Fox News continued to hype the myth that the debt ceiling raises the national debt, smearing President Obama's comments at an October 8 press conference as false. In reality, the debt ceiling does not raise the debt or authorize additional spending, but instead enables the U.S. government to finance existing legal obligations.
Right-wing media are accusing President Obama of using "scare tactics" to score political points with the upcoming debt limit deadline, but professional economists agree that debt limit brinkmanship could end in disaster.
On October 2, President Obama sat down for an interview with CNBC correspondent John Harwood in which he said that Washington's political posturing was "different" this time, and that major financial institutions "should be concerned" by Republican threats to not raise the debt ceiling before October 17. But the right-wing media response to President Obama's caution has been to downplay the looming deadline while accusing the president of engaging in "scare tactics."
On the October 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade questioned if the president was hoping to "trigger a stock market sell-off":
In a later segment, the Fox & Friends crew was joined by Fox Business host Stuart Varney to discuss the effect the president's statements might have on financial markets. Varney and the hosts agreed that the president's rhetoric was designed to drive markets down and thus provide him with "extra leverage" in the debt ceiling fight:
Fox Business host Stuart Varney argued that the potential nomination of Federal Reserve Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen to succeed Chairman Ben Bernanke would be based in part on her gender, making no mention of her aptitude or qualifications for the position.
On the September 26 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney was joined by Fox Business host Melissa Francis and Fox News contributor Juan Williams to discuss the current and continuing role of the Federal Reserve. The panel largely focused on the recently politicized nature of the nomination process and who is expected to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman. Varney ended the segment by arguing that the potential nomination of Janet Yellen as the next Fed chair would in part be driven by her gender.
VARNEY: Would you agree with me that the lady in question here, Janet Yellen, is a shoo-in to be the next Fed chair because she's female, she's academic, and it is assumed that she would keep on printing money. That conforms with everything that President Obama wants in a Fed chair. She's a shoo-in, agreed?
Varney's contention that gender would play a role in the nomination process reveals a troubling development in right-wing media. Rather than discussing Yellen's qualifications as an economist, her history of accurate econometric predictions, or her broad base of support among economists, conservative media instead focus their attention on Yellen's gender.
On September 18, the Institute for Women's Policy Research sent a letter to President Obama supporting Janet Yellen, signed by more than 500 economists from across the country. The signatures included several former White House economic policy officials and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman also expressed his support for Yellen's candidacy in The New York Times. From Krugman's article:
Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Fed's Board of Governors, isn't just up to the job; by any objective standard, she's the best-qualified person in America to take over when Ben Bernanke steps down as chairman.
Fox Business is crying foul over Environmental Protection Agency-hosted climate change lesson plans, which it calls "propaganda." However, the material is aligned with the National Research Council, reflects the view of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, and covers many topics that conservative media have flagrantly misreported in the past.
The lesson plans, which have been available online to middle school educators for months, drew conservative ire after a tweet from the EPA appeared on Fox contributor Michelle Malkin's social media aggregation site, Twitchy.com, on September 12. By the next morning, it was considered big enough news that Fox News contributor Monica Crowley covered it on Varney & Company, asking, "Are they going to tell these kids to not exhale? Because every time you exhale, that's carbon dioxide."
Equally uncontroversial is the view that industrial activities -- particularly the burning of fossil fuels for energy -- have led to a surplus of life-supporting gases like carbon dioxide, which has made the planet hotter -- too hot, in fact. Even many prominent climate deniers acknowledge this much.
It is no surprise that the EPA's lesson plans are grounded in good, basic science; they were adapted from material designed by preeminent scientific institutions including the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The material is also aligned with the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.
Fox figures would do well to take a look at these plans. Here are three issues they cover that have proven tricky for them in the past:
Fox News psychiatrist Keith Ablow used the anniversary of the September 11 attacks to smear President Obama with the accusation that "he hates us," but was elected because Americans suffered from Stockholm Syndrome.
In a discussion on Fox Business' Varney & Co. about the anniversary of the September 11 terror attack, host Stuart Varney asked Ablow whether America's psyche had changed in the twelve years after the attack. Ablow responded that America suffers from a "captive mentality" like Stockholm Syndrome. As evidence, Ablow pointed to the election of Obama, who he claimed "doesn't even like us, he hates us," concluding that "when things get bad enough," America "will elect a patriot" (emphasis added):
ABLOW: Yes, but I hope not irrevocably so. Because I think what it set in motion is a kind of captive mentality. The same kind of thing that happens when a plane is hijacked and people aboard say "You know what? I am starting to think like the people who took this plane over." Why? Because they want to be safe and they want to endear themselves to their adversaries. And I think that the whole Obama apology tour, the election of Barack Obama was a manifestation of us wanting to say, "Look, we are not that bad, don't hurt us. Here is this guy, how bad can we be? He doesn't even like us, he hates us and we are electing him president."
CHARLES PAYNE (Fox Business contributor): When do we come out of this Stockholm Syndrome that you are talking about, when do we escape it?
ABLOW: It's good to be with another psychiatrist. Stockholm Syndrome -- We escape it when things get bad enough from that failed psychological attempt. Right? what is it? It's a form of denial. Bad enough that, just like an alcoholic falling on the pavement, you say, "You know what, oh my God, this didn't work. Trying to dodge and weave around who we are and pretend we're other than that by electing someone friendly to adversaries is not working, hence we will elect a patriot, someone very high on the Constitution and someone who isn't afraid to use power when it's indicated." And then we'll set things right.
Fox Business is claiming that because 2013 Arctic sea ice extent is unlikely to beat the 2012 record low, melting in the region is "slowing," an idea one climate scientist called "absolutely ridiculous" in the context of a long-term decline.
On Wednesday, Fox Business' Charles Payne launched a segment on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) State of the Climate report by claiming that the agency "has forgotten to mention ... that 2012 was one of the coolest years of the decade," thereby "slowing down the melting of Arctic ice this summer."
This statement was based on a lack of understanding of "regression to the mean" -- or in the case of climate change, regression to the new mean. This and other mathematical concepts seem to give Fox a lot of trouble.
Unfortunately for baby harp seals, Payne is wrong about Arctic sea ice melt "slowing" -- it seems he either didn't grasp the aforementioned idea or didn't read NOAA's report very carefully. The State of the Climate found record low Arctic sea ice extent in 2012 and included this chart illustrating monthly trends compared to the 1979-2000 average:
As Skeptical Science explained, it's unsurprising that 2013 will not likely beat that record low if you consider "regression toward the mean":
[N]ote that neither [of two statistical predictions for 2013 Arctic sea ice extent] predicts that 2013 will break the 2012 record (3.6 million square kilometers). There is a principle in statistics known as "regression toward the mean," which is the phenomenon that if an extreme value of a variable is observed, the next measurement will generally be less extreme, i.e. we should not expect to observe record lows in consecutive years. This is because when extremes are reached and records are broken, a number of different variables generally have to align in the same direction to make this happen.
In an effort to downplay the necessity of increasing the minimum wage, right-wing media figures have forwarded the notion that minimum wage jobs are primarily for teenagers and are a "stepping stone" to higher paying future employment. However, the prospects for upward mobility among minimum wage workers remain grim.
Fox Business' Stuart Varney flirted with the idea of denying food stamps to undocumented or legal immigrants and their children, asking whether they had "a right" to access those benefits, and even suggested that immigrants were taking advantage of the benefit by falsely claiming they were starving.
During a segment discussing a recent letter from Republican donors urging House Republicans to support and pass comprehensive immigration reform, Varney veered the discussion to benefits by saying, "I'm interested in the idea that they cannot be refused any or all government services. They can't." When Fox News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano explained that the Supreme Court has ruled that noncitizens should be provided the same basic social services as citizens, Varney went on to suggest that immigrants should be left to starve rather than receive the same food stamps benefits as citizens:
VARNEY: OK. So they must be served in an emergency room. Must have health services. OK, got that.
VARNEY: Must be educated. Their children must go to public school.
VARNEY: They've got every right to do that.
NAPOLITANO: Yes. Yes.
VARNEY: Food stamps. They got a right to that?
NAPOLITANO: Well, the case does not subsume -- the case does not address food stamps. But if a person were below the poverty level and starving, the federal government would have the obligation to alleviate that starvation.
VARNEY: So all you've got to do is, "I'm starving, boys. Feed me."
Varney then brought up the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable tax credit for working individuals and families with children, asking whether immigrants who pay taxes also had a right to receive it.
In fact, undocumented immigrants are ineligible to apply for public benefits, which include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Legal residents are also ineligible for the program unless they meet certain requirements, including living in the country for at least five years or being a refugee.
Fox Business provided a platform for a corporate lobbyist with clients in the fast food industry to dismiss striking workers' demands for higher wages without disclosing his industry ties.
Labor organizers in seven cities across the U.S. planned the largest employee walk out of the year for July 29. Thousands of employees in Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Flint, Detroit, and New York City will take part in what is potentially the largest fast food worker mobilization in history demanding better wages and stronger benefits from some of the country's largest and most profitable corporations.
On the July 29 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney interviewed Richard Berman of the Employment Policies Institute to provide a critical analysis of the walk outs. Berman dismissed the idea of raising fast food employee wages, claiming that the hike in pay would result in lower employment:
BERMAN: At $15 an hour many, I won't say a majority but many fast food restaurants are out of business, the business model just does not support those kind of wages. If people are feeling that they are not being paid adequately, then they have got to find a job someplace else
Berman, a corporate lobbyist, was allowed to provide this input without disclosing his organization's ties to the fast food industry. According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Employment Policies Institute is one of many front groups associated with Berman which provide political cover for clients in the restaurant, hospitality, alcohol, and tobacco industries. Berman specializes in a so-called "aggressive media outreach" approach intended to "change the debate" in favor of major clients.
Leading up to his interview with Berman, Varney also promoted an advertisement by MinimumWage.com, an Employment Policies Institute subsidiary, which falsely claims that the federal minimum wage kills jobs and replaces workers with machine automation. Fox and other right-wing media outlets have a long history of championing false attacks on living wages. In April, Fox News used similar tactics to criticize a previous fast food worker strike in New York City.
Right-wing media outlets are promoting the fallacious premise that any attempts at tax reform must be revenue neutral, an idea that tax policy experts wholly reject.
On July 25, The Hill reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would not be involved in the tax reform process set up by Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). According to the report, Reid suggested that, while he would not be personally involved in the process, "raising nearly $1 trillion in revenue should be the starting point for any tax reform negotiations."
Responding to Reid's call for additional revenue from tax reform, The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial that suggested true tax reform must be revenue neutral:
Democrats swear they support something they call "tax reform," but until the Obama Presidency that has always meant trading lower rates for fewer loopholes.
The Journal's premise that any attempts at tax reform must inherently be revenue neutral was quickly parroted on Fox News. On the July 26 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney said Reid has "destroyed tax reform" and claimed "tax reform has always meant lower rates, fewer deductions."
Varney returned to this false "tax reform" narrative on Fox Business' Varney & Co. In an interview with right-wing tax opponent Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist stated, "as long as Harry Reid is the leader of the Senate there will be no tax reform. He wants a tax increase, instead of tax reform."
Conservative media's notion that tax reform must be revenue neutral is directly contradicted by experts.
From the June 26 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Company:
From the June 19 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co.:
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Fox Business host Stuart Varney baselessly suggested non-citizens will now be compelled to vote as the "end result" of the Supreme Court's decision that Arizona cannot trump federal election law and make it harder for its citizens to register to vote.
In its 7-2 decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council, the Supreme Court rejected Arizona's argument that its state registration law is immune to the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, an "open and shut" decision authored by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia that was handed down only three months after oral arguments.
Varney, however, responded to the breaking news that the Court had struck down yet another unconstitutional Arizona law by claiming the decision would not only allow non-citizens to vote, they will now go forth and do so. His guest, Fox News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, while admitting Arizona has a terrible record at enacting constitutional legislation, added to the misinformation by incorrectly asserting "the states decide what the standards are for voting." From the June 17 edition of Varney & Company:
After months of struggling with how to report on good economic news, Fox News finally found a new strategy to attack consistently positive labor market gains: move the bar to an unreasonable height. While downplaying the May 2013 jobs report that was better than expected, Fox misleadingly cited employment growth during the Reagan administration and proposed a new standard for growth so unreasonably high that it has only been met three times in the past 30 years.
On the June 7 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, contributor Charles Payne downplayed the May 2013 jobs report -- a report that was better than expected -- saying, "You know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number." He then compared the number to the September 1983 jobs report when the economy added 1.1 million jobs. Later, Payne guest hosted Fox Business' Varney & Co. where contributor Monica Crowley claimed, "At this point in the recovery, you should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month." She also brought up the September 1983 report.
PAYNE: You know what, all things considered, what you just laid out: it's better than expected. But you know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number. It's extraordinarily mediocre with what we've gotten in the past. You know, the way we've come out of recessions in the past, we've had some amazing, robust times. I mean, going all the way back to Reagan where one month we actually had one million jobs created in a single month. For us to still be well under 200,000 is really disheartening. But you know, the good news is, a lot of people thought it could have been worse.
MACCALLUM: Wow, that's an - I just want to go back to what you just said. So during the Reagan recovery there was a single month period where we added a million jobs?
PAYNE: One single month. A million - by the way, we had a whole lot less people too.
But Payne and Crowley ignored the context of the 1983 report. While Payne portrayed it as just one example of the so-called "Reagan recovery," according to The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch blog, it was actually an outlier. Market Watch also pointed out that about 640,000 of the 1.1 million jobs can be attributed to striking AT&T employees returning to work. In reality, the average monthly job growth during the Reagan administration was 168,000.
Crowley's assertion that the economy "should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month," is also unreasonable. When Market Watch evaluated a similar claim by Gov. Mitt Romney, it found that job growth had only surpassed the 500,000 mark three times in the past 30 years. From Market Watch:
How rare is it for 500,000 jobs to be created in a month? The last time was in May 2010 -- when the U.S. hired thousands of workers to conduct the Census. (The next month, payrolls shrunk by 167,000.)
Lest Romneyites think that only President Barack Obama struggled to make that grade, neither President Bush, older or younger, saw job creation that strong. President Clinton had one-plus 500,000 month, when in September, 1997, 507,000 positions were created. (Aided by the return of striking UPS workers.) President Reagan enjoyed a spectacular 1.11 million-job month in September 1983, but that was the only plus-500K mark and was boosted by roughly 640,000 AT&T workers returning from a strike.
Payne and Crowley's claims represent a new line of attack, but this isn't the first time Fox News has reset the bar on how it characterizes economic news. As the economy has consistently improved, Fox News has repeatedly struggled to portray good news in a negative light. In some cases, it has even cut its economic coverage in half.
Still in search of ways to attack the federal government's investments in green technology, Fox Business baselessly claimed that the battery for the all-electric Tesla Model S "conks out after about 16 miles." In fact, the car is noted for its 200-mile battery range, which is superior to that of other electric vehicles on the market.
Positive developments about Tesla Motors' fortunes have been selectively covered by media of late, and the increasing likelihood that the company will be a long-term success has led some outlets to seek ever more inventive ways of criticizing the Department of Energy loan that it received (or pretend it never got a government boost at all). On Thursday's edition of Varney & Company, Fox Business reporter Elizabeth MacDonald aptly illustrated this phenomenon, claiming that Tesla Motors and Space X founder Elon Musk "has got to fix the Tesla [Model S] battery ... which conks out after 16 miles or about a half-hour of usage."
However, the Model S has actually been touted as a potential "game-changer" for its stated range of either 206 or 265 miles when fully charged (depending on which of the two batteries owners choose). At a consistent 55 mph clip, the larger battery can exceed a 300-mile range. Actual numbers may vary, as Tesla points out, according to "driving conditions and how you drive and maintain your vehicle," but the company's online tool shows a range of just over 150 miles for the smaller battery even at 65 mph, at freezing-point temperatures, with heat and headlights turned on and windows rolled down (i.e. less-than-favorable mileage conditions). The notoriously tough car reviewers at Consumer Reports, which earlier gave the Model S a near-perfect rating, cautioned that the car's actual range may not always align with the stated range, but reported nothing close to what MacDonald claims.
In 2011, MacDonald also appeared to pull a figure out of thin air to attack green energy investments, claiming that Evergreen Solar received "$43 million in federal money," when the bankrupt company had actually not received any federal money, according to The New York Times.
UPDATE (5/31/13): Elizabeth MacDonald acknowledged Friday on Varney & Company that she "gave incomplete information" on the battery range of the Model S, noting that one hour of charging using a mobile connector will add 31 miles to the car's range, while the fully-charged 85 kw battery has a range of 300 miles.