A History Of Dishonest Fox Charts

››› ››› DAVID SHERE & HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

Fox News was forced to address yet another dishonest chart last week, which it aired to paint a misleading picture of President Obama's handling of the economy. Fox has a habit of displaying error-laden and deceptive graphics to reinforce conservative attacks on the Obama administration.

Spurious Fox Graphic Accused Obama Of Exploding Government Spending 

Fox Graphic Claimed Government Spending Increased From 3.2 Percent Under Bush To An Average Of 23.8 Percent Under Obama. In a graphic labeled "Growth of Government Spending (As A Share Of GDP)," Fox & Friends suggested that government spending increased from 3.2 percent of the economy at the end of the Bush administration to an average of 23.8 percent under Obama.

governmentspending

[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/26/12, via Media Matters]

In Fact, Graphic Compared Two Completely Different Measures Of Government Spending. The figure for "government spending" during the Obama administration is in line with historical data for overall spending as a percentage of the economy, a figure that does not take into account federal revenue. By contrast, the 3.2 percent figure used to illustrate "government spending" under Bush and the figures for the 1940s are in line with historical data for deficits, which do take into account revenues. [Media Matters, 9/26/12

Government Spending Under Obama Increased Only Slightly Since 2008 And Dropped Since 2009. The actual figures for government spending ("outlays") as a percentage of the economy would indicate that the number has increased only slightly since 2008 and actually dropped since 2009. They were 20.8 percent in 2008 but 25.2 percent in 2009. In 2010 and 2011, they dropped to 24.1 percent and are expected to be 24.3 in 2012 and 23.3 percent in 2013. 

omb

[Media Matters, 9/26/12

A Few Days Later, Fox & Friends Admitted: "We Mixed Up The Numbers." On September 28, Fox & Friends addressed the dishonest chart. Guest co-host Eric Bolling stated: "We mixed up the numbers on Wednesday, so we wanted to clear things up." But Bolling did not explain how Fox made such an error or note that government spending as a percentage of the economy has actually increased only slightly since 2008. [Media Matters, 9/26/12]

Fox Routinely Misleads Viewers By Airing Inaccurate Graphics

EDITION: GAS PRICES 

Fox Chart Showed Gas Prices Were Consistently Rising. On February 20, Fox News displayed a graphic that used three random data points to purportedly show the national average cost of gasoline over a year: One was the national average gas price from the day the graphic aired, the other two were chosen from the previous week and the previous year. From Fox News' America's Newsroom:

gasprices

[Fox News, America's Newsroom, 2/20/12, via Media Matters

In Reality, Fox Cherry Picked Data To Hide Fact That Fluctuating Gas Prices Had Fallen From High Points. An accurate representation of gas prices over the 12-month period starting in February 2011 showed that gas prices in February 2012 -- the highest point on Fox's graphic -- were actually down from their high in April-May of 2011. From AAA:

aaa

[AAA, 2/21/12, via Media Matters

EDITION: TAXES 

Fox Chart Showed That Wealthy Would See Drastic Increase In Rate If Bush Tax Cuts Expired. Fox Business' Cavuto displayed a graphic showing what the wealthiest Americans in the top marginal income tax bracket would pay if the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire. The chart exaggerated the increase, which would go from 35 percent, the current top rate, to 39.6 percent -- less than 5 percentage points:

taxes

[Fox Business, Cavuto, 7/31/12, via Media Matters

In Reality, Fox Graphic Used Distorted Scale To Exaggerate 4.6 Percentage Point Increase. Displaying the change in tax rates with the vertical axis starting at zero instead of 34, as the Fox Business chart did, shows that the proposed change in the tax rate for the wealthy is much less significant than Fox Business presented it:

expire

[Media Matters, 7/31/12

EDITION: JOBS 

Fox Chart Portrayed Job Losses In The Millions Per Quarter From 2007-2010. A Fox News chart claimed the economy was losing an increasing number of jobs per quarter, from 7 million in December 2007 to 15 million in June 2010. The chart cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the source of the data:

fncjobloss

[Fox News, America's Newsroom, 6/28/10, via Media Matters

In Reality, Fox Used Arbitrary Data Points That Corresponded To Number Of Unemployed. Although Fox's chart is titled "Job Loss By Quarter," the data presented in the chart referred to the total number of unemployed Americans during those periods -- not job losses. Moreover, Fox manipulated the chart's scale to create a misleading impression of the 15-month span from March '09 to June '10, which somehow seemed shorter but more dramatic than the six-month span preceding it, September '08 to March '09. A realistic depiction of the chart mapping unemployment numbers through those random quarters would look like this:

random

[Media Matters, 6/28/10

A More Realistic Picture Of Unemployment Numbers Shows Jobless Rate Off Its 2009 Heights. As the following BLS chart shows, the simplistic unemployment picture that Fox presented, giving the false impression of a steady deterioration through June 2010, is incorrect. The BLS chart clearly communicates that the jobs situation in 2010 differed significantly from the jobs situation in 2009:

bls

[Media Matters, 6/28/10

U.S. Job Losses Essentially Ceased At The End Of 2009. As BLS data show, job losses ceased at the end of 2009 and began recovering after that. A realistic chart mapping that data by successive quarter would look like this:

bls2

[Media Matters, 6/28/10

EDITION: CLIMATE CHANGE 

Fox Graphic Claimed Most People Believe Scientists Falsify Research To Promote "Their Own Theories On Global Warming." Fox cited a Rasmussen Reports poll asking respondents whether "scientists falsify research to support their own theories on Global Warming" and displayed a graphic claiming that 94 percent of Americans believed it was "very" or "somewhat" likely that scientists did so:

 raspoll

[Fox News, America's Newsroom, 12/8/09, via Media Matters]

In Reality, Fox's Graphic Fused Together Different Poll Data To Arrive At 120 Percent Conclusion. To give the erroneous impression that up to 120 percent of Americans had an opinion on the matter, the Fox News graphic added together the "very likely" and "somewhat likely" numbers to reach 59 percent and called the new group "somewhat likely"; included the 35 percent "very likely" as its own group though it had already been added to the previous group; mashed together the "not very likely" and "not likely at all" groups; and omitted the 15 percent who were unsure. In reality, the Rasmussen poll data looked like this: 

  • 35 percent responded "Very Likely" 
  • 24 percent responded "Somewhat Likely" 
  • 21 percent responded "Not Very Likely" 
  • 5 percent responded "Not Likely At All" 
  • 15 percent were unsure. [Media Matters, 12/8/09]

EDITION: RELIGION 

Fox Graphic Suggested Republicans Mentioned God More Than The Democrats In Party Platforms. A Fox graphic presented evidence showing that the Republican Party platform for 2012 contained more references to "God" than the Democratic Party platform has in any of the last four election years. Fox was trying to draw attention to the fact that the word "God" did not appear in the DNC platform for 2012. From Special Report with Bret Baier:

foxgodchart

[Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 9/4/12, via Media Matters

In Reality, Fox Cherry Picked Data To Omit Republican Information From 2000, 2004, And 2008. The Fox graphic ignored that in 2000 and 2004, the Democratic platform contained more references to the word "God" than the Republican platform in those years; moreover, the 2012 Democratic platform had a section on faith. An honest comparison of mentions of the word "God" in previous party platforms would look like this:

godmentions

[Media Matters, 9/4/12

EDITION: UNEMPLOYMENT, PART 1 

Fox Graphic Claimed Unemployment Rate Stayed At 9 Percent In November 2011. Following breaking news that the unemployment rate had dropped from 9 to 8.6 percent in November 2011, Fox & Friends aired an on-screen graphic that read: "November Unemployment Rate: 9%":

ninepercent

[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/2/11, via Media Matters

In Reality, Unemployment Rate Had Decreased To 8.6 Percent. During the segment, co-host Gretchen Carlson accurately described the rate as having fallen "down to 8.6 percent from 9 percent," and the lower-screen text accurately noted: "Unemployment down to 8.6%." Nevertheless, Fox still aired its incorrect graphic. [Media Matters, 12/2/11]

EDITION: UNEMPLOYMENT, PART 2 

Fox Graphic Claimed There Was No Difference Between An 8.6 And 9 Percent Unemployment Rate. A Fox graphic that purported to illustrate changes in the unemployment rate in 2011 made it seem as if the unemployment rate had remained steady in November 2011 at 8.6 percent from 9 percent the previous month:

unemploy

[Fox News, America's Newsroom, 12/12/11, via Media Matters

In Reality, Chart Had Grossly Distorted Scale To Give False Impression Of Unemployment Rate 11-Month History. The Fox graphic showed data that did not correspond to its own scale, putting the 8.6 percent unemployment rate in November 2011 higher on the chart than the March 8.8 percent rate, and at the same level as the 9 percent unemployment rate in October. The following chart clearly illustrates how Fox's chart was manipulated to hide the decrease in unemployment from October to November in 2011:

markedchart

[Media Matters, 12/12/11

BLS Data Show That U.S. Economy Saw Sharp Drop In Unemployment Rate In 2011. A BLS chart mapped to a similar scale as Fox's graph shows that the unemployment rate sharply dropped in November 2011:

blsunemploy

[Bureau of Labor Statistics, 12/12/11, via Media Matters

EDITION: UNEMPLOYMENT, PART 3 

Fox Graphic Claimed The "Real" Unemployment Rate Doubled Under Obama. A Fox & Friends graphic claimed that the "real unemployment rate" had increased from 7.8 percent in 2009 to 14.7 percent in September 2012:

ingraham

[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/11/12, via Media Matters

In Reality, Fox Conflated Two Different Measures Of Unemployment. Fox conflated two different statistics to distort Obama's jobs record -- the official unemployment rate from January 2009 (7.1 percent) and a separate measure of unemployment for 2012 (14.7 percent), which includes part-time workers, discouraged workers, and other categories that don't fall into the official rate. This alternative measure of unemployment was 14.2 percent in January 2009 -- 0.5 percentage points lower than it is today. An accurate depiction of the rate would look like this:

u6

[Media Matters, 9/11/12

Fox Was Forced To Correct The Chart The Next Day. Following heavy criticism, Fox aired a correction to the graphic the next day, with co-host Brian Kilmeade saying he wanted "to clarify" the graphic displayed previously. Co-host Gretchen Carlson then noted that the unemployment rate had not, in fact, increased from 7.8 percent to 14.7 percent during Obama's time in office. Fox aired this graphic:

nextday

[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/12/12, via Media Matters]

EDITION: GAS TAXES

Fox Graphic Claimed Gas Taxes Made Up A Large Portion Of The Price At The Pump. A Fox graphic titled, "Taxes At The Pump," purported to show the size of federal, state, and "state & local" gasoline taxes. From Happening Now:

taxesatpump

[Fox News, Happening Now, 3/6/12, via Media Matters

In Reality, Fox Graphic Double-Counted State Taxes To Exaggerate The Size Of Fuel Taxes. Fox News exaggerated gas taxes by double-counting state taxes, by placing taxes on top of the price of gasoline when the $3.83 average at the time already included taxes, and by exaggerating the scale of the tax figures on the graph. An accurate depiction of how much fuel taxes cost shows the much smaller impact of taxes on gasoline prices:

taxesatpumpcorrected

[Media Matters, 3/6/12

EDITION: FOOD STAMPS

Fox Graphic Claimed Obama Has Put More People On Food Stamps Than Any Other U.S. President. A Fox graphic reinforced the notion that "more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history," as Bolling put it.

foodstampchart

[Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 1/27/12, via Media Matters

In Reality, Fox Used Random Data Points To Answer A Different Question Than The One Being Discussed. The Fox graph seemed to have tried to select the year of each presidency with the highest participation and attempted to answer the question of whether there were more people enrolled in food stamps at the time than were enrolled under any other president -- which is different than trying to figure out whether "more people have gotten on food stamps." [Media Matters, 1/27/12

FactCheck.Org: More Recipients Were Added To Food Stamp Rolls During President Bush's Tenure. FactCheck.org created a chart that determined whether the "food stamp president" claim was accurate, based on month-to-month figures, rather than the more confusing fiscal year data. The organization's chart showed that more recipients were added to the rolls under President Bush's tenure than under Obama's:

foodstampchart2

[Media Matters, 1/27/12]

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