Numerous conservative media outlets are parroting the misleading conclusions of a September 2015 report by an anti-immigrant nativist group, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which claims that "immigrant households use welfare at significantly higher rates than native households." Like previous flawed CIS studies, these findings have been called into question by immigration experts for failing to account for the economic hardship of some immigrant families, lumping American-born beneficiaries into "immigrant household" categorizations, and conflating numerous anti-poverty programs with so-called "welfare."
A Wall Street Journal editorial on student debt takes aim at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's New College Compact college affordability plan, arguing that Democrats have "encouraged student debt" in order to win over young voters with debt relief proposals. In addition to favoring fewer opportunities for low-income students, the board's argument ignores the flawed and sometimes corrupt private lending system that led the government to reform the student loan process, and the recession-driven policies supported by both parties that have sent higher-ed costs skyrocketing.
The August 21 WSJ editorial characterized Clinton's recently-announced student debt relief proposal as part of a larger "arc of progressive politics" that first causes problems, and then presents voters with solutions. The short editorial - which is also short on facts - is worth quoting in its entirety (emphasis added):
The arc of progressive politics these days seems to be hoping to benefit from proposing policies to solve the problems their previous policies have created--and hoping nobody notices the cause and effect.
Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic presidential candidates have been proposing new ways for college students to reduce or write-off their student loans. The goal is to win over millennial voters with more taxpayer largesse, while slowly turning higher education into one more universal federal entitlement. Mrs. Clinton's proposal would cost a hefty $350 billion over 10 years, by her own no doubt conservative estimate.
What Democrats don't say is that such taxpayer generosity wouldn't be necessary if they hadn't done so much to encourage students to load up on taxpayer-guaranteed debt. The Education Department reported this week that some 6.9 million Americans with student loans hadn't made a single payment in at least 360 days. That's up 6%, or 400,000 borrowers, in a year.
The Obama Administration took over the student loan market in 2010, easing terms and expanding benefits. Now that the bills are coming due in (sic) more deadbeats, Democrats hope to benefit again by handing the tab to taxpayers. They nail you coming and going. [Wall Street Journal, 8/21/15]
The editorial lays the blame for the national student debt crisis at the feet of the Obama Administration, which it says "took over the student loan market" in 2010. That's a reference to The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which eliminated the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, a lending system that dates back to 1965 and offered government-guaranteed student loans through private and nonprofit lenders. In its place, the government created the present-day Direct Loan program, which cuts out private lenders and issues loans directly to students (private lending continued without the government's backing).
Among other things, the 2010 education loan overhaul lowered interest rates for certain borrowers, upped maximum award amounts for Pell grants, expanded access to both income-based repayment and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan by allowing borrowers to consolidate into loans eligible for these programs, and made income-based repayment significantly more affordable. The Congressional Budget Office projected that the new, simplified loan program would save the government $68 billion over 11 years.
The WSJ editorial made no mention of the 2010 law's cost savings for the government or students, or the circumstances that laid the groundwork for the reform. Before 2010, the government was paying millions to private lenders to subsidize interest rates on federally-backed loans. In 2004, it was discovered that private lenders were exploiting a legal loophole and overcharging the government for those subsidies. In 2007, several lenders also admitted to engaging in illegal deals with colleges to encourage students to borrow from them.
Those revelations shook public and policymakers' confidence in the whole system of privately-issued, taxpayer-backed student loans and helped set the stage for the 2010 reforms.
In August, 2012 -- two years after the Direct Loan program began -- the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report that showed how private student loans, which often come with variable interest rates and limited repayment options, expose borrowers to greater credit risk and higher costs. Despite that damning finding, the Republican Party's 2012 party platform called for an end to direct lending and a return to the FFEL-style lending system that had allowed private lenders to overcharge taxpayers and exposed student borrowers to higher debt costs.
Another of The Journal's claims -- that progressive policies have created a cycle of "entitlement" -- is undermined by the fact that bipartisan measures have increased pressure on students to borrow ever-higher amounts of money to pay for college. State-level budget cuts to higher education in the wake of the 2007 recession, for example, have been a proven cause of higher college costs across the board, especially at community colleges. An in-depth analysis of state higher education disinvestment from 2007-2012 by the Center for American Progress found that 29 of 50 states had lowered their direct funding of public institutions. By Media Matters' count, legislative leadership in those 29 states was almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, proving the fallacy of the Journal's claim that progressive policies are responsible for driving up higher-ed costs.
Finally, the Journal's claim that expanding access to student loans leads to more "deadbeats" looking to taxpayers to foot their loan bills echoes a common conservative talking point that says expanding access to higher education through accessible student loan programs results in unqualified (read: undeserving) students going off to college.
That argument ignores the reality that taking on some measure of student debt is inevitable for most Americans, regardless of what kind of school they attend. In 2013, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly 70 percent of graduates of public or private nonprofit schools had loan debt. Tuition costs are rising quickly at every type of higher education institution, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics: private colleges, state universities, vocational schools, community colleges, even professional certification programs. And the growing debt burden is shouldered disproportionately by low-income, black and Hispanic borrowers, many of whom lack the adequate financial resources to avoid borrowing.
The bottom line is that any argument against the loan simplification measures and expanded student aid established in 2010 is an argument to limit college opportunities, which will inevitably hit low-income, minority students hardest. The Wall Street Journal's elitist dismissal of the serious problem of student debt, and its partisan argument against worthwhile policy solutions, reinforces a stratified system of higher education that limits opportunities for deserving Americans.
Conservative media are seizing on a flawed, and later revised, Associated Press report to claim the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will allow Iran to conduct investigations of its own nuclear sites, leaving out important context that explains the agreement does not compromise the long-term inspection regime agreed upon in the international Iran nuclear deal, nor the ability of inspectors to observe the rest of the country's nuclear facilities, and pertains only to past nuclear activity at the Parchin military site. In fact, the agreement still requires "confirmation that Iran is keeping promises" for the country to receive international sanctions relief.
The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Fox Business are aggressively criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for accidentally spilling toxic wastewater into Colorado's Animas River while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine. But over the years, these same conservative media outlets have almost completely ignored pollution that was caused by the fossil fuel industry, devoting more attention to the EPA spill than to seven recent cases of industry-caused pollution combined.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board is echoing debunked oil industry claims that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) climate change plan will harm low-income families and people of color, while also denying the devastation that pollution is disproportionately inflicting on these communities.
In an August 12 editorial, The Journal attacked the EPA for including "new antipoverty transfer programs" in the Clean Power Plan, which will address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants. According to The Journal, provisions to "ensure that all communities share in the benefits" of the plan -- referenced on page 1,317 of the final rule -- are proof that the plan will harm low-income and minority communities by increasing home electricity bills. The only other purported evidence The Journal cited in support of this conclusion came from the National Black Chamber of Commerce, an oil industry front group whose "study" on the Clean Power Plan is based on climate science denial and thoroughly debunked industry-linked reports.
The Journal went on to attack the environmental justice movement as a "political grievance school" and dispute that pollution causes "disproportionate damage to the poor and minorities":
The [EPA] orders states "to evaluate the effects of their plans on vulnerable communities and to take the steps necessary to ensure that all communities benefit from the implementation of this rule." These are the themes of "environmental justice," the political grievance school that argues for income redistribution to offset the allegedly disproportionate damage to the poor and minorities from pollution.
It is more accurate to say that any economic disparities arise from the rule itself. Regulations that artificially raise energy prices are regressive.
The Journal couldn't be more wrong here. While the EPA has worked with environmental justice organizations to take precautions that will protect vulnerable communities from any potential short-term electricity bill increases, independent analysts agree with the EPA that the plan will result in significantly lower electric bills once it is fully implemented. That will help Americans of all socioeconomic conditions, but particularly low-income families.
Meanwhile, the immense public health benefits that will arise from the EPA plan will be particularly important for low-income and minority communities, who do disproportionately suffer from pollution, despite The Journal's protestations.
According to a 2012 report by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the annual per capita income of people who live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant is more than $3,000 less than the national average. Moreover, in 2011 Earthjustice and the Environmental Justice Research Center found that the poverty rate for those who live near a coal plant is a full percentage point higher than the national average. The groups noted that the problem is particularly pronounced in southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi, where "the poverty rate near coal plants is more than twice the national average," and Tennessee, where "the number of people living below the poverty line near coal plants is 41% higher than would be expected from the national average."
People of color are also disproportionately impacted by pollution, and therefore stand to greatly benefit from the Clean Power Plan. For instance, the EPA estimates that its plan will result in 90,000 fewer asthma attacks every year once it is fully implemented. That is particularly important for African-Americans and Latinos, who are each much more likely than whites to die from asthma-related causes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
These groups are also disproportionately affected by climate change. The NAACP has noted that African-Americans, who are more likely than whites to live in urban and coastal areas, are particularly at risk from climate impacts such as rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths. And the 2014 National Climate Assessment stated that new Hispanic immigrants are particularly "vulnerable to changes in climate," due to "[l]ow wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing," all of which are "critical obstacles to managing climate risk."
The Wall Street Journal may wish to dismiss what it calls "the EPA's form of carbon justice," but the reality is that the disparate impacts of pollution are very real, regardless of what its editorial board chooses to think.
Image at top via Flickr user Rainforest Action Network using a Creative Commons License.
If it seems like conservative media are relishing the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally spilled toxic wastewater into the Animas River in Colorado while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine, it's because they are. Many of the media figures who are most ferociously criticizing the EPA over the spill have a long history of opposing EPA efforts to reduce pollution, which suggests that they are conjuring up faux outrage about this pollution in an attempt to weaken the EPA and prevent it from fulfilling its mandate to protect Americans' air and water.
The Washington Times laid out this anti-EPA strategy quite clearly in an Aug. 10 article. The Times promoted the allegation from "critics" that the mine spill "threaten[s] the credibility of the Environmental Protection Agency at a crucial moment" and provides "ammunition" for opponents of the EPA's clean air and water protections, including the Clean Power Plan. The "critics" quoted in the article included Dan Kish, a senior vice president at the oil industry-funded Institute for Energy Research, and Michael McKenna, the president of MWR Strategies, a lobbying firm that represents polluting fossil fuel interests such as Koch Industries and Southern Company.
This is just the latest attempt by The Washington Times to use industry-funded "critics" to undermine the Clean Power Plan, which would address climate change by placing the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It follows two other Times articles that cherry-picked statements from fossil fuel industry-funded individuals and organizations to allege that the EPA climate plan "faces opposition from black [and] Hispanic leaders."
Then there's The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which revealed a newfound concern for pollution in an Aug. 11 editorial that lamented the "fiasco" in Colorado it blamed on "the green police." The Journal's stated worries about the "ecological ramifications" of the mine spill are hard to take seriously when they come from one of the most persistent critics of federal efforts to clean up pollution -- dating back to the Journal's claims about acid rain and ozone depletion in the 1970's and 1980's.
In the years since, the Journal's editorial page has consistently sided with polluting industries against EPA air and water protections. When the Supreme Court recently ruled against the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards on procedural grounds, jeopardizing a safeguard that reduces toxic air pollution linked to cancer, heart attacks, and premature death, the Journal called it "a welcome rebuke to EPA arrogance." When the EPA moved to reduce pollution by increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, the Journal declared that automakers were being held as "hostages" to the EPA's "crushing" rule. And when the EPA moved to protect waterways that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans, the Journal described it as an "amphibious attack" by the "Washington water police."
Now the Journal is urging states to "refuse to comply" with the EPA's Clean Power Plan, so that power plants can continue to spew unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air, threatening public health and exacerbating climate change.
Fox News has also been all over the EPA's mishandling of the Colorado mine spill, including comparing it to the BP Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez oil spills. But Fox pundits vigorously defended BP in the wake of the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and even claimed coverage of the Exxon Valdez spill was proof that "the press is horrible to business." They've also characterized the EPA's Clean Water Rule as a power grab, claimed that EPA officials are "job terrorists" for seeking to reduce smog, and enlisted fossil fuel industry allies to attack the EPA's carbon pollution standards.
For these conservative media outlets, pollution is only a problem when they can blame the EPA for it.
Right-wing media have reacted to the unveiling of the final version of President Obama's historic Clean Power Plan with claims that it will hurt America, denials that it will benefit public health, and personal attacks on the president and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. Here's a sampling of the conservative media's most unhinged, over-the-top reactions.
Media outlets downplayed the legal concerns swirling around Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's fundraising for his affiliated super PAC prior to his formal campaign announcement in their reports on the campaign's unprecedented fundraising success.
The Wall Street Journal had to issue an "amplification" to a Newt Gingrich op-ed after it was revealed the paper failed to disclose Gingrich's financial ties to a group involved in the piece's subject. A PR firm associated with Gingrich attempted to defend the lack of disclosure, but their baffling explanation is just further proof the Journal should have included the information in the first place.
As Media Matters originally noted, the Journal published a July 1 op-ed by Gingrich attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and promoting the U.S. Consumer Coalition without disclosing that the anti-CFPB group employs him as a paid adviser. The paper updated the piece this morning with the sentence: "Amplification: Newt Gingrich is a paid adviser to Wise Public Affairs, whose clients include the U.S. Consumer Coalition, which opposes some policies of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."
Washington Post writer Erik Wemple reported that Brian Wise, head of Wise Public Affairs, claimed that Gingrich has a relationship with his firm, but "'not necessarily a direct relationship with the USCC,' which is a client of Wise Public Affairs. 'The USCC wasn't involved at all in the creation of that article,' says Wise." Wise also reportedly said that Gingrich "has not advised USCC on the CFPB data-mining issue" and didn't see a problem with the WSJ piece.
Wise's response is puzzling, since the USCC states on its website and Facebook page (see here, here, here) that Gingrich is an advisor to the group. Indeed, the group's press release promoting Gingrich's WSJ op-ed identified him as "US Consumer Coalition Senior Advisor and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich."
Additionally, Gingrich's op-ed contains similar rhetoric as USCC's anti-CFPB talking points.
Three months after a Columbia University investigation found major journalistic errors in a Rolling Stone report on campus sexual assault at the University of Virginia, major news outlets say they have not adjusted their approach to covering similar stories. But rape survivor advocates say they have seen less coverage of the issue since the failures of the Rolling Stone report came to light, and, in some cases, an increased hesitancy in trusting survivors' accounts.
The November 2014 Rolling Stone article "A Rape on Campus" prominently featured the story of "Jackie," a pseudonymous University of Virginia student who told the outlet she was gang-raped in 2012 at a fraternity party.
After initially receiving praise, the article came under fire for an apparent failure to seek comment from the alleged suspects. Other factual questions arose, prompting Rolling Stone to commission an investigation with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and its dean, Steve Coll.
That investigation, released in early April, found the Rolling Stone story was a "journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine's editors to reconsider publishing Jackie's narrative so prominently, if at all."
Though the report outlined specific failures in the Rolling Stone editorial process (while declining to adjudicate exactly what happened to "Jackie"), it also pointed to broader problems in how all outlets cover sexual assault, and offered some suggestions on "how journalists might begin to define best practices when reporting about rape cases on campus or elsewhere." It recommended, for example, that journalists spend time further deliberating how best to balance sensitivity to victims with the demands of verification, and how best to corroborate survivor accounts.
In interviews with Media Matters, editors from The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and other outlets said they have not adjusted their approach to covering the stories of rape survivors in light of the Rolling Stone mess and the resulting Columbia report.
Several editors said that the Rolling Stone saga would not cause them to believe survivors less or hesitate to publicize their stories.
"I don't think that story holds any larger lessons about rape coverage, or whether one should believe alleged assault victims," New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet told Media Matters via email. "It was a poorly-done story ... It doesn't make me any more or less likely to believe a source. We always verify, get the other side, and report the heck out of a story, no matter the subject."
Other editors who spoke with Media Matters maintain their coverage will be unaffected.
"It hasn't, or won't change how we view these stories," said David Callaway, editor of USA Today. "I always thought the idea that news organizations would cut back on their coverage because of one poor example seemed a bit far-fetched. We still get people coming to us with stories or requests for coverage many times a day, and the ones we choose to go after we only pursue if we can verify. We have detailed guidelines on sourcing and fairness in coverage and we have no plans to change those in the wake of the Rolling Stone debacle."
The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Newt Gingrich attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and promoting the U.S. Consumer Coalition without disclosing that the anti-CFPB group employs him as a paid adviser. The omission is even more egregious since the Journal itself reported Gingrich's hiring last year.
Media coverage of Texas' restrictive anti-abortion legislation often presents a false equivalence between arguments from proponents of the legislation and women's health advocates, despite medical experts agreement that such measures are dangerous to women.
The Supreme Court temporarily blocked implementation of two provisions of Texas' extreme efforts to restrict abortion through a targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law. The provisions in question required all clinics providing abortions "in the state to meet the standards for 'ambulatory surgical centers,' including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing," The New York Times explained, and required doctors who performed the procedure "to have admitting privileges at nearby hospital[s]."
Media coverage of Texas' anti-abortion laws often provides equal coverage to both sides of the debate, at the expense of fact-checking anti-abortion proponents who claim, against the advice of medical experts, that the legislation helps women, as Amanda Marcotte noted in a July 2 post for RH Reality Check. Pointing to a recent article from NPR on the Supreme Court's move to temporarily block the state's restrictions, Marcotte explained that although the piece's efforts to quote both sides "is not, in itself, an issue," a statement from a representative from Texas Right to Life, which claimed the law was simply meant to protect women's health, went unquestioned. "What is frustrating is that there is not a whiff of an effort to provide actual real-world facts to give the audience context," wrote Marcotte. She went on:
NPR framed the story like it was two parties making value claims, with no way to measure their statements against evidence. The problem here is that the debate is not about values. Both sides claim to have the same goal--protecting women's health--and the fight is over who has a better strategy to get there.
Similarly, in their reporting on the Supreme Court's block, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal each included statements from both sides of the debate arguing that they were protecting women's health while failing to note that medical experts don't support the legislation.
Health experts have roundly backed abortion access advocates in their assertion that laws of this nature are both medically unnecessary and dangerous to women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Health Association condemned such measures in a joint amicus brief, writing that the measure to be implemented in Texas "jeopardize[s] the health of women" and "denies them access" to safe abortions. Yet despite the health community's denouncement of the provisions, the media often fails to interrogate anti-abortion proponents' false claims on the law.
Right-wing media are seizing on a New York Times report that misleadingly stated that Paul Begala sought "talking points" from the State Department before a CNN appearance to discuss Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state to attack the CNN contributor as biased. But in the email in question, Begala actually requested a "briefing," not talking points.
In the wake of the South Carolina shooting massacre that killed nine at an African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Wall Street Journal editorial board claimed that the institutionalized racism that enabled racist attacks on black churches throughout history no longer exists in America.
President Obama spoke on June 18 about the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, saying the shooting is reminiscent of "a dark part of our history," and explaining, "We know that this is not the first time in our history that black churches have been attacked."
The Wall Street Journal responded to Obama's remarks the next day, claiming that the institutionalized racism "that enabled racist killings" throughout history "like those in the Birmingham church" no longer exists:
A white man murdering black people in the South forces bad memories to the surface, and so it surely was appropriate for President Obama to note this in his remarks Thursday. Specifically, Mr. Obama recalled the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four black girls.
Amid the horror of Charleston, it is also important to note that the U.S., notably the South, has moved forward to replace the system that enabled racist killings like those in the Birmingham church.
Back then and before, the institutions of government--police, courts, organized segregation--often worked to protect perpetrators of racially motivated violence, rather than their victims.
The universal condemnation of the murders at the Emanuel AME Church and Dylann Roof's quick capture by the combined efforts of local, state and federal police is a world away from what President Obama recalled as "a dark part of our history." Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.
The Wall Street Journal dismissed concerns that likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has delayed announcing his campaign while he sidesteps campaign laws and continues coordinating with his super PAC, describing questions about his candidacy as the "return of the speech police." But Bush has been facing increased scrutiny from both legal experts and media noting that he may have violated the law.
Campaign law watchdogs organizations have repeatedly filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission urging them to investigate whether Jeb Bush is illegally coordinating with the super PAC Right to Rise. They argue that Bush is in violation of campaign finance laws that prohibit candidates from certain coordination with PACs and believe that Bush's actions suggest he should be treated as a presidential candidate under the law, regardless of whether he's formally announced his candidacy.
The Wall Street Journal dismissed these concerns in a June 8 editorial, warning readers not to "be surprised if the subpoenas [from the DOJ] hit Republican candidates at crucial political moments." The Journal described criticism of Jeb Bush for delaying his announcement as the "return of the speech police" from the "political left":
The theory behind this accusation is campaign "coordination," the new favorite tool of the anti-speech political left. Earlier this year the Justice Department invited such complaints with a public statement that it would "aggressively pursue coordination offenses at every appropriate opportunity."
Under federal law, illegal coordination occurs if a campaign expenditure (say, a TV ad) mentions a candidate by name in the 120 days before a presidential primary, or if it advocates for a candidate and if the candidate and Super PAC have coordinated the content of the ad.
The liberals claim that a Super PAC raising and spending money in favor of a Bush candidacy should be treated as coordinated expenditures, making them de facto contributions to his campaign. Candidate is the operative word here, a designation that has always been applied to those who announce they are running for public office.
Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer says Mr. Bush should be considered a candidate who is illegally coordinating because if you asked "100 ordinary Americans" if he is a candidate, they will say yes. What a bracing legal standard. What would the same 100 Americans have said about Hillary Clinton in 2013, or Ted Cruz in high school? Where is the limiting principle?
But the Journal's dismissal of the criticism of Bush's questionable PAC coordination ignores the growing number of legal experts who have raised questions about his actions. The New York Times noted that "[s]ome election experts say Mr. Bush passed the legal threshold to be considered a candidate months ago, even if he has not formally acknowledged it." CBS' Bob Schieffer similarly pointed out that it is "pretty obvious" Bush is running for president, even as he "rais[es] huge amounts of money for [his] super PAC." Even conservative blog Brietbart.com criticized Bush's PAC coordination, pointing to "Several campaign finance law experts [who claim] they believe Bush is violating the law."
The Wall Street Journal has previously advocated for doing away with the same laws they're now claiming Bush isn't breaking, again claiming they are "dangerous" and no more than a "political attack ... [as] part of a larger liberal campaign." In reality, the decades-old law crafted in the wake of the Watergate scandals to prevent coordination between independent groups and political candidates has long had support across the political spectrum, including the conservative majority in the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.