National disability organizations have criticized a misleading CBS News 60 Minutes report on Social Security disability which relied on anecdotal evidence to deceptively portray the vital program as wasteful and unsustainable, despite the fact that award rates fell during the recession and that fraud is less than one percent of the program.
On October 6, 60 Minutes stoked fears that the Social Security Disability Insurance program is "ravaged by waste and fraud," relying on Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) bipartisan* investigation and anecdotal evidence to hype growth in the program while misleadingly claiming that it "could become the first government benefits program to run out of money."
In response, organizations that advocate for and support people with disabilities nationwide have criticized the report. Rebecca Vallas, co-chair of the Social Security Task Force at the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities -- a coalition of approximately 100 national disability organizations -- told Media Matters the coverage was "sensational" and did a "tremendous disservice" to people with disabilities:
The recent 60 Minutes broadcast is just the latest in an array of sensational and misleading media reports that have perpetuated myths and stereotypes about the Social Security disability programs and the people they help. These media reports do a tremendous disservice to viewers as well as to people with disabilities. Any misuse of these vital programs is unacceptable; however it is unfortunate and disappointing when media reports mislead their viewers by painting entire programs with the brush of one or a few bad apples, without putting them in the context of the millions of individuals who receive benefits appropriately, and for whom they are a vital lifeline -- as well as the many disability advocates around the country who work hard to protect the rights of individuals with significant disabilities and serious illnesses who have been wrongly denied Social Security disability benefits.
Lisa Ekman, Director of Federal Policy at Health & Disability Advocates, said the organization was "extremely disappointed that 60 Minutes chose to air such a one-sided story based on anecdote and supposition ... Misleading media reports like the one on 60 Minutes distract from focusing on the real issue of helping American workers with and without disabilities achieve economic security."
The myths pushed by 60 Minutes have been repeatedly debunked by experts. The report admitted that the vast majority of people applying for benefits are denied, but ignored the fact that the majority of appeals are also denied, and that award rates have actually fallen during the economic recession. In April, the Wall Street Journal called the claim that federal disability benefits were to blame for people leaving the labor force "exaggerated," explaining that disability was in fact the least common reason individuals left the workforce.
As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker noted, the report also "completely ignored all the comments from experts in the field ... pointing out that fraud is in fact not rampant in the disability program." Indeed, the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly found that fraud accounts for approximately one percent of all disability payments.
Right-wing media have used questioning by CBS' Steve Kroft of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to accuse her of a "conflict of interest" based on an investment in Visa, ignoring her shepherding of historic credit card reform. Kroft's questioning will air on tonight's 60 Minutes, which was reportedly based on a forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer, the editor in chief of one of Andrew Breitbart's websites. Schweizer has worked on behalf of President Bush, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin, and drew criticism for a previous false attack on Pelosi.
On his radio show, Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that during interviews conducted by 60 Minutes, Sen. John McCain was asked about the financial crisis on Wall Street while Sen. Barack Obama was not. In fact, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft asked Obama several questions about the financial crisis, including, "What caused it? Who's to blame?" and "Do you think that Secretary of the Treasury [Henry] Paulson has done the right thing?"
During interviews with Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft characterized Obama's economic agenda as "ambitious and expensive," citing the costs of Obama's infrastructure, alternative energy, and health care plans, but there was no similar characterization of McCain's tax agenda by correspondent Scott Pelley, who interviewed McCain, even though, according to the Tax Policy Center, McCain's tax plan would likely add $1.5 trillion more to the federal deficit over 10 years than Obama's tax plan.