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Fox’s Stuart Varney Continues Promoting Minimum Wage Myths
Fox Business dedicated multiple segments this morning to criticizing low-wage workers taking part in living wage demonstrations around the country. The segments almost exclusively featured minimum wage opponents, and continued Fox’s heavy reliance on restaurant executives who peddle misinformation about the supposed negative consequences of paying employees minimum wages of $15 per hour.
On the April 14th edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney repeatedly assailed low-wage restaurant, homecare, and university workers who are taking part in nationwide demonstrations organized by the Fight for $15. Over the course of six segments, Varney was joined by numerous guests who attacked the protesters for demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage, and pushed frequently debunked myths that increased wages would destroy jobs and hurt business. On two occasions, Varney allowed restaurant executives -- White Castle vice president Jamie Richardson and Bennigan’s CEO Paul Mangiamele -- to claim that increased wages would actually hurt workers:
Fox has repeatedly pushed myths that businesses are opposed to raising the minimum wage while spreading debunked claims that raising the minimum wage leads to job losses. Varney is a serial misinformer on the minimum wage, and his decision to elevate anti-living wage talking points from industry executives fits a long-standing trend at his sister network.
Contrary to Fox Business' claims that minimum wage workers will move up to better jobs quickly, a July 2013 study from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found entry-level workers are “going nowhere fast” because low-wage restaurants offered little room for promotion -- and an April 2016 report from NELP happens to credit the Fight for $15 with successfully raising wages for 17 million American workers since 2012. Contrary to claims that business owners oppose raising the minimum wage, The Washington Post reported on April 4 that a leaked poll from Republican pollster Frank Luntz found "80 percent of respondents [business executives] said they supported raising their state's minimum wage." Economists have repeatedly debunked the claim that raising the minimum wage would kill jobs, and researchers at Cornell University argued that since minimum wage increase have "not had large or reliable effects" on restaurant and hospitality industry employment, minimum wage opponents would be better off embracing “reasonable” increases.
In their coverage of the gender pay gap during the week leading up to Equal Pay Day, print versions of three major newspapers largely failed to note that wage disparities are particularly acute for women of color and transgender women. Only one-third of the coverage pointed out that the pay gap is larger for women of color, and the coverage omitted any discussion of the pay gap faced by LGBT women.
Equal Pay Day, which fell this year on April 12, marks how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned the previous year. Studies show that women make significantly less money than men over their lifetimes -- on average, a woman in the United States in 2014 made 79 cents for every dollar a man made -- but the gap can increase when other variables are factored in. Research from the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress demonstrates that disparities are larger for women of color. On average, African-American women earn 60 percent as much as their white male counterparts, and Latinas earn just 55 percent of what white men earn. A recent report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that location, age, and education level all factor into pay disparity, and that at every level of academic achievement, women earn less than men.
Media Matters analyzed pay gap coverage during the week prior to Equal Pay Day in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, and found that the Post and the Journal each published two articles in print about the gender pay gap, and in each paper only once mentioned race and ethnicity as a factor in pay disparities. The Times, which also printed two articles about the pay gap, failed to mention race at all. The impact of the wage gap on LGBT women was not addressed at all in the analyzed coverage.
LGBT women are invisible in coverage of the wage gap, despite the specific impact pay disparity has on them. Experts say that LGBT people -- specifically transgender women -- are more likely to be discriminated against in the workforce and, according to Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, policy advisor for the National Center for Transgender Equality, the issues surrounding wage disparity "are heightened for transgender people."
Media Matters analyzed pay disparity-related coverage from April 5 to April 12 -- the week leading up to and including Equal Pay Day -- on the print editions of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post using the following search terms on Nexis and Factiva: "equal pay," "wage gap," "gender pay gap," "pay discrimination," "Latinas," "Hispanic," "Black," "women of color," "LGBT," "GLBT," "LGBTQ," "trans," "transgender," "gay," "lesbian," and "queer." Articles with incidental mentions of the wage gap or of pay discrimination outside of the United States were excluded.
On Equal Pay Day, Fox News devoted less than one minute of airtime to cover President Obama’s speech at the newly-designated Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in Washington D.C., while MSNBC and CNN aired the speech nearly in its entirety.
Obama spoke at the designation of the monument seeking to “honor the movement for women’s equality,” which coincided with the 20th anniversary of Equal Pay Day -- the day when the average woman's pay catches up with the average man's from the previous year. According to an April 2016 report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), working women in the United States earned “just 79 percent of what men were paid” in 2014, with disparities far worse for women of color. President Obama’s speech was covered for over 10 minutes on MSNBC and CNN, nearly the entire duration of the speech. In contrast, Fox briefly noted that the speech was occurring, but never cut away to hear Obama’s remarks, which lasted almost 12 minutes. The guest host of Fox News’ Happening Now, Heather Childers, described the monument and Equal Pay Day but instead of cutting to the speech, simply noted, “We wanted to let you know it was going on”:
HEATHER CHILDERS: We do have a Fox News alert for you, we are going to take you live to Washington D.C., that’s where President Obama is delivering remarks at the newly designated Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument there in D.C. Of course, it is dedicated to women's equality. It's a house and a museum. It includes a collection of different artifacts, suffrage banners, archives, all related to voting rights for women and equality for women. And this is coming as a matter of fact on Equal Pay Day, a day meant to symbolize how much more a woman has to work on average to earn what a man earned in the previous year, so that's going on in Washington, D.C. for you, right now. We wanted to let you know it was going on.
This poor coverage of the gender pay gap is not new to the network that has continually dismissed the issue as “an absolute myth,” blamed womens' choices for their lack of pay equity, and targeted celebrities and athletes who spoke out about wage disparities in their industries.
Right-Wing Media Still Refuse To Acknowledge The Gender Pay Gap
Equal Pay Day “symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year,” according to the National Committee on Pay Equity. Despite efforts toward equitable pay in the United States over the past several decades, American women still face a considerable gap in pay when compared to their male counterparts. Rather than acknowledging the overwhelming evidence that American women are still paid less than men for the same work, conservative media have promoted myths and misinformation that obscure the truth about pay disparities.
Guest host Charles Payne joined other panelists on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. in criticizing comments by billionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn that no one likes coming into contact with low-income Americans -- especially other low-income Americans. Payne, who nevertheless called Wynn one of his “heroes,” has a history of poor-shaming on Fox that fits right in with Wynn’s remark.
Fox News’ misinformation campaign against the minimum wage has shifted into high gear following the passage of statewide increases in California and New York. The network is now hyping worries from senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano that a $15 minimum wage is a subversive attempt to “bribe the poor for votes,” which will result in dramatic price increases and job losses while driving more low-wage workers onto public assistance programs.
In an April 6 op-ed published by the right-wing Washington Times, Napolitano suggested that politicians are raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour “to win the votes of those they promised to help” while claiming that increased wages would have drastic negative economic consequences. On the April 7 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Napolitano claimed that raising the minimum wage would result in price increases that put necessities beyond the reach of low-wage workers, destroy jobs, and expand reliance on public assistance. Later that morning, Napolitano appeared on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. and claimed that “poor people will lose their jobs because they simply are not worth” a $15 wage. From Fox & Friends:
Counter to Napolitano’s claim that raising the minimum wage would lead to dramatic price increases, researchers at Purdue University concluded in a July 2015 report that increasing the minimum wage of fast-food workers to $15 per hour would result in only a 4.3 percent increase in restaurant prices. According to The Economist’s Big Mac Index, a 4.3 percent increase in the cost of a Big Mac in the United States would be roughly 22 cents. Researchers at Cornell University found that raising the regular and tipped minimum wages for workers in the restaurant and hospitality industries has "not had large or reliable effects" on the number of people working in the industry and price increases have not been large enough to “dramatically affect overall demand." Right-wing media have a long history of claiming that minimum wages destroy jobs and inflate prices, but the overwhelming majority of economic research shows no such relationship.
Napolitano’s poor-shaming stance on the supposedly lesser value of low-skilled and low-income workers mirrors similar comments from Fox Business host Charles Payne, who on multiple occasions has slammed minimum wage increases as rewarding and encouraging "mediocrity." In fact, according to ThinkProgress, a $15-per-hour minimum wage would not even be a living wage in many states, including California or New York -- workers today already need to make closer to $22 per hour. Furthermore, according to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), minimum wage workers have been undervalued for decades; if the federal minimum wage had kept up with increasing worker productivity since the 1970s, it would have reached $21.72 per hour by 2012.
Napolitano falsely claimed that increasing the minimum wage would drive more low-income Americans into poverty by destroying opportunities for employment, and that it would result in an increased reliance on public assistance programs. On the contrary, according to research by the Center for American Progress (CAP) on an abandoned 2014 proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour by July 2016, the wage increase could have decreased reliance on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as “food stamps,” by $4.6 billion annually. In February 2014, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that a $10.10 federal minimum wage would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty while injecting billions of dollars into the consumer economy. A December 2013 study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) similarly found that the modest wage increase would have directly or indirectly lifted wages for nearly 30 million American workers. Conservative media personalities like Napolitano frequently bemoan the supposed ill effects of raising the minimum wage, completely ignoring the heavy public cost that historically low minimum wages across the country already carry. An October 2013 report by the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center found that low wages in the fast-food industry alone cost taxpayers $7 billion annually by increasing the strain on public assistance.
Napolitano’s claim that minimum wage increases are a political tool meant to curry favor and “bribe the poor for votes” is a common right-wing media theme. Fox News personalities, often led by Fox Business host Stuart Varney, frequently claim that Democrats support policies aimed at alleviating poverty only as a means of “buying votes.” For years, Fox has claimed that the Lifeline program -- a Reagan-era telecommunications subsidy for low-income families -- was a Democratic plot to “bribe” and “enslave” American voters. In fact, tens of millions of Americans across the political spectrum rely on these vital programs, and Republican politicians are actually more likely than their Democratic counterparts to represent constituents who use food stamps -- a program that low-income families would be less reliant on if minimum wages were increased.
Jason Riley Pushes Myth That Most Who Make Minimum Wage Are Young Or Retired
Right-wing media have responded to the news that California and New York plan to phase in a $15-per-hour minimum wage by peddling myths that raising the wage will hurt the poor and cost jobs. Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley added to the misinformation campaign by claiming in an op-ed that raising wages would hurt young and entry-level workers, and that minimum-wage workers do not need a raise because most are not poor.
Fox News' Special Report criticized a plan to put affordable housing in affluent neighborhoods arguing that "a lot of people" in Baltimore "are not too happy about the plan," while ignoring the benefits of the program.
On the April 4 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, correspondent Leland Vittert detailed a plan in Baltimore County, Maryland that would "spend $30 million over the next ten years to build 1,000 homes in more affluent neighborhoods." Vittert started the segment discussing the crime rates that have "skyrocketed" in "the rougher parts of Baltimore," adding that it is "no surprise, the folks who live" in low-income parts of Baltimore "want out of the poverty." Vittert interviewed Maryland state delegate Pat McDonough who claimed the idea is "social engineering on steroids":
The plan stemmed from a case where the City of Baltimore had been accused of "perpetuating segregated clusters of minority renters with government subsidies by failing to expand affordable options in prosperous neighborhoods." While the segment focused on those who were "not too happy" about the plan, it ignored the benefits to the community. As Doug Donovan reported for The Baltimore Sun:
The agreement resolves a federal housing complaint filed in 2011 by the local NAACP branch, Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. and three county residents. They accused the county of perpetuating segregated clusters of minority renters with government subsidies by failing to expand affordable options in prosperous neighborhoods.
The complainants alleged that the county had maintained policies that kept low-income and minority residents out of the best neighborhoods by spending most of its federal housing money on housing for the elderly occupied primarily by whites, demolishing and failing to replace 4,100 subsidized housing units for families since 1995, and locating Section 8 voucher holders in poor and segregated neighborhoods.
Housing organizations are hopeful that the work will help to provide more families access to better schools for their children. Research shows that can improve their chances of escaping poverty.
"What we have today is justice in housing in Baltimore County," said Robert Strupp, executive director of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc.
"The lives of residents in the housing development improved markedly after they moved to the affluent suburb," according to The Atlantic which found that "location matters" when determining whether a child will escape poverty:
What's more, the lives of residents in the housing development improved markedly after they moved to the affluent suburb. An increasing amount of data seems to show that location matters just as much as income in determining a child's likelihood of escaping poverty. As I've written about before, children from low-income families who move to more affluent suburbs are more likely to graduate from high school, attend four-year colleges, and have jobs than their peers who stayed in the city. And cities that have made an effort to keep schools desegregated have enjoyed less race-based strife than peer cities.
Fox News has also criticized the broader federal plan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that aims to increase diversity in American neighborhoods, with some anchors saying the president's plan is strong-arming communities that are "too white [and] too privileged."
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On March 28, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) announced a legislative compromise to raise the California minimum wage gradually from $10 per hour in 2016 to $15 per hour by 2022. Right-wing media have attacked the historic wage increase, claiming it will kill jobs and that it "goes against every law of capitalism." Meanwhile, mainstream media have promoted misinformation about the minimum wage peddled by restaurant industry front groups.
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Media Outlets That Attack Homeless Offer No Solutions Beyond Making Them Disappear
Just hours after the New York Post dedicated its front page to shaming a homeless woman living in New York City's Hell's Kitchen area, police and other city workers arrived to throw away a significant amount of her worldly possessions. The incident, which was caught on video, provides a glimpse of the devastating real-world consequences of the right-wing media's attacks on the homeless and of their larger poor-shaming campaign.
In a March 9 article titled "She runs this town," the New York Post disparaged a homeless New York City resident named Sonia Gonzalez for the collection of belongings that she keeps with her on the street. The article featured comments from passersby complaining that Gonzalez's belongings obstruct pedestrian traffic and included an ominous quote attributed to a construction worker who said that her presence in the area threatened to set the up-and-coming neighborhood back to "what [it] was 20 years ago." As has been the case several times in the past, the Post amplified its poor-shaming article with a full front-page spread:
As a March 10 post from Gawker pointed out, police and other city workers arrived in Hell's Kitchen to forcibly dispose of the vast majority of Gonzalez's possessions just hours after the paper hit newsstands. The New York Post was on the scene to film the incident, which it published online in a blog titled "Homeless hoarder's junk train gets tossed."
The New York Post has a long-running devotion to humiliating New York City's homeless population. Last summer, the paper dedicated its July 11 front page to demeaning a homeless man for urinating in public and then excoriated the police for releasing him after his arrest the next day. In September, the paper's front page proclaimed, "We need tough love" to solve homelessness in the city, while promoting former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani's proposal to arrest homeless people as a way of keeping them off the street. Last November, the paper hyped what it called a "vagrant fix" on its front page by encouraging New York residents to stop giving money to the homeless. A day later, the paper drove the point home by promoting claims that homeless people can make up to "$200 an hour" from charitable pedestrians.
The Post's humiliation of the homeless does not occur in a vacuum. Last summer, the paper's attacks were part of a right-wing media echo chamber that included multiple dehumanizing segments on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and a fraught segment on MSNBC's Morning Joe, where the co-hosts and guests worried that "the squeegees are coming" to neighborhoods like the Upper West Side. In September, after months of right-wing outlets complaining about the presence of homeless people on the streets, Fox News dedicated multiple segments to disparaging a program in Washington, D.C., that actually kept homeless families in affordable housing.
Too often, right-wing media's preferred solution to homelessness is to simply make the homeless disappear -- whether by locking them up, or destroying their belongings -- even when doing so would be a blatant violation of their constitutional rights.
H/T to Gawker for initially highlighting the New York Post cover story
Fox Continues Smear Campaign Against "Obamaphone" Program
Fox Business host Stuart Varney continued Fox News' smear campaign against the Reagan-era affordable telephone service program for low-income Americans known as Lifeline, which conservatives derisively refer to as "Obamaphones," with a segment attacking a proposed expansion to allow the subsidy to be used toward the purchase of mobile data or broadband Internet.
On the March 10 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Stuart Varney and conservative journalist Jillian Melchior derided the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) proposal to expand the use of the Lifeline telecommunications subsidy for low-income households to include mobile data and broadband Internet. Varney lambasted the program as "ridiculous," while Melchior referred to the proposed subsidy providing qualifying families with access to the Internet as "insane." Melchior also described Lifeline as "one of the worst programs" in the government.
Contrary to Fox's extreme rhetoric, expanding the $9.25-per-month Lifeline subsidy to include its use for the purchase of broadband for low-income Americans is an important step toward alleviating poverty. According to a May 28 report from The New York Times, when the Lifeline program expansion was first floated, the proposed change would have represented the "strongest recognition yet" from the FCC "that high-speed Internet access is as essential to economic well-being as good transportation and telephone service." Citing research from Pew, The Times highlighted how low-income and minority communities lag far behind the rest of the country in broadband access.
In an exclusive March 9 interview with The Verge, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler mentioned the importance of giving low-income families "access to 21st century networks" by expanding Lifeline. Wheeler also argued in a March 8 blog post with FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn that "Internet access has become a pre-requisite for full participation in our economy and our society." On March 1, 17 public interest groups joined six broadband providers by signing a joint letter of support urging the FCC to go ahead with the expansion, stating that providing Internet access to needy families will help increase access to job training, employment opportunities, and education services. On February 29, Education Week reported on how the expansion could positively affect education by reducing the so-called "homework gap" faced by children in low-income households. According to Education Week, "70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires Internet access" but almost 5 million low-income households with children lack reliable, high-speed connections at home, which creates an additional obstacle for millions of "already disadvantaged students."
Fox News and its right-wing media allies have a long history of shaming the poor by complaining that vital anti-poverty programs are actually "trapping people" in poverty and hyping isolated instances of fraud or abuse to disparage successful anti-poverty programs. The mythical "Obamaphone" program has become one of Fox's favorite targets. In 2012, the network promoted a video of an Obama supporter praising her so-called "Obamaphone" as proof that Democrats "bribe people" to vote for them. Fox's misleading portrayals of the poor and of so-called "Obamaphones" even garnered a mocking response from President Obama during a May 12 summit on poverty. The president's biting criticism didn't stop Fox from returning to its "Obamaphone" myth-making just weeks later, when Fox Business host Charles Payne used a May 29 appearance on Fox & Friends to attack the very same Lifeline expansion proposal that Varney and Melchior attacked again today.
See the full segment from Varney & Co. below:
STUART VARNEY (HOST): Do you remember the Obamaphone program? Cell phones for the poor, subsidized by you from a tax on your phone bill? Remember that? Still around. Now we hear that program could expand to Internet service. Joining us now, Heat Street political editor Jillian Melchior. Jillian, welcome back.
JILLIAN MELCHIOR: Thank you.
MELCHIOR: It's insane.
VARNEY: I mean, it was insane. Free phones were ridiculous, now free Internet?
MELCHIOR: Yes, the FCC wants to expand this program. They are probably going to get their way when the vote comes down on March 31. They want to expand it to include Wi-Fi, and already the GOP commissioners are saying that this is insanity, that this is a program riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse. And we're not going to cut it back, we're going to grow it.
MELCHIOR: FCC wants to grow the program budget to $2.25 billion a year, that's up from $1.5 billion. Saying they think --
VARNEY: Wait a second, $1.5 billion to $2.25 billion?
MELCHIOR: $2.25 billion. Yes, and they want to sign up as many as 5 million totally new beneficiaries for this. So this is growing a program, and it's one of the worst programs in government
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board lambasted Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for supporting increasing restrictions and regulations on hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking," during CNN's March 6 debate in Flint, MI. The Journal has long claimed that the fracking industry boom functions as an "antipoverty program," ignoring the considerable health risks that the extraction process poses to workers and to the typically low-income communities where many extraction facilities are located.