Fox News' Stuart Varney dishonestly hyped new data on the number of Americans receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to accuse beneficiaries of committing fraud to avoid finding a job. But experts agree that fraud in the SSDI program is low and there is no evidence Americans are faking their disabilities.
A May 21 Drudge Report headline proclaimed a "Record 10,999,447 On Disability and linked to a CNSnews.com article announcing that the total number of disability beneficiaries in the U.S rose in April "setting a new all-time record":
On Fox's America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed the "explosion" in disability beneficiaries showed "America is becoming increasingly a welfare state. " Varney accused SSDI beneficiaries of committing fraud by taking the "disability option" supposedly where able-bodied individuals who can't find a job use SSDI "almost as an insurance policy against no income or no job":
VARNEY: During the Obama years we've gone from eight million people, just about eight million people claiming Social Security disability payments all the way up to nearly 11 million. That is a huge explosion in disability payments. Now a lot of people are taking what's called the disability option. They can't find a job. So they take -- they treat disability almost as an insurance policy against no income or no job. So you have got this explosion in disability payments. And Martha, we can't afford it.
Two points, number one, if we go on like this the Social Security disability trust fund, totally runs out of money by the end of 2016. That is not that far away. Number two, there's been an expansion in who qualifies for disability payments. Mental disorder is now acceptable. Mood disorder, or back pain. Now, that kind of opens the door to fraud because you can't really prove a lot of that. And plus, once you get disability, you're on it for a very long time because the virtually very little inspection process to figure out who is off the disability, who has recovered. So pretty much payment for life. We can't afford this
Conservative media hyped a misleading chart attempting to show that the number of Americans receiving federal disability benefits has reached unsustainable highs, comparing the figure of recipients to the population of random countries around the world. Accurate charts putting the figure in reasonable context, however, show that the number of needy Americans in this safety net program is astonishingly low.
On May 21 Fox News and the Drudge Report hyped the findings of conservative news site CNS which pushed the false idea that too many Americans are currently receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, stating that the number has reached "a new all-time record" and featuring a graph blasting the fact that more people get disability benefits than live in Greece and Tunisia:
There are also more people in the state of Ohio than Greece or Tunisia, but that isn't cause for alarm. A more accurate graph showing the number of Americans who receive this necessary benefit shows that compared to the total number of Americans who have disabilities, and the total population of the U.S., relatively few individuals are on this government program:
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.
Florida Watchdog.org, an offshoot of the Koch brothers-funded Watchdog.org, parroted right-wing media claims that Congress is receiving an "exemption" from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by receiving a "special subsidy" from the government for its health insurance. However, this zombie lie is not based in fact and is due to a Republican effort to politicize the implementation of the law.
Right-wing media are subverting Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' message that immigrants should have access to affordable health care, claiming her purpose is to inflate "Obamacare enrollment." But in doing so, they ignore the real human and economic costs to denying immigrants affordable health insurance.
At an event sponsored by a Latino community service group, Sebelius explained that undocumented immigrants who would be newly legalized under the Senate immigration reform bill would not be able to apply for subsidies to purchase health insurance, or have access to the health care exchanges and the expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. She went on to say that this "is, frankly, why -- another very keen reason why we need comprehensive immigration reform." Sebelius added:
SEBELIUS: We won't fix the immigration system, unfortunately, through the health care bill, but I think having the immigration bill that passed the Senate, pass the House, would be a huge step. In the meantime, I would say for those undocumented residents, we have continued access to the community health centers and an expanded footprint in the community health centers.
A number of right-wing sites, including CNSNews, Breitbart.com, and HotAir, highlighted Sebelius' comments using headlines like, "Sebelius: Pass Immigration Bill to Boost Obamacare Enrollment," but ignored the core of her message.
According to an October 2012 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 48 million people under 65 were uninsured in 2011. In a 2011 study, the Urban Institute estimated that about 14.6 percent, or almost 7 million, of the uninsured are undocumented immigrants. The study warned that without policy actions, the share of that population would grow and impose extra costs on state governments and hospitals:
If the reform law leads any of these [small] firms [that employ undocumented immigrants] to drop the coverage they offer, or if the exchange does a superior job of screening based on immigration status, undocumented immigrants could see further deterioration in their already low rates of private coverage.
The exclusions in the Affordable Care Act may also serve as a barrier to members of undocumented immigrants' families who might otherwise be eligible for one of the coverage options. For example, incentives to avoid enrolling native-born children with undocumented immigrant parents in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program may also reduce coverage in the exchanges for families containing one or more undocumented immigrants.
As health reform unfolds, and undocumented immigrants emerge as an even larger share of the uninsured population, it is likely that they will become a more prominent component of safety-net health care providers' client base. This could mean that such providers will feel financial stress, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act's cuts to Medicaid and Medicare disproportionate-share hospital payments.
The Drudge Report posted a misleading headline that claimed about 89 million people are not working, a number that actually represents all people not in the labor force, which includes people who are not currently looking for jobs.
A March 8 post on The Drudge Report linked to a CNSNews.com article titled "Record 89,304,000 Americans Not In Labor Force," discussing the Bureau of Labor Statistics' February jobs report that showed an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent, the lowest it has been since 2008. The article noted that the BLS defined people not in labor force as "people who have retired on schedule, taken early retirement, or simply given up looking for work." The Drudge Report highlighted the story with the headline:
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics made clear that there is a distinct difference between people who are unemployed and those not in the labor force. According to its glossary of terms, "unemployed persons" (added link) referred to "persons aged 16 years or older who had not employment" but were available and looking for work. The BLS report found that about 12 million people were currently unemployed, lowering the U.S. unemployment rate to 7.7 percent. The report also showed those not in labor force to be 89,304,000, which, according to the BLS' definition, is a different designation than those unemployed . From the BLS glossary:
Not in the labor force (Current Population Survey)
Includes persons aged 16 years and older in the civilian noninstitutional population who are neither employed nor unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary. Information is collected on their desire for and availability for work, job search activity in the prior year, and reasons for not currently searching.
Zeb Colter, an anti-immigrant character from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, would be right at home in the conservative media. Many of Colter's bigoted and flawed arguments have been the right's stock-in-trade for years.
Beck targeted the Colter character on his radio show, arguing that Colter is "demonizing the Tea Party." Beck also accused the WWE of "mocking me for standing up for the Constitution." Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere complained: "It seems that the villain, the guy you're supposed to hate, is this stereotype of a conservative that I've never met."
Colter currently appears on WWE programming alongside wrestler Jack Swagger, spouting a lot of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the middle of a scripted feud with Mexican-born wrestler Alberto Del Rio. According to WWE, Colter's rhetoric is intended to "to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base."
WWE explains that in order "to create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines."
Fox & Friends has revived a report prepared by outside researchers for the Small Business Administration that has been criticized for using flawed methodology to claim the cost of regulations under President Obama is $1.7 trillion. Moreover, a recent report by the Office of Management and Budget revealed that the economic benefits of federal regulations significantly overshadowed the cost of the rules.
In her syndicated column, Michelle Malkin depicted newly finalized fuel economy standards as dangerous to consumers. But in fact, standards have been reformed to remove incentives for smaller, potentially less safe cars, and technological improvements have made many smaller cars just as safe as larger vehicles.
Conservative media are once again hyping the amount of oil in the U.S. by including oil shale, ignoring that oil companies have found no profitable way to develop that resource.
The most recent flood of misinformation came after testimony by the Government Accountability Office's Anu Mittal about "oil shale," a sedimentary rock that when heated at high temperatures can produce liquid fuels (except gasoline) with a larger carbon footprint than conventional liquid fuels. While some conservative outlets claimed it was major news, the testimony -- which was based on an October 2010 GAO report -- contained no positive developments for oil shale, which has long been known to exist in large amounts in the U.S. but is not commercially viable. Earlier this year, energy expert Robert Rapier wrote, "It is not at all clear that even at $100 oil the shale in the Green River formation will be commercialized to produce oil." Even an editor at the right-wing blog The American Thinker acknowledged that "any large scale operations" for oil shale development would be "prohibitively expensive at this time." And just recently, Chevron gave up its oil shale lease in Colorado.
Mittal noted in her testimony that no technology to develop oil shale "has been shown to be economically or environmentally viable at a commercial scale." But Fox News' nightly news show and CNSNews.com, a project of the conservative Media Research Center, failed to mention that oil shale is not currently commercially viable. Breitbart.com and Investor's Business Daily incorrectly suggested that oil shale is not being developed because of Obama administration policies, rather than economic considerations. And Powerline suggested that oil shale is in fact viable because of the "advance of extraction technology," seemingly confusing oil shale with tight oil from shale rock, which can be extracted via horizontal drilling and hydrofracking.
It's interesting to see that the same people who dismiss the enormous potential of solar and wind power and attack investment in renewable energy are hyping the potential of oil shale. A December 2011 Congressional Research Service report, which classified oil shale as a "sub-economic" resource, stated that "despite government programs in the 1970s and early 1980s to stimulate development of the resource, production of oil shale is not yet commercially viable."
Both mainstream and conservative media outlets have responded to the recent spike in gasoline prices by circulating talking points rooted in politics rather than facts. As a whole, these claims reflect the misconception, perpetuated by the news media, that changes in U.S. energy policy are a major driver of oil and gasoline prices.
Conservative media figures, led by Rush Limbaugh, have continually distorted and exaggerated the content of Sandra Fluke's testimony before Democratic members of Congress.
They have gone so far afield of Fluke's actual testimony that it often appears as if they never actually watched or read it.
Here are some of the conservative claims about Fluke's testimony, along with what she actually said.
Rush Limbaugh has "sincerely apologize[d]" for using the words "slut" and "prostitute" to describe Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke on two separate days and claimed that he "did not mean a personal attack" on her. These statements fail to account for the other 44 times that Limbaugh personally insulted Fluke over the course of three days.
As the employment outlook improves, Fox News is advising Republicans to focus on blaming President Obama for rising gasoline prices -- a claim with no relation to economic fact.
Although the right-wing media are generally supportive of tax cuts, they often find themselves opposing them whenever they are proposed or supported by President Obama and Democrats. This is true of the proposal to extend an existing holiday on the payroll tax. The latest attack came from Fox Nation -- with an assist from CNSNews -- which mocked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as having "totally lost it" for comments she made about the payroll tax holiday and extension of unemployment insurance.
In a recent press briefing, Pelosi noted that independent estimates have shown that the two proposals "would make a difference of 600,000 jobs to our economy." On December 15, Fox Nation seized on a CNSNews article that reported her comments and linked to it with the following headline: