Nina Easton

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  • Media Hype Chris Christie's Plan To Cut Social Security As A "Brave" And "Authentic" Move

    Blog ››› ››› LIBBY WATSON

    Media outlets trumpeted likely Republican presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie as striving to be "authentic and brave" for proposing harmful cuts to Social Security benefits that would include raising the retirement age. 

    Speaking in New Hampshire on April 14, the New Jersey governor laid out a series of proposed broad changes to Social Security benefits, including means tests for seniors making $80,000 a year in non-Social Security income and a phase-out of all payments for those making above $200,000. Christie also proposed raising the retirement age at which seniors can receive benefits to 69 and the early retirement age to 64. 

    Many media outlets characterized Christie as a straight-shooter for his proposal, describing him as attempting to paint himself as a teller of hard truths.

    The Wall Street Journal, for example, wrote that Christie had "moved to depict himself as the fiscal truth-teller of the Republican presidential field" with his proposal, calling it "provocative, and risky." A Washington Post opinion piece said Christie was "positioning himself, like other would-be presidents of the past, as the one guy willing to talk straight about the government's unsustainable finances." An NBC News article on the proposal was titled "Chris Christie Sells 'Hard Truths' on Social Security Reform," while a Business Insider headline declared, "Chris Christie's plan to win the White House is to tell people what they don't want to hear." Fortune's Nina Easton claimed on Fox News' Happening Now that Christie's proposal "plays into the narrative that he's authentic and brave and tells it like it is." 

    Painting Christie as seeking to be seen as a "brave" and "authentic" truth-teller in coverage of his proposed Social Security cuts not only helps the likely GOP candidate spread his desired narrative, but it masks the harmful impact such cuts would have on the poor and middle class.

    "Raising the retirement age is terrible for the poor," Vox explained, despite Christie's contention that his plan would only affect the rich. Raising the retirement and early retirement age would effectively constitute "an across-the-board benefit cut of almost 10 percent in Americans' lifetime Social Security benefits." As economist Teresa Ghilarducci told PBS Newshour, "Evidence shows that many older workers are simply not able to work past traditional retirement age without substantial suffering. Reducing their retirement income and throwing them off medical insurance will create a new cohort of impoverished elderly, reversing the tangible gains in reducing old age poverty made since the Great Depression."

    What's more, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted, cutting benefits for those making over $200,000 is unlikely to save the program much money, given how few recipients earn that much. His estimations are backed up by a 2011 Center for Economic and Policy Research study, which found that 90 percent of Social Security recipients earn less than $50,000 in non-social security income. 

  • 48 Years Later, Conservatives Are Making The Same Arguments Against The Voting Rights Act

    Blog ››› ››› ARI RABIN-HAVT

    Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that helped force states and localities with a history of discrimination to have the Justice Department preclear proposed changes to voting regulations. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights icon, described the decision as "a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965."

    Voting Rights Act SignedToday marks the 48th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing that act into law.

    Conservatives are apt to defend gutting the law by arguing that our country has made significant strides in racial equality over the past 48 years. That being the case, one would hope that segregationists' arguments against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would have been relegated to the dust bin of history, rather than in use by conservatives today to defend discriminatory policies.  

    Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric used to attack the law and defend the Supreme Court's decision remains rooted in the segregationist defenses of Jim Crow. Regardless of the motives, the use of similar rhetoric shows a lack of historic perspective.

    Keith Finley, a professor of history at Southern Louisiana University and author of Delaying the Dream: Southern Senators and the Fight Against Civil Right, has detailed many of the arguments made by Senators from the old South as they fought the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the floor of the chamber.

    Sen. Henry ByrdOne such tactic was to accuse civil rights activists of aggravating racial tensions. According to Finley, Virginia Senator Henry Byrd, an opponent of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, claimed Lyndon Johnson would only increase racial tensions by "inflaming so-called civil rights issues" if he pursued the legislation.

    Forty-eight years later, that defense remains a go-to of civil rights antagonists.

    Two weeks ago, Fox host Bill O'Reilly told his the audience that civil rights leaders want "to divide the country along racial lines because that's good for business." While O'Reilly was specifically referring to reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict among civil rights leaders, similar sentiment has been expressed throughout the right in defense of the court's decision to gut the Voting Rights Act.

    When Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would use available tools to continue enforcing the Voting Rights Act, Fox's Eric Bolling accused the nation's first black attorney general of "thumbing his nose at the Supreme Court so he can widen the race divide in America." Nina Easton, a Fortune columnist, said on Fox's Special Report that Holder's move was part of an "ongoing electoral strategy by this administration to gin up the black and Latino vote."

    Sen. EllenderThe fight to defeat the Voting Rights Act in 1965 also hinged on pivoting away from the central issue of voting rights to the canard of defending the process. According to Finley, Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender claimed race had nothing to do with his opposition to the Voting Rights Act. Instead, Ellender argued that he was simply maintaining the integrity of the electoral process: "the task of making it clear that one is not against voting rights, but only in favor of maintaining voting qualifications, is not always an easy one."

    The same tactic is alive and well nearly five decades later and is made frequently by those advocating for strict voter ID laws, which experts say will disenfranchise minority voters.

    When Mother Jones' David Corn published the internal deliberations of Groundswell, a right-wing listserve, one of the debates he highlighted centered on the issue of voter ID laws:

    A high-priority cause for Groundswellers is voter identification efforts--what progressives would call voter suppression--and when Groundswellers developed a thread on their Google group page exploring the best way to pitch the right's voter identification endeavors as a major voting rights case was pending in the Supreme Court, the coalition's friendly journalists joined right in. Dan Bongino, the ex-Secret Service agent and 2012 Senate candidate, kicked off the discussion: "We need to reframe this. This narrative of the Left has already taken hold in MD. The words 'Voter ID' are already lost & equated with racism. Maybe a 'free and fair elections initiative' with a heavy emphasis on avoiding ANY voter disenfranchisement combined with an identification requirement which includes a broader range of documents."

    In response, Tapscott suggested, "How about 'Election Integrity'?" And Gaffney weighed in: "I like it." Fitton noted that Judicial Watch had an "Election Integrity Project." Boyle proposed, "Fair and equal elections," explaining, "Terms 'fair' and 'equal' connect with most people. It's why the left uses them." Then came True the Vote's Anita MonCrief: "We do a lot under the Election Integrity Banner. Does not resonate with the people. Voter Rights may be better. We really have been trying to get the messaging right."   

    Hans von Spakovsky, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and leader in the conservative movement's war on voting, wrote in USA Today that voter ID laws were "to ensure the integrity of our election process."

    Rush Limbaugh told his audience that Democrats only oppose voter ID laws "because that would have a very negative impact on cheating."

    Sen. TalmadgeFinley points to Herman Talmadge, a Senator from Georgia, who claimed the 1965 Voting Right Act was unnecessary because the "[right to vote] is probably the most protected right we have." Echoes of Talmadge could be heard in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision this summer. The Wall Street Journal argued the Voting Right Act was "no longer necessary" due to "American racial progress."

    Speaking about the Supreme Court's decision on Fox, network contributor Andrew Napolitano cheered the court's ruling, claiming the section stuck down "worked so well" that "the procedure is not necessary anymore."

    Von Spakovsky claimed in 2011 there was "a complete lack of evidence that the type of systematic discrimination that led to [the 1965 Voting Rights Act's] initial passage still exists."

    This 48th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act provides conservative media figures an opportunity to revisit the historical context of the language they use to confront issues of races, and begin to engage in a real conversation.

  • Fox News' Continued Calls For Special Prosecutor Ignores Legal Determination

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Fox News continued to push for a special prosecutor following reports that the White House chief counsel knew of an IRS investigation but did not inform the president, a claim that ignores the legal and political problems raised by involving a president in an ongoing investigation.

    On Fox News' Happening Now, contributor Nina Easton reported that White House chief counsel Kathryn Ruemmler knew about the investigation into claims that the IRS delayed approval of nonprofit status to conservative groups. After host Jon Scott asked why Ruemmler would know about the investigation and not inform Obama, Easton claimed a special prosecutor should be assigned to find out if the White House was being dishonest about when the president had been informed.

    EASTON: I think this all feeds Senator Rob Portman's call this weekend for the need for a special counsel.

    [...]

    A special counsel could be bad news for the administration because whenever a special counsel gets into a situation, it becomes not only "who knew what when," but "are you providing a truthful rendering of events that have occurred?"

    But Easton's call for a special prosecutor ignores the actual reason the president was not informed- to avoid the appearance of influencing an independent investigation. The Wall Street Journal quoted two former White House officials who pointed out that the White House counsel made the right decision to allow the investigation to conclude before informing the president:  

    Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was notified in a March 2013 meeting with the Treasury inspector general for the IRS that an audit was "forthcoming," according to the Treasury Department. But at that meeting, the inspector general didn't provide details of his findings, the Treasury said.

    Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel under former President Bill Clinton, said Ms. Ruemmler's office acted correctly in not sharing the information directly with the president.

    If she had instead gotten "involved and called people over to the White House for a full briefing to know all the details, you know what we'd be talking about now? We'd be talking about whether she had tried to interfere with the IG's investigation," Mr. Quinn said.

    John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff under Mr. Clinton, said: "The worst thing is if you do anything that is perceived to be interfering with an independent investigation" especially if it isn't fully complete. "That gets you in such trouble your head spins."

  • Will Fox Correct The Record On The GOP's False Benghazi E-mail Claims?

    NYT Report Counters Republican Narrative And Fox Reporting

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    A New York Times article directly refutes the claims of House Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner, that State Department officials knew immediately that the attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 were connected to "Islamic terrorists." Fox News willingly repeated the attack on its evening programming May 9 -- but now that the Republican distortion has been exposed, will the network clarify its reports for viewers?

    Boehner called for the release of a State Department e-mail sent in the wake of the Benghazi attacks that he claimed suggested the assault was perpetrated by "Islamic terrorists." At the House hearing on Benghazi on May 8, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), purporting to be reading from the email in question, quoted a State Department official as saying, "the group that conducted the attacks...is affiliated with Islamic terrorists." The phrase "Islamic terrorists" holds significance for Republicans who have suggested the administration knew from the outset that terrorists were behind the attacks but initially attempted to cover-up this knowledge for political reasons.

    The May 9 editions of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox Business Channel's Lou Dobbs TONIGHT hyped the Republican line. According to a Nexis transcript search, Baier played clips of Boehner calling for the release of the e-mail, to which Fox guest and Fortune columnist Nina Easton responded, "I was happy to see Speaker Boehner call for the release of those internal e-mails. Anybody who thought that this was just a Republican hazing as the opposition party in power, I think those concerns were put to rest yesterday. I mean, there's so many unanswered questions."

    Lou Dobbs also played Boehner's call for release of the e-mail, noting afterward that "somewhat predictably, no response from the Obama administration at this hour." Dobbs continued, claiming that Boehner's comments and the May 8 congressional hearings into the administration's response to the Benghazi attacks "open up new questions about the accuracy of the past testimony of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."

    The New York Times, however, obtained a copy of the e-mail in question and reported that the phrase conservatives are putting in the mouth of the State Department official -- "Islamic terrorists" - is in fact not used to describe the perpetrators of the attack. Rather, the official describes the perpetrators as having ties to "Islamic extremists" -- a distinction with a difference, according to the Times report:

    [A] copy of the e-mail reviewed by The New York Times indicates that A. Elizabeth Jones, the senior State Department official who wrote it, referred to "Islamic extremists," not terrorists.

    The distinction is important, administration officials said, because while the White House did not initially characterize the attack as terrorism, senior officials, including Ambassador Susan E. Rice, acknowledged the possibility that extremists had been involved in the assault.

    Fox News is no stranger to carrying water for the Republican Party, and the network has led the charge to push Benghazi cover-up conspiracies. But now that the latest GOP line on Benghazi has been exposed, will Fox inform its viewers?

  • Fox News Seizes On Obama Proposal To Attack Minimum Wage Increase

    Blog ››› ››› MIKE BURNS

    Fox News figures responded to President Obama's proposal to increase the minimum wage by resurrecting the myth that such an increase will negatively affect employment. In reality, there is no evidence that raising the minimum wage results in higher unemployment. 

    In his annual State of the Union address, Obama proposed raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour to stimulate economic growth. The increase would raise incomes for 15 million American workers. 

    In response, Fox News anchor Bret Baier and guest Nina Easton pushed the myth that raising the minimum wage will have a negative impact on employment. 

    Anchoring Fox's State of the Union coverage, Baier said that small businesses and Republicans typically push back on minimum wage hikes because they say "it will lead companies to cut back, lay people off, and not expand business."

    Easton, an editor for Fortune magazine, said that increasing the minimum wage "at a time when unemployment is still close to 8 percent is a job killer."

    In fact, studies show that raising the minimum wage does not result in higher unemployment.

  • Easton baselessly suggests financial reform bill is going after "small community banks," not Wall Street

    ››› ››› FAE JENCKS

    Nina Easton suggested that the recently passed financial reform bill "doesn't look like it's going after Wall Street" and that instead it "has got small community banks, farmers concerned." In fact, community bankers have expressed support for the bill and praised the distinction it draws between "Main Street community banks and Wall Street megabanks."