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Stuart Varney: "It Is Legitimate To Use The Word Recession" Despite Seven Consecutive Quarters Of Economic Growth
Fox Business host Stuart Varney misleadingly used the Commerce Department's most recent economic growth estimat
On the April 28 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Varney used the Commerce Department’s quarterly GDP rep
The last recession, which the National Bureau of Economic Research defines as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months,” began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, first quarter economic growth has typically lagged behind growth for the rest of the year since the economy emerged from the Bush-era Great Recession:
Varney’s warning that a recession may be imminent does not match expert analysis. On April 28, The Washington Post reported that “most analysts say that the United States faces little risk of recession.” Reuters reported
Varney is a serial misinformer on the economy, repeatedly attempting to spin data to claim President Obama’s economic policies have failed, even though the president’s economic legacy of the last seven years shows the unemployment rate has been cut in half, annual deficits have gone down, GDP has grown, and the United States enjoyed the third-longest stock market upswing in its history. Varney’s spin on economic data has gone so far that on December 4 -- in response to a strong November jobs report that beat most economists' expectations -- he managed to conclude that the pace of job creation was "mediocre," and on January 8 he downplayed the December jobs report as merely "modest" even though it was arguably the strongest jobs report of 2015.
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An editorial published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail purporting to fact-check AFL-CIO radio ads targeting so-called "right-to-work" laws being pushed by West Virginia legislators identified no errors in the advertisements, but still attacked the labor union by promoting flawed and biased studies funded by anti-union donors.
The December 14 editorial was authored by the editorial board of the Charleston Daily Mail (in July the Charleston Daily Mail and Charleston Gazette merged to form the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The paper retains two independent editorial boards).*
The editorial discussed a West Virginia radio network's decision to pull three AFL-CIO ads from its airwaves, which reportedly cited them as "inflammatory." The editorial board claims the ads "mislead by quoting studies that don't necessarily address correlation and causation." The editorial continues by juxtaposing the claims in the AFL-CIO ad with "conservative" studies in an attempt to prove the AFL-CIO's claims are flawed:
The 54 percent increase in injury and death statistic comes from a 2014 AFL-CIO report "Death on the job, the toll of neglect," using Bureau of Labor statistics.
Yet a 2012 study by the conservative Meighen Institute suggests that union workplaces have more injuries than non-union workplaces. And a 2012 report from a Michigan group supporting right-to-work legislation cites a reduction in injuries and illnesses in Oklahoma over a 10-year period after right-to-work laws went into effect in 2001.
"It's true that right-to-work states have a greater incidence of fatal workplace injuries, but the very dangerous occupations are concentrated ... in occupations like farming, fishing and forestry regardless of whether the state has a right-to-work law," the CAPCON report says.
The AFL-CIO says that right-to-work states have lower average wage rates. That too is true, but as Daily Mail columnist Laurie Lin covered last week, those states also generally have much lower cost-of-living rates.
"When adjusting for cost of living, workers in right-to-work states have 4.1 percent higher per-capita personal incomes than workers in non-right-to-work states," reports the Mackinac Institute.
The editorial notes multiple times that the AFL-CIO's statements are true, even citing sources that back up the union's claims.
For example, the editorial cites "CAPCON" or Michigan Capitol Confidential -- an online outlet created by the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy to push the organization's studies -- agreeing with the AFL-CIO's argument that states with so-called "right-to-work" laws have higher incidences of fatal workplace injuries. CAPCON and the editorial noted that "It's true that right-to-work states have a greater incidence of fatal workplace injuries," but caveat the fact by claiming these right-to-work states engage in more dangerous occupations without providing any evidence of the fact. The studies and reports cited by the editorial fail to adequately counter the claims made by the AFL-CIO, as neither of the sources cited by the paper address workplace fatalities in their data, except to agree with the AFL-CIO's argument that right-to-work states lag behind other states in terms of workplace safety.
The editorial also claimed that the AFL-CIO's contention that "right-to-work states have lower average wage rates [...] is true," but defended the typically low wages of states with right-to-work laws by claiming that these states "generally have much lower cost-of-living rates."
The AFL-CIO's claim of higher workplace fatalities in states with anti-union laws is backed up by several studies, including one published in the American Journal of Public Health, which found similarly that, "Higher rates of fatal occupational injury were associated with a state policy climate favoring business over labor."
In addition, as a report in the Kennedy School Review notes, one study looking at unionization and coal mine safety from 1993 to 2010, found that "unionization predicted a substantial and significant decline in fatalities and traumatic injuries." The report also notes that while unionization also coincided with an increase in injury reporting, the phenomenon is most likely due "to more stringent injury reporting practices in union versus non-union mines." In essence, the Kennedy School Review found that injury reporting was held to higher standards after unionization, causing such reports to increase, while safety standards were also improved as a result of unionization, causing fatalities to decrease.
The AFL-CIO's claim that right-to-work states have lower average wages is also backed up by evidence, which contradicts the Mail's claim that incomes in states with restrictive union laws are higher after adjusting for cost-of-living. As the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) pointed out in an April 22 report, when accounting for a larger set of variables, not just cost-of-living differences, and "subject[ing] the results to a series of robustness tests," the AFL-CIO claim holds true - "wages in RTW (right-to-work) states are 3.1 percent lower than those in non-RTW states."
The Mail's failed attempt to discredit the AFL-CIO relied on a number of biased anti-union sources. The Mackinac Center, part of the conservative State Policy Network group of think tanks, has received millions of dollars from anti-union donors such as the DeVos family, the Walton family, and Donors Capital Fund -- the "dark money ATM" of the conservative movement funded in part by the anti-union Koch brothers. Lastly, as SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, explains, Michigan Capitol Confidential (CAPCON) "produces articles and blog posts intended to appear like those of traditional news sources, but with a demonstrated conservative bias and pushing a right wing agenda."
*This piece has been updated throughout to clarify the relationship between the Charleston Gazette-Mail and its multiple editorial boards.
The first Republican presidential debate hosted by a business-themed television network presents an opportunity for debate moderators to closely examine the economic policy positions and records of the GOP field.
On October 28, CNBC will host the third GOP primary debate, which will be split into two parts. The top 10 polling GOP contenders -- Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Rand Paul -- will participate in a two-hour primetime debate, while four other GOP candidates -- Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum -- will participate in a debate a few hours earlier. Both debates will be moderated by CNBC anchors Carl Quintanilla and Becky Quick, and CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood.
According to an October 21 CNBC press release, the debate "will focus on the key issues that matter to all voters -- job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy."
Below are four suggestions for how CNBC's moderators can press the GOP field about the intersections between the economy and: money in politics, climate change, tax cuts for the wealthy, and immigration reform.
The growing crisis of barely-regulated money in politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision was brought into stark relief by a recent New York Times report which found that "[j]ust 158 families have provided nearly half the early money for efforts to capture the White House." According to a Media Matters analysis, since March 23, a total of 52 segments on CNBC discussed issues related to money in politics, but campaign finance reform was mentioned just once. CNBC should ask candidates about our country's broken campaign finance system not just because 78 percent of Americans polled favor overturning Citizens United, but also because unlimited campaign contributions help shape negative economic policy outcomes. According to a May 2014 issue brief by the Center for American Progress, campaign contributions and lobbying can significantly increase "rent-seeking," which economists agree "causes a net societal loss that harms the economy." And if CNBC moderators need another reason to ask the candidates about money in politics, they should just look around: the GOP debate will be held at the University of Colorado's Coors Events Center, a venue so-named because of a sizeable contribution made by the Adolph Coors Foundation, an organization involved in funneling dark money to conservative causes.
Here is what recent research suggests: Climate change-fueled wildfires are already straining the budgets of Western states, climate change could reduce the United States' per capita GDP by 36 percent by 2100, and more than $1 trillion worth of property and structures are presently at risk from climate change-fueled sea level rise. The severe economic risks associated with climate change should be more than enough reason for CNBC moderators to question the GOP field about this urgent issue, which could drastically impact businesses of all sizes. Climate change recently became part of the 2016 campaign in a significant way when battleground incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) announced her support for the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, citing the interests of the New Hampshire business community. Ayotte joined a group of major corporations and financial decision makers, including 81 signatories to the American Business Act on Climate Change Pledge, mega food companies such as General Mills, Kellogg Company, Mars, Inc., and Nestle USA, leading banking institutions including Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo, and many other major corporations. Asking the GOP field about the economic consequences of climate change would also be an opportunity for the network to improve its coverage of the issue. According to a Media Matters analysis of the first nine months of 2013, more than half of CNBC's coverage of the issue included climate science denial.
Throughout the 2016 presidential primary campaign, GOP candidates have routinely pitched their tax plans as "populist," despite the fact that each and every proposal disproportionately benefits the wealthy. And media have fallen for the claim time and time again. When Donald Trump announced his plan on September 28, Politico claimed in a headline that the billionaire businessman planned to "hike taxes on the wealthy" -- even though the plan calls for cutting the top marginal tax rate, cutting the corporate income tax rate, and eliminating the estate tax. The media outlet had relied solely on Trump's false characterization of his plan to write that headline. In an October 14 article in The New York Times, debate co-moderator Harwood criticized several candidates for describing themselves in populist terms but "sh[ying] away from economic populism," while crafting tax policies that "deliver disproportionate gains to the most affluent." During the debate, Harwood should continue to hold the candidates to this same standard, pushing them to accurately explain what their tax reform plans do and who they benefit.
Falsehoods about immigration routinely begin as conservative media claims before becoming talking points used by GOP presidential candidates. CNBC should be on the lookout for several common false claims about immigration and the economy, and be prepared to factcheck fabricated statistics on the issue. Conservative media often claim that deporting undocumented immigrants would help the economy by saving taxpayers money. In one variation of that claim published by Breitbart News, each deported household would save taxpayers $700,000. In fact, the opposite is true -- the cost of deporting longstanding undocumented immigrants in the United States would cost more than $114 billion, and according to a report from Center for American Progress, the "cost to the overall economy would likely be far more." Other claims to look out for include: false connections between immigration and African-American unemployment rates; the erroneous claim that immigration decreases American wages and increases unemployment; and the baseless argument that immigrant children are straining American school systems and driving up taxes.
Forbes contributor Carrie Sheffield claimed public sector unions hurt upward mobility for private sector workers, but ignored the effects the decline of private sector union membership have had on stagnating wages and reducing ladders of opportunity for American workers.
Zack Kopplin Educates Senior WSJ Writer About Science
On the April 5th edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, science education activist Zack Kopplin confronted The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore over myths about science funding, pointing out that Moore, who questioned the need for funding research on "snail mating habits," is "not a scientist":
As it turns out, the reason actual scientists are conducting this type of research is because snails carry parasitic worms that kill children:
Conservative media are parroting a Republican claim that a federal report says health care reform increases the long-term deficit. In fact, the report says that the deficit would only increase if cost containment measures in the bill were phased out over time, and found that the deficit would decrease if those measures were maintained.
The Washington Post hid almost a full year of job creation in Ohio, suggesting that it was only after Republicans won elections in 2010 that the economy began to recover.
The Post highlighted the heavy focus on Ohio during the waning days of the presidential election and reported:
Over the past two years, Ohio's economy has begun to rebound. Unemployment stands at 7 percent, below the national average and down from 9.4 percent in November 2010, when Republicans scored major victories in the midterm elections. Republican Gov. John Kasich claims his policies have helped turn around the economy, but the brightening picture gives a potential lift to Obama as Election Day nears.
But the unemployment rate in Ohio had been falling the entire year leading up to the 2010 election, after it had peaked at 10.6 percent in late 2009. The unemployment rate in the state declined throughout 2010 and by September 2012 had dropped to the lowest level since before President Obama was elected.
Fox News' Stuart Varney suggested that third quarter economic growth as measured by the Commerce Department was a conspiracy to help reelect President Obama, pointing to the fact that economic growth was driven in part by increased government spending.
On Friday, the Commerce Department released its initial estimate of gross domestic product, reporting that the economy grew by 2 percent in the third quarter. That figure was slightly higher than what economists had estimated.
Varney, discussing the figure on Fox News, raised doubts about the numbers, saying: "Dig deeper. Look inside that report, and you see a big 9.6 percent jump in government spending. There is some suspicion that these numbers have been juiced by government spending deliberately in that quarter, in the report, right before the election."
The increase in government spending during the third quarter marked the first quarter in two years when government spending increased. But the rate of increase was not unprecedented, undermining Varney's effort to make this an election year conspiracy. Spending by the federal government jumped by 9.6 percent during the third quarter, driven primarily by increased defense spending. Federal spending increased at a similar rate during the final three months of 2008 and during the second quarter of 2010. Federal spending increased by 13.7 percent during the second quarter of 2009.
Varney's GDP trutherism comes on the heels of his suggestion earlier this month that the Bureau of Labor Statistics was manipulating unemployment data to boost Obama's reelection chances, part of a broader right-wing effort to downplay positive economic news.
The Columbus Dispatch relied on cherry-picked economic data to endorse Mitt Romney for president, painting a distorted picture of the Ohio economy and ignoring Romney's opposition to the successful rescue of the auto industry.
In its October 21 endorsement, the Dispatch wrote:
After nearly four years of economic stagnation, massive unemployment, record-setting debt and government intrusions into the economy that have paralyzed the private sector, the United States needs a new direction. For this reason, The Dispatch urges voters to choose Republican Mitt Romney for president in the Nov. 6 election.
The Dispatch backed up its endorsement by distorting a key economic indicator: the unemployment rate. Specifically, the endorsement cited the right-wing canard that the national unemployment rate was "above 8 percent for 43 of the past 44 months." This masks the fact that the national unemployment rate has been dramatically falling for the past year, part of a broader 2-year decline that has brought the unemployment rate to its lowest level since Obama took office.
And the Dispatch, one of the largest newspapers in Ohio, made no mention of how the Ohio economy has fared under Obama.
In fact, the unemployment situation in Ohio completely undermines the Dispatch argument that Obama's economic stewardship has failed Ohioans. The Ohio unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in January 2009, when Obama took office. The current unemployment rate in the state is 7 percent. The unemployment rate in Ohio is almost 20 percent lower since Obama took office. This is part of a larger trend: the unemployment rate dropped in 41 states in September.
The Dispatch also defended its endorsement by touting what it described as Romney's "wealth of executive experience in the private sector and the public sector," arguing that "Romney's adult life has been spent turning around troubled private and public institutions."
Romney has gone to great lengths to hide his opposition to the auto rescue, dishonestly claiming that he supported the same managed bankruptcy that the Obama administration used to rescue the auto industry in 2009. In reality, Romney's position would have deprived GM and Chrysler of the money needed to get through bankruptcy, and likely would have led to the auto companies being forced into liquidation.
The auto industry accounts for 850,000 jobs in Ohio. It's journalistic malpractice for the Dispatch to ignore the auto rescue while defending Romney's record investing in struggling companies.
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Yesterday, after the Treasury Department announced that total public debt has surpassed $16 trillion, a number of media outlets quoted vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan attacking President Obama for not reducing said debt. "Of all the broken promises from President Obama, this is probably the worst one because this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," said Ryan in Iowa, stumping for Mitt Romney. That debt, however, didn't create itself. It's primarily the product of Bush-era policies that Paul Ryan voted to enact -- a fact that was lost in the coverage of Ryan attacking the debt he helped create.
Uncritical quotation of Ryan's debt attack abounds -- NBC, ABC, the Los Angeles Times, National Journal, and so on. But as Ezra Klein pointed out during last week's Republican National Convention, which featured a prominently displayed debt clock in the convention hall, the majority of current debt can be laid at the feet of George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress of the early 2000s.
The specific Bush-era policies driving debt, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, are the tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bailouts of Wall Street and Fannie and Freddie. Economic recovery measures put in place under Obama, i.e. the stimulus, play a comparatively miniscule part in the total debt picture.
Paul Ryan voted for the tax cuts. He voted for the wars. He voted for TARP. Every Bush-era policy that ballooned the debt to its current level got the Paul Ryan stamp of approval. And if press outlets are going to quote him saying "this debt is threatening jobs today, it is threating prosperity today," they should note that this "threat" is partially of his own creation.