The research consistently cited by media figures to support cutting government spending has recently been invalidated, raising questions about how mainstream coverage of economic policy promoted incorrect data.
In January 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff released a study that suggested when countries reach debt levels of 90 percent relative to GDP, economic growth would be compromised. Conservatives in politics and media alike repeatedly cited the figure in discussions about the economy.
A study released on April 16, however, found that the conclusions reached by Reinhart and Rogoff were based on data that was riddled with errors. Reinhart and Rogoff's response to the critique -- in which they maintain they never implied that rising debt caused lower growth, just that the two were associated -- shows that media's handling of the figure was wrong all along.
These new developments show that media consistently used an apparently incorrect figure for the past few years to call for austerity measures. Here's a look back at how major cable networks cited the figure in its coverage of the budget and economic policy:
Video by Alan Pyke.
CNN's Christine Romans dismissed millions of Americans who rely exclusively on food stamps for nutrition in a segment discussing Newark Mayor Cory Booker's decision to take the food stamp challenge. Romans downplayed Booker's attempt to destigmatize this program when she claimed that food stamps aren't meant to be people's only source of food when in fact, millions need the program for that exact reason.
On Monday, Booker began taking the the food-stamp challenge, which requires him to live for one week on a food budget equal to that of a New Jersey resident on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
On Wednesday, Romans, serving as guest host for CNN's Early Start, aired a clip of Booker talking about the difficulty he has faced in taking the challenge, as well as a photo of what Booker was planning to eat for the week. Romans then stated:
ROMANS: And I'd just like to add a point here because a lot of times people try to do this to prove a point, I guess, to live on SNAP, which is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It's not meant to be your own calorie intake source. ... Supplemental is the key. The government designs it so this is on top of what little money you might have, food pantries, soup kitchens. Some people are getting meals quite frankly in schools and the like. You know, like kids are getting two meals a day in school. So it's meant for a family to be supplemental. And it's never designed to be the only thing to survive.
Then, if you're going to survive on it, then we have to discuss as a country, are we -- are taxpayers going to pay for every calorie somebody consumes. Are we going to completely support people -- it's 46 million people who are getting food stamps.
Regardless of what the SNAP program was designed for, millions of Americans do rely on the program as their sole source of food. Peter Edelman, a scholar specializing in the fields of poverty and government assistance programs, stated that "six million people have no income other than food stamps." Edelman added that SNAP benefits are so low, it's difficult to understand how people can survive without other income.
CNN falsely portrayed disagreement over changes to the federal budget as being exclusively due to Democrats' reluctance to cut social safety net programs. In two segments on Early Start, CNN didn't mention that Republicans' resistance to increasing taxes on the wealthy is also an obstacle in reaching a compromise to avoid the automatic tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.
In the first segment, guest host Christine Romans described the negotiations by saying, "Entitlement reform is a stumbling block here." She continued, "Democrats don't want deep cuts to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Republicans see no other choice."
Co-host Zoraida Sambolin went further in the second segment, claiming that "the sticking point" in fiscal cliff negotiations is "entitlement reform." Sambolin continued, "Republicans appear willing to budge on higher taxes for the wealthy, but only if programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid face cuts."
CNN isn't telling the whole story. Though Romans later discussed tax revenues in an interview with Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), her segment at the top of the show erased Republicans' unwillingness to consider tax increases on the wealthy -- which has been a sticking point in the negotiations.
Immediately following the election, House Speaker John Boehner called raising tax rates "unacceptable" to the Republican House. A few days later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told The Wall Street Journal, "We have a voter mandate not to raise taxes," and said, "I am not willing to raise taxes to turn off the sequester. Period." Republicans' insistence on maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy has remained one of the biggest points of disagreement.
And Sambolin's claim that Republicans "appear willing to budge on higher taxes for the wealthy" is questionable at best. While a handful of Republicans have indeed signaled a willingness to compromise on raising taxes for the wealthy, most Republicans are instead saying they are open to "eliminat[ing] individual loopholes and deductions," as The Washington Post reported. And as the Post noted, ending many of those deductions would affect not only the wealthy, but would also "reach far into the middle class."
From the November 2 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom:
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CNN's Christine Romans offered an incomplete fact check of whether GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney ever said "let Detroit go bankrupt." She focused heavily on the origin of the phrase rather than the almost-certain outcome of Romney's opposition to the auto industry bailout.
Romans appeared on CNN's Early Start to discuss the October 11 vice presidential debate and to fact-check what the candidates said. One of the claims she analyzed was Vice President Joe Biden's claim during the debate that Romney would have let Detroit go bankrupt:
We knew we had to act for the middle class. We immediately went out and rescued General Motors. We went ahead and made sure that we cut taxes for the middle class. And in addition to that, when that -- when that occurred, what did Romney do? Romney said, "No, let Detroit go bankrupt."
Romans rated Biden's statement false, declaring that Romney had never used the exact words "let Detroit go bankrupt." The basis of Roman's judgment are the actual words Romney used in a 2008 New York Times op-ed that ran under the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." Romney, Romans argued, did not write that headline, and he "never used those words in that piece."
But the actual policies Romney advocated are far more informative than the debate over who wrote the headlines.
Romans noted that while President Obama used government funds to rescue the auto industry, Romney had an alternate vision: He "did not want a direct injection of tax-payer funds into the companies as they were." It is the absence of that public investment that is crucial.
Earlier, I noted that last Tuesday, CNN gave airtime to Colby Bohannan, president of the Former Majority Association For Equality, a nonprofit that exists solely to give scholarships to white males -- and only white males. Bohannan and his group have enjoyed a flurry of media coverage in recent weeks despite the fact that as of February 24, the organization had been in existence for nearly a year, had not received a single scholarship application, and had raised less than $500.
Though its website says the organization was incorporated in March of 2010, FMAE doesn't show up in any news reports available on Nexis prior to February 25, 2011,* when the Austin American-Statesman profiled the organization:
The 501(c)3 nonprofit was formally incorporated with the state in March. The group hasn't received any applications, Bohannan said.
A search of public records indicates Bohannan pleaded no contest to charges of theft of property of less than $500 in 2001 and of issuance of a bad check in 2003. William Lake , the group's treasurer, pleaded no contest to issuance of a bad check in 2008.
Bohannan said he was charged with theft after authorities found a county speed limit sign in his Texas State dorm room and with writing a bad check for groceries, also while in college. Lake said he was charged with writing a bad check while managing a now-defunct business he started. Both said the charges have been disposed of.
Bohannan said the group is raising money — as of Monday, the group had raised $485, according to its website — and that he hopes to award scholarships by July 4. The money can be used to go to any college, not just Texas State, Bohannan said.
Bohannan's group isn't the first to offer scholarships only for white students. In 2006, Boston University's College Republicans created a program with similar requirements. A Republican group at a university in Rhode Island offered a similar award in 2004.
So in nearly a year of existence, Bohannan's group had raised only $485 and hadn't awarded a single scholarship or even gotten a single application. And there's nothing innovative about the group: It's been done before.
And yet several media outlets, led by CNN, decided that Bohannan and his organization were worthy of coverage.
On February 28, CNN's Christine Romans interviewed Bohannan. She didn't interview or quote anyone who disapproves of Bohanna's actions. On March 1, Romans repeatedly played clips of Bohannan and devoted a segment to asking CNN contributor Erick Erickson and guest April Ryan about it. On March 4, a CNN.com article used Bohannan's Former Majority Association for Equality as evidence of "signs of racial anxiety" and "A growing number of white Americans are acting like a racially oppressed majority." On March 5, Romans again played a clip of her interview of Bohannan and asked guests Michelle Rhee, Bill Bennett, and Harold Meyerson about it.
Though CNN has led the way in covering this obscure organization, it isn't alone. Fox News has devoted a segment to it, as has Fox Radio's Alan Colmes. Townhall.com has covered it, along with ABC News, Reuters, a Colorado CBS affiliate, the Texas Tribune, and New American magazine.
That last one isn't surprising: The New American is a publication of The John Birch Society. The question is why news organizations like Reuters and -- especially -- CNN think a tiny organization with no money that's never awarded a scholarship deserves all this attention?
* The March 4 CNN.com article appears in Nexis dated December 21, 2010, but this appears to be an error; the article has a Nexis load-date of March 5.
CNN drew criticism last Friday for an article headlined "Are whites racially oppressed?" In addition to legitimizing "pro-White" commentators James Edwards and Peter Brimelow, the article quoted the president of a Texas group called "Former Majority Association for Equality" that exists solely to provide college scholarships to white men. FMAE president Colby Bohannan told CNN, "There was no one for white males until we came around."
As it turns out, that wasn't the first attention CNN gave Bohannan and the Former Majority Association for Equality. On Tuesday, March 1, CNN posted an interview with Bohannan on its web page, then devoted two segments to it during that day's edition of CNN Newsroom. During that coverage, CNN contributor Erick Erickson endorsed the FMAE's white-men-only scholarships:
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: What do you think, Erick? Isn't this just another in a multitude of specific scholarships for lots of different kinds of people?
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, absolutely. It is. If we're going to get rid of scholarships for African-Americans and get rid of scholarships for Hispanics and get rid of scholarships for Asians and get rid of scholarships for women, then let's get rid of the scholarships. But if we're not going to get rid of those, then let's keep this one.
Erickson then suggested that women, Hispanics, and Asians have not been historically disadvantaged in America:
ROMANS: But Erick, don't you think
this is a little bit different. Because we have a history that's tortured and painful in this country that makes, even today when you start talking about a white-male only scholarship it makes people kind of cringe. Because there was a time when white men frankly ruled this country and had all of the access, and the reason why we have all of these --
ERICKSON: Absolutely. But they don't anymore. You can justify that, for example, a scholarship for African-Americans, given the history of this country. But can you for Asians or Hispanics or for women? Now we've reached the point in Texas, at least, where the white men are no longer the majority in Texas.
In addition to Erickson's endorsement of the white-men-only scholarship, CNN's Newsroom coverage of the topic was noticeably unbalanced. CNN twice played video clips of Bohannan, but did not air or quote any comments by opposing advocates or experts. Five times during the broadcast, CNN anchor Christine Romans read reader comments left on CNN's web page in support of the scholarship; she only read an opposing comment once. Romans repeatedly characterized CNN readers' response to the whites-only scholarships as overwhelmingly positive without noting that there is absolutely no reason to think that comments left on a blog are a representative sample of anything. Romans even claimed "The vast majority of the comments we got on the blog support the scholarship, and these are people of all different ages and races," suggesting that support for whites-only scholarship is strong among all demographics. But she had no way of knowing that the blog comments (which aren't a representative sample of anything anyway) really were from "people of all different ages and races."
Though CNN didn't quote or refer to any experts or advocates who disagree with Bohannan, an ABC News article last week quoted a spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board noting that Bohannan's central premise is flawed:
"Our largest state-funded financial aid program is the Texas Grants program, and in 2009 we served about 63,000 students," said Dominic Chavez at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which promotes greater access to higher education in the state.
"I am not sure I accept the premise that these programs are targeting students of color," Chavez said. "These programs are targeted to poor Texans. There is no consideration of race [or] ethnicity for the allocation of these awards."
The board's goal is to increase enrollment of every single ethnic group in higher education by 5.7 percent -- that includes whites as well as blacks, Asians and Hispanics, said Chavez, who pointed out that college enrollment rates are down among males across all ethnic groups.
Co-host Ali Velshi calls GOP chart "interesting" and "incredible"
From the July 18 edition of CNN's Your Money:
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CNN anchors and correspondents misrepresented the Tax Foundation's "Tax Freedom Day" to falsely claim to viewers that, in the words of correspondent Christine Romans, "[e]very penny you earned up until this very moment this year went to pay your taxes."
During a segment on the economic recovery legislation, CNN's Christine Romans asserted, "If your point is to create new jobs, the safety net spending doesn't necessarily create new jobs." But Romans ignored the connection between gross domestic product growth caused by that "safety net spending" and job creation. Congressional Budget Office director Douglas W. Elmendorf has testified that transfers to persons, such as unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance, are effective tools to stimulate GDP growth and that the stimulative effect on GDP leads to job creation.
CNN's Christine Romans repeatedly claimed that American troop deaths in Iraq "are down this summer" and also reported that "[t]he Pentagon today is citing the surge in Iraq as a reason for a drop in troop deaths this summer." However, statistics compiled by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count show that the 260 U.S. troop deaths in Iraq during June, July, and August 2007 make this the deadliest June-August of the Iraq war for U.S. troops.