs that don't currently exist is not true. As PolitiFact noted in calling similar job creation estimates false, many of the jobs that would be supported by the pipeline already exist, and the majority of the construction jobs that would be supported are short term.
"A State Department review found the project could support -- not create -- 42,100 jobs. But that number needs considerable explanation and does not amount to tens of thousands of full-time jobs in the most common sense of employment," PolitiFact noted. "The figure represents the project's estimated direct, indirect and induced jobs over two years of construction, and all but 50 are temporary."
Right-wing media resurrected the myth that increased immigration hurts American workers in response to President Obama's plans for executive action on immigration. In fact, studies consistently find that immigration does not lead to higher unemployment or lower American wages and that it actually helps the economy.
Fox News revived a long debunked myth to inflate the number of long-term, sustainable jobs that would be created by the Keystone XL pipeline.