Right-wing media hyped a misleading apples-to-oranges comparison to claim that the U.S. is at a "tipping point" in the "relationship between welfare and work."
On April 15, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed new statistics showed that "the number of people living on the government dole outnumbered full-time working women." Fox Business host Stuart Varney then claimed "welfare is replacing work" because in 2012, 46 million people collected Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) and 44 million women worked full time. Varney cited SNAP benefits as "the classic example" of an "explosion in welfare payments outgoing from the government to individuals and a decline in work," which he attributed to the Obama administration "buying votes." Meanwhile, Fox displayed this graphic:
Other right-wing media sources highlighted the same supposedly "telling" numbers. CNS News posted a graphic comparing the number of women working full time to total SNAP beneficiaries and the Drudge Report also hyped the connection:
But these numbers can't be compared, as many working women fall into both categories.
In fact, because the majority of recipients are working-class Americans with jobs, senior citizens, or children, an increase in SNAP beneficiaries is an extremely unreliable predictor of the number of full-time workers, let alone evidence of a tipping point before a decline in overall employment. A 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the "overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so" (emphasis original):
The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP -- and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children -- more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.
The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has been rising for more than a decade, and has more than tripled -- from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011. The increase was especially pronounced during the recent deep recession, suggesting that many people have turned to SNAP because of under-employment -- for example, when one wage-earner in a two-parent family lost a job, when a worker's hours were cut, or when a worker turned to a lower-paying job after being laid off.
A separate report from the USDA pointed out that in 2012, "75 percent of all SNAP households, containing 87 percent of all participants, included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled nonelderly person. These households received 82 percent of all SNAP benefits."
This latest attempt to cast the SNAP program as spurring unemployment ignores current economic reality. SNAP enrollment has risen as a result of the economic downturn. The Economic Policy Institute noted that "SNAP swelled because the economy entered the worst recession since the Great Depression and remains severely depressed even 18 months after the official recovery began." According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP enrollment is projected to decline as the economy recovers:
The number of people receiving SNAP benefits will begin to slowly decline at the end of fiscal year 2014, CBO expects, reflecting an improved economic situation and a declining unemployment rate. Nevertheless, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits will remain high by historical standards, CBO estimates. That is partly because of a growing U.S. population and thus a greater number of potential SNAP participants.
The desert tortoise has become a symbolic scapegoat for right-wing media figures running defense for an anti-government cattle rancher who's threatening to wage a range war against federal law enforcement officers.
Conflict has erupted in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the family and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, a man who has refused multiple court orders to remove his cattle from public land. Bundy has stated that he does not recognize federal law and in fact argued in court in 1998 that the United States government didn't own the land in question (he lost). Now BLM officers and contract cowboys have begun confiscating Bundy's herd. And the scofflaw rancher has emerged as a right-wing folk hero after repeatedly stating that he owns firearms and is willing to "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
At the center of the controversy -- according to right-wing media figures -- is the formerly endangered (and still threatened) desert tortoise. When Bundy's grazing rights were modified by BLM in 1993, it was in part to protect the species, which inhabits the same publicly-owned desert areas trodden by Bundy's cattle and was at the time on the brink of extinction.
That's where the connection to the tortoise ends, however. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay grazing fees required by the new rules. This led to an escalating series of reprisals from the judicial system that culminated in an order to confiscate Bundy's cattle in order to repay $1 million in fines and fees that over 20 years later remained unpaid. The current enforcement has less to do with protecting the tortoise, and more to do with Bundy's refusal to comply with the law or recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.
Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Bundy's stand have tried to pin the conflict on the tortoise and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is being depicted in negative terms ranging from being dismissed as irrelevant and economically harmful to becoming the basis for conspiracy theories about unlawful land grabs by Big Government.
On Fox, the situation afforded the network the opportunity to perpetuate the conservative narrative that the ESA unjustly puts the rights of wildlife above the rights of people. One host declared, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition." His co-host sarcastically (and inaccurately) described the government's position as "get the cows off so they can have the desert tortoise live there in peace."
David Blackmon, a Forbes contributor, penned a piece titled, "Using Snipers To Protect A Tortoise." (It's since been taken down, but cached here). In it, Blackmon argued that protecting the desert tortoise was merely a pretext being used by the government "with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely."
As evidence that the protection of the tortoise is a scam, some in conservative media have pointed to the Bureau of Land Management itself, claiming it's been euthanizing tortoises and/or "planting" them in the desert in order to make a case that they're endangered.
In fact, a BLM tortoise conservancy in Nevada was forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Prior to its closure, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center had to make the difficult decision to put down the tortoises that carried disease or were too feeble to survive on their own. The others were released back into the wild.
But despite how real the concerns about the future of desert tortoise may be, the reality is that the right-wing media is simply providing cover to a rancher who refuses to obey the law.
From the April 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News presented Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) with a friendly platform to continue attacking Attorney General Eric Holder, selectively cropping footage of the men's altercation during a House Judiciary Committee hearing to absolve the congressman of blame.
Sparks flew at a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing when Gohmert accused Holder of indifference about previously being held in contempt by the House over the Fast & Furious gun operation. Holder responded that Gohmert "didn't want to go there" and explained that while the House contempt vote was "inappropriate," he took it seriously.
Fox ran defense for the Republican congressman during the April 9 segment of Fox & Friends, misrepresenting Gohmert's remarks that led to the exchange and selectively edited clips of the hearing to omit Gohmert's initial comments and the bulk of Holder's response.
Rather than admitting Gohmert's accusation towards Holder, co-host Brian Kilmeade simply claimed, "Texas congressman Louie Gohmert struck a nerve, obviously, when he referenced pending contempt charges against Attorney General Eric Holder. Watch."
When Gohmert joined the program to continue attacking Holder, Kilmeade propped up the congressman's claims: "Basically, the attorney general is able to say 'get away, leave me alone,' and get away with it."
The full video of the hearing reveals that Gohmert accused the DOJ of giving documents to terrorist front groups before lobbing personal attacks at Holder, prompting Holder to respond that the contempt vote was "inappropriate" and "all about the gun lobby":
HOLDER: I think that what we promised to do is to provide you and your staff with --
GOHMERT: Sir, I've read you what your department promised and it is inadequate, and I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our attorney general, but it is important that we have proper oversight, so--
HOLDER: You don't want to go there, ok?
GOHMERT: I don't want to go there?
GOHMERT: About the contempt?
HOLDER: You should not assume that that is not a big deal to me. I think that it was inappropriate, I think it was unjust. But never think that was not a big deal to me. Don't ever think that.
GOHMERT: Well, I'm just looking for evidence, and normally we're known by our fruits, and there have been no indications that it was a big deal because your department has still not been forthcoming in producing the documents that were the subject of the contempt. Let me move on -
HOLDER: The documents that we were prepared to make available then, we are prepared to make available now. That would have obviated the whole need. This was all about the gun lobby. And a desire to have --
This isn't the first time Fox News has dishonestly framed a segment in order to attack the attorney general: the network has a long history of distorting the truth around Holder's statements to baselessly attack him.
Fox selectively highlighted an incomplete data point in a positive new study on the Affordable Care Act's effect on the uninsured as proof that the law is a failure.
On April 8, the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research institution, released a study on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has affected the number of Americans with health insurance. The study found a net gain of 9.3 million Americans with health insurance from September 2013 to March 2014 and that the share of uninsured Americans has dropped from 20.5 percent to 15.8 percent. The report estimated a lower enrollment number than the White House's 7.1 million, but added an important caveat:
Although a total of 3.9 million people enrolled in marketplace plans, only 1.4 million of these individuals were previously uninsured. Our marketplace enrollment numbers are lower than those reported by the federal government at least in part because our data do not fully capture the surge in enrollment that occurred in late March 2014.
On the April 9 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Brian Kilmeade, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and Steve Doocy seized on the 3.9 million figure from the RAND report to claim that the Obama administration's estimate of 7.1 million people enrolled in the marketplace is incorrect. Co-host Steve Doocy cited RAND's finding that 1.4 million people who enrolled were previously uninsured to claim "we blew up everything for one percent" of the previously uninsured:
DOOCY: [Hasselbeck] just said that only 1.4 million Americans got their insurance through the exchanges. We blew up everything for one percent? Think about back to the last election where the Democrats made a big thing about the one percent, and the Republicans and the one percent. Well, everybody should make a big deal about how we blew up the entire healthcare system for one percent.
During a segment of Fox News' The Five, guest co-host Brian Kilmeade continued his history of sexism while discussing a blog post by a federal judge who wrote about the attire of women lawyers in the courtroom.
In a March 25 blog post, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf called himself a "dirty old man" while offering three rules for young women lawyers to follow when considering how to dress for court. In the post, he comments on the "ample chest" of one such lawyer and advises others to "tone it down" so that law clerks won't label you "an ignorant slut":
Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very pretty female lawyer who is in her late twenties. She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.
In a recent case involving this fine young lawyer every female law clerk in the building slipped in and out of the courtroom to observe her. I am not exaggerating. I later learned that word had gotten around about this lawyer's dress. Acknowledging that the lawyer was really good, the consensus of the sisterhood was uniformly critical. "Unprofessional" was the word used most often. To a woman, the law clerks seethed and sneered. They were truly upset.
From the foregoing, and in my continuing effort to educate the bar, I have three rules that young women lawyers should follow when considering how to dress for court:
1. You can't win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it.
2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury.
3. Think about the female law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtin, an ignorant slut behind your back, tone it down.
Slate's Amanda Hess reminded Kopf that as a federal judge, "he's responsible for making sure that his personal weaknesses don't interfere with his judgment and that he refrain from making statements that would reasonably make one type of attorney feel uncomfortable approaching his bench."
During the March 27 edition of Fox News' The Five, the show's co-hosts agreed the judge "had a point" in harshly criticizing the attire of young women in the courtroom. Brian Kilmeade then asserted that women should in fact use their assets such as "a great body and a great figure" to get ahead in the courtroom:
KILMEADE: If you could try a case, and you have an asset which is a great body and a great figure, you've got to do everything you can to be successful. So if it means somebody in the jury is going to be swung to your side because of the fact that you work out ... then go ahead and do it.
This isn't the first time Brian Kilmeade has commented on women's appearances in the workplace. During a November 16, 2012 segment of his radio show, Kilmeade told listeners that Fox finds female hosts by going "into the Victoria's Secret catalogue" and saying "can any of these people talk?"
Kilmeade also has a history of other sexist behavior on air that once even prompted then-Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson to walk off-set after commenting that "women are everywhere. We're letting them play golf and tennis now" and later telling viewers that he is "pretty much not sexist."
Fox News attacked the Obama administration for announcing a delay to the Affordable Care Act that resembles administration delays by other presidents, such as President Bush's 2006 delay of the Medicare Part D penalty.
Fox News dishonestly attacked the solar industry, implying that Yuma, Arizona's unemployment rate is higher than that of Midland, Texas due to the presence of a solar power plant and lack of natural gas or petroleum exploration. However, Yuma and Midland have completely different economic bases, and the Yuma solar plant has been lauded as a success.
Fox News responded to the announcement that President Obama has ordered a review of his administration's deportation policies by casting doubt on his enforcement efforts, claiming the nearly 2 million deportations number is inflated because it includes both removals and returns. In fact, whether undocumented immigrants apprehended at or near the border are removed or returned, both methods result in their expulsion from the country; moreover, data show the Obama administration has removed a record number of immigrants.
Continuing a pattern of romanticizing economic hardships that limit employee choice and force workers to put in long hours for low pay, right-wing media have claimed that expanding overtime compensation for salaried workers undermines work ethic by changing "the notion of hard work."
Right-wing media were quick to attack President Obama's new plan to alter Labor Department pay requirements to expand the number of salaried workers who qualify for overtime. Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck warned that this move "undercuts work ethic," and co-host Brian Kilmeade agreed, encouraging viewers to weigh in on the "new American work ethic" and how the plan is "discouraging those, it seems, that want to work more to get further along, with these new rules."
On the March 12 edition of Fox Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, Fox host Martha MacCallum similarly warned that workers would be forced into "an hourly wage category," which she said, gives employees "a whole different mentality." The Wall Street Journal lamented the change in a March 12 editorial:
The rules will particularly harm workers who want to climb the economic ladder by going the extra mile for their employers and demonstrating why they deserve promotion. Now many businesses will tell employees with ambition they can't work long hours.
Fox & Friends also ran an on-air graphic on March 13 that read, "The New American Way: New Rule Seems To Change The Notion Of Hard Work."
These reflexive attacks highlight conservative media's tendency to denounce proposals designed to benefit workers by romanticizing economic hardship. Conservative outlets like Fox News have previously commended the "uniquely American" desire to "work more, work harder" and take on "two and three jobs to make ends meet" as something that is being undermined by policies that offer workers more flexibility.
Just days after concluding a smear campaign against highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile's nomination to the Department of Justice, the right-wing media began working to tar Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, as a "radical" for suggesting that gun violence is a public health issue.
Right-wing media are upset that President Obama sat down for an interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis on "Between Two Ferns."
Fox News host Stuart Varney expressed outrage at state governments that are attempting to mitigate federal food stamp cuts, equating expanding eligibility for food benefits to "buying votes."
On January 29, Congress passed a version of the farm bill that cut about $800 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. In an effort to alleviate some of the effects of the cuts, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania modified a program that ties food stamp eligibility to home-heating assistance, known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), to make more low-income households eligible for benefits.
On the March 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co- host Brian Kilmeade called the effort a "scam," and asked "if anything can be done to stop it." Varney claimed "what's really going on here is the government is buying votes. They keep [sic] churning out food stamps in return for votes. That's what's happening":
While Varney has frequently accused Democrats of buying votes through the food stamp program, this is the first time he has extended that accusation to a Republican. One of the states expanding benefits, Pennsylvania, has a Republican governor: Tom Corbett. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that Corbett's move would preserve benefits for about 400,000 Pennsylvania households:
In a move that surprised even his most cynical critics, Gov. Corbett on Wednesday night forestalled an estimated $3 billion in cuts to food stamps in the state over the next 10 years.
By doing so, Corbett became the first Republican governor in the country to prevent the cuts ordered by Congress, which is looking to slash $8.6 billion over the next decade to the food-stamp program, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
The governor's decision will preserve benefits for 400,000 Pennsylvania households slated to lose a monthly average of $60 to $65 each in benefits, amounting to $300 million a year, said Kait Gillis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Welfare.
"In these challenging and trying times," Gillis said, "our most vulnerable families may not have been able to absorb another hit."
In a statement to Think Progress, the National Energy Assistance Director's Association's Mark Wolfe predicted that other states would follow the three that have already expanded benefits:
More states could follow, according to Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Director's Association (NEADA). "Other states around the country will look at this and say, this makes a lot of sense. It's not a red-blue thing, it's a money thing," Wolfe told ThinkProgress. While preserving heat-and-eat benefits takes money away from LIHEAP programs, Wolfe said the directors understand that anti-poverty programs are a cooperative patchwork that serves the many of the same people.
"It's not so much a war between programs, it's more an issue of how to help families and how to use the scarce resource you have," Wolfe said. "Many of the people that run these programs work very closely with the people that run food stamps and Head Start, they know what those programs go through, they're trying to help the same families."
Fox News' misleading attempt to downplay the involvement of right-wing groups in the prominence of anti-Obamacare advertisements fell apart after a later segment on Fox revealed the heavy involvement of conservative special interest groups in promoting the campaign ads.
On the February 27 edition of Fox's Fox and Friends, co-hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Clayton Morris, and Brian Kilmeade attacked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for pointing to conservative special interest groups as the origin of Obamacare attack ads. Hasselback asked viewers to "actually look at the facts" before running a graphic to show that political donations from the Koch brothers came in at 59th in overall political donations:
Fox's narrative that conservative groups are not heavily involved in the political process was debunked a short time later on Fox News itself. On America's Newsroom, Peter Doocy admitted that the Obamacare horror story advertisements heavily promoted on the network have, in fact, been funded by right-leaning organizations, calling groups like Americans for Prosperity "very involved" in pushing campaign ads:
MACALLUM: Peter, how involved are these outside groups really in the early ad campaigns we're seeing?
DOOCY: Very involved, Martha. Especially the right-leaning Americans for Prosperity who has already spent to $30 million since late summer to introduce America to people they say are victims of obamacare.
Reid was correct in tying these advertisements to right-leaning groups. The Washington Post's Fact Checker notes that the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity "has run about 50 anti-Obamacare ads since July."
Another Washington Post article quotes Tim Phillips, the president of American for Prosperity, saying that the health care law "has been the predominant focus of both our grass roots and our advertising efforts." This is evidenced by the $30 million the group has put forth on attack advertisements, 95% of which has gone towards ads that specifically target the Affordable Care Act. The article also noted that Americans for Prosperity is not the only conservative group creating these ads:
In Senate races, where control of the chamber is on the line, all but $240,000 of the $21.2 million that super PACs are spending on television advertising has gone into attacks centered on the health-care law, said Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The exceptions were ad buys in three states that criticized Democratic senators for supporting President Obama's judicial nominees.
Fox News distorted comments by Democratic congressional candidate Alex Sink about the need for immigration reform, completely misinterpreting the meaning of her remarks to cast them as outrageous and beyond the pale. In fact, as the Miami Herald noted, Republican lawmakers have made similar comments in the past without the hint of the conservative outrage Sink's comments have received. Moreover, the comments broadcast by Fox were not Sink's full remarks on the topic.
During a candidate forum in Florida hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, Sink addressed the need for immigration reform by stressing the fact that coastal communities rely heavily on immigrant labor and that without reform, employers are put "in a position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers":
SINK: Immigration reform is important in our country. It's one of the main agenda items of the beaches' Chamber Of Commerce for obvious reasons. Because we have a lot of employers over on the beaches that rely upon workers, and especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping? And we don't need to put those employers in a position of hiring undocumented and illegal workers.
Discussing those comments on Fox & Friends, guest host Clayton Morris twisted the meaning of those words, claiming what Sink really said was "we need immigration reform so we can have illegal immigrants doing landscaping and cleaning hotels." Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added: "Because what would we do without that, she's saying." Morris continued: "How would our hotels be cleaned?"
Co-host Brian Kilmeade also stated: "She was winning by 2 points prior to those remarks. I don't know if this is going to send her numbers south."
In fact, Sink was making the opposite point: We need immigration reform so that employers, particularly those in high-growth areas like coastal communities, don't resort to hiring unauthorized labor. For a network that has been stridently opposed to immigration reform because of the impact such labor has on the workforce, Sink's comments should have been greeted favorably.