A misleading NPR report has become fodder for a right-wing media campaign to scapegoat federal disability benefits, despite the fact that the rise in disability claims can be attributed to the economic recession and demographic shifts, and that instances of fraud are minimal.
NPR reported that the rise in the number of federal disability beneficiaries was "startling" and claimed it was explained by unemployed workers with "squishy" claims of disability choosing to receive federal benefits rather than work. Right-wing media called the report "brilliant," and used it to further the myth that the increase in the number of individuals receiving disability benefits reveals fraud in the system.
Breitbart.com's Wynton Hall wrote that NPR's "eye-opening" piece uncovered a disability program "fraught with fraud." Fox Nation promoted the piece with the headline, "Every Month, 14 Million People Get a Disability Check from the Government..." The National Review Online's blog called the piece "brilliant," while the Washington Examiner's editorial offered it as evidence that disability benefits provide "a voluntary life sentence to idle poverty." The Drudge Report linked to the NPR story and to the Breitbart.com article:
But as Media Matters previously noted, these reports failed to include crucial facts that explain the rise in disability benefits. The recent financial crisis and the rising rate of child poverty have made more children eligible to receive benefits through the Supplemental Security program, while the growth in the number of adults receiving benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance since the 1970s is largely explained by increases in the number of women qualifying for benefits. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, as women have joined the workforce in greater numbers over the past few decades, more women are eligible for disability benefits, resulting in higher numbers of beneficiaries.
Furthermore, in a report published in March 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of disability benefits are not a widespread problem, and accounted for less than four percent of total improper payments made by federal agencies in fiscal year 2011.
Right-wing media fabricated a conspiracy that "pro-Obama groups" will be able to steer health care reform insurance applicants to register to vote as Democrats, ignoring a 1993 law that requires programs offering public assistance to include questions about voter registration.
Right-wing media outlets like The Washington Examiner, the Daily Caller and The Washington Times reported that a draft application for health insurance through the health care reform law twice asked if an applicant wished to register to vote. They claimed that organizations who may register Americans for health insurance through health care reform may steer applicants "to register with the Democratic Party."
On Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson similarly fearmongered over "the bigger concern" for health care reform insurance applicants that "pro-Obama groups...would steer them to register as Democrats":
In fact, such voter registration questions on the draft application are required under law. A portion of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, otherwise known as the "Motor Voter Act," requires that programs that offer public assistance benefits, like the Medicaid benefits and tax credits contained in the draft health care reform insurance application, must offer voter registration:
Section 7 of the Act requires states to offer voter registration opportunities at all offices that provide public assistance and all offices that provide state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities. Each applicant for any of these services, renewal of services, or address changes must be provided with a voter registration form of a declination form as well as assistance in completing the form and forwarding the completed application to the appropriate state or local election official.
National Review Online (NRO) and The Washington Examiner distorted last month's jobs report, which found the economy added 236,000 jobs in the month of February, to inaccurately claim more people left the labor force than found employment.
NRO and the Examiner contrasted February job creation totals with the change in the labor force -- a meaningless comparison -- in order to downplay the good news from the job creation figures. The Washington Examiner declared in an editorial titled "False hopes in the new employment numbers," "[M]ore Americans gave up looking for work and dropped out of the labor force last month (296,000) than took new jobs (260,000)." Similarly, NRO's blog, The Corner, wrote of the new jobs report:
By most historical measures, the jobs picture remains bleak. Sure, the unemployment rate ticked down. But as I noted Friday, if today's unemployment rate were measured against the same labor participation as when President Obama took office, it would be 10.7 percent.
But wait a minute, say Obama supporters, 260,000 jobs were created in February! Yes, seems encouraging. Until you realize that even more people -- 296,000 -- dropped out of the labor market entirely.
NRO and the Examiner are misleadingly comparing numbers from two different surveys. Indeed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy added 236,000 jobs in the month of February. This figure comes from BLS' Current Employment Survey, a survey of over 400,000 worksites to determine the total number of jobs gained or lost during the month. In addition, BLS conducts a Current Population Survey of approximately 60,000 households to determine the unemployment rate. "There are a number of differences in how employment is counted in the two surveys," BLS clarified, and so often the surveys' findings differ.
So when the NRO and the Examiner compare the number of those who "dropped out of the labor force," a stat from CPS, to the monthly job creation, a stat from CES, the comparison is meaningless, as the surveys use different methodologies. In addition, they imply that the 296,000 not in the labor force is the number of people who were seeking work but have stopped looking for jobs. But retirees and teenagers not seeking work are included in the BLS' definition of those "not in the labor force," so this number includes people who had no intention of seeking work in the month of February:
Not in the labor force (Current Population Survey)
Includes persons aged 16 years and older in the civilian noninstitutional population who are neither employed nor unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary. Information is collected on their desire for and availability for work, job search activity in the prior year, and reasons for not currently searching.
Conservative media are in the middle of a concerted push to claim that a government report confirms their longstanding claim that the federal government wastes tax money on employees whose sole duty is "union work," but ignore key content of the report in question that undermines their misleading narrative.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney made that claim on the February 28 edition of Fox & Friends. But Varney's oversimplified version of the conservative case ignores the content of the report in question, and the more sophisticated version of the case made elsewhere falls apart under minimal scrutiny of the evidence these outlets offer.
During a discussion on federal expenditures for union activity, Varney said that the recipients "worked full-time on union business," and "did not work for the taxpayer." When host Steve Doocy noted that's not how private-sector unions tend to work, Varney replied "Well I don't want to be cynical, Steve, but you've never worked for the federal government, now have you?" Watch:
The report Varney cites from the Office of Personnel and Management directly contradicts his blanket assertion that this money goes to full-time union reps in the introduction. OPM explains that "voluntary membership in Federal sector unions results in considerable reliance by unions on the volunteer work of bargaining unit employees, rather than paid union business agents." In the next paragraph, OPM adds that these hours of pay go to "Federal employees performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. It allows unions to satisfy their duty of fair representation to members and non-members alike."
Varney's presentation of this misinformation on a flagship Fox News program may prove an inflection point for a piece of misinformation that's percolated through other, smaller conservative media outlets since the OPM report came out in mid-February. On February 19, Fox Nation hyped a Washington Post story that noted some of the contextual information OPM provided. That same day, a Washington Examiner editorial writer highlighted the report. RedState.com put its own write-up on the front page on February 21, beneath an image of brass knuckles atop a pile of cash. On the February 27 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox Business' Liz MacDonald made the same set of claims, and numerous other op-eds and blog posts from conservatives have accused the government of this same misspending of taxpayer dollars. Conservative gripes about "official time" expenditures are not new, however, as this 2011 Heritage Foundation testimony on the subject indicates.
Many of these other instances cite Freedom of Information Act requests by the conservative Americans for Limited Government to back their claims. According to ALGFOIAFiles.com, the group requested information from four departments on employees who perform "official time" labor representation work full-time. All four -- the Environmental Protection Agency, National Labor Relations Board, Small Business Administration, and the Department of Transportation -- responded between September and November of 2012. While conservatives like Trey Kovacs, a labor analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, point to the EPA (which found 17 full-time union reps) and DOT (which found 38) responses as proof of a widespread "problem" whereby taxpayers fund work that does not benefit them, the reality of these four FOIA responses is not nearly so convenient for conservatives.
The data expose this claim for what it is: ideology masquerading as empiricism. As the table below shows, according to the most recent data available the four departments ALG successfully FOIA'd have as many as 0.19 percent of their employees doing union representation work full-time. And those employees do not account for all of the billed "official time" hours in any department, confirming that there are indeed many public servants (in the conservative sense of the phrase) who pitch in to bargaining and other representational efforts as needed.
As the State Department nears a decision on whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, the media is exaggerating its economic benefits and downplaying environmental risks to advocate for the project. Here, Media Matters takes on five of the prevailing media myths about Keystone XL.
Conservative media have denigrated solar energy by denying its sustainability, ignoring its successes, and arguing the U.S. should simply cede the solar market to China. Yet this booming industry has made great strides, and with the right policies can become a major source of our power.
The right-wing media are claiming that the "liberal agenda" President Obama outlined in his second inaugural address is out of the mainstream, even though polling has shown that the majority of Americans agree with Obama's stances on marriage equality, sustainable energy, and other issues.
Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.
Two days after linking potential gun violence prevention measures to Adolf Hitler, the Drudge Report is highlighting a story reporting that Google searches for "Hitler gun control" have spiked.
On Wednesday, the Drudge Report used images of Hitler and Joseph Stalin to highlight a report that President Obama is considering executive action to strengthen gun laws. On Thursday, the Washington Examiner reported that "web users interest in the history of Hitler and gun control has spiked since Democrats began demanding more restrictions on high capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons":
On Friday, Drudge linked to the Examiner story with the headline "GOOGLE searches for 'Hitler gun control' spike...":
PolitiFact's "lie of the year," awarded today to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign for falsely claiming that Jeep planned to move U.S. production facilities to China, had its roots in conservative media. Throughout the 2012 campaign, many falsehoods used by Romney and the Republican Party were created by and popularized by the conservative press.
On October 25, the Washington Examiner claimed that Jeep "is considering giving up on the United States and shifting production to China," mischaracterizing an interview Jeep president Mike Manley gave to Bloomberg a few days earlier, in which Manley said Jeep would be expanding production to China. The story was soon picked up and promoted by the Drudge Report.
A day later, at an October 26 campaign rally in Ohio, Romney noted at a campaign rally that he "saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep -- now owned by the Italians -- is thinking of moving all production to China."
The false story soon became the basis of a Romney campaign ad that received heavy rotation in Ohio, which prompted a denial from Jeep's parent company Chrysler and fact-checks from several news outlets. Nonetheless, Fox News stridently defended the accuracy of Romney's ad -- Fox business contributor Stuart Varney called the ad "flat-out accurate," while chief national correspondent Jim Angle claimed "the head of Fiat-Chrysler confirmed exactly what the Romney ad said."
Right-wing media outlets are echoing and defending Mitt Romney's false claim that Chrysler is sending a Jeep production line from the United States to China. In fact, as numerous media outlets have pointed out, Jeep is not sending any U.S. jobs to China; rather, the U.S. is opening a new production line in China for the Chinese domestic market.
At a rally in Ohio on October 26, Romney said that he "saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep -- now owned by the Italians -- is thinking of moving all production to China." The Detroit News reported that Romney "was apparently responding to reports Thursday on right-leaning blogs that misinterpreted a recent Bloomberg News story earlier this week that said Chrysler, owned by Italian automaker Fiat SpA, is thinking of building Jeeps in China for sale in the Chinese market."
Indeed, the Washington Examiner claimed the previous day that Jeep "is considering giving up on the United States and shifting production to China." The Examiner's Paul Bedard also wrote that Jeep is "shifting production of all Jeeps to China, which has a strong desire for Jeeps." The Drudge Report also hyped the Examiner post.
On his October 27 Fox Business show, host Neil Cavuto echoed Romney's claim, saying (via Nexis) that Jeep is "apparently shifting gears and its production plan, moving a lot of manufacturing out of Michigan and right into China."
On October 29, NewsBusters smeared MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, likening her to Saddam Hussein's propaganda minister "Baghdad Bob" after she said that Romney was wrong. NewsBusters claimed "it's still unclear" how Romney was wrong when he said Jeep is thinking of moving its production to China:
Chrysler is majority-owned by Fiat and hence it is within Fiat's power to move Jeep production wherever it wants. Since the company "may eventually" make all its Jeeps in China, as Bloomberg reported, citing a company executive as its source, one can only conclude that Romney's lying about this, as far as Maddow is concerned, stems from him not actually reading a story about it as he claimed, but getting his information elsewhere.
Also on October 29, the Drudge Report linked to a Romney ad on the auto rescue with the headline: "Romney hits auto bailout as Chrysler moves Jeep production to China." But this ad has been criticized for its inaccuracy. A Boston Globe post titled "Mitt Romney ad suggests US auto jobs headed to China" said that while the ad "does not state explicitly" that jobs are moving to China, "it connects Jeep's manufacturing in China to Romney's fighting for American jobs." The Hill said that Romney's ad "references a report that Chrysler is outsourcing its U.S. Jeep production," despite Chrysler's statements to the contrary. And National Journal wrote that Romney "is running a new TV ad that implies Chrysler is planning to move U.S. auto jobs to China, though that is not the case."
These claims and NewsBusters' defense of Romney are completely wrong. The Bloomberg article that NewsBusters references to prove Romney is right also includes this line that the right-wing media watchdog organization left out (emphasis added):
Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. [Fiat and Chrysler executive] Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.
Conservative media outlets pushed at least eleven misleading attacks on President Obama's energy policies that have become talking points used by Mitt Romney's campaign. The conservative media bubble has largely prevented voters from hearing the facts about clean energy programs, fossil fuel production and environmental regulation under the Obama administration.
Right-wing media are attacking ABC reporter Martha Raddatz, the moderator of the vice-presidential debate, complaining that she interrupted GOP candidate Paul Ryan significantly more than Vice President Joe Biden. In fact, Raddatz interrupted Biden and Ryan roughly the same number of times.
Following the October 11 debate, right-wing media figures complained that Raddatz cut Ryan off significantly more often than she did Biden. Washington Examiner senior editorial writer Philip Klein tweeted, "Every time Biden starts interrupting Ryan, Martha Raddatz cuts Ryan off." Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham complained that Raddatz interrupted Ryan when he rebutted "Biden's illogical position on abortion and Catholic Church." Town Hall news editor Katie Pavlich wrote, "This debate should be renamed: Joe Biden and the Moderator Interrupt Paul Ryan!"
But Raddatz interrupted Biden and Ryan approximately an equal number of times. According to a Media Matters review of the debate, Raddatz interrupted Biden 15 times and Ryan 18 times:
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and vocal critic of the Obama administration, is often sought after by the media for his opinion on foreign policy issues, but his stake in the presidential election -- as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney -- is rarely, if ever, disclosed by the outlets that publish him.
In addition to editorials in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and appearances on Fox News that left Bolton's ties to Romney undisclosed, a Media Matters review found editorials in five additional publications written or co-written by Bolton that left out that key information.
In total, Bolton wrote seven editorials that were critical of Obama's policies for The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Examiner, The Weekly Standard and the National Review after he became affiliated with the Romney campaign. None of those op-eds identified Bolton as a member of the Romney team. However, three of those outlets -- the Times, Monitor, and the Examiner -- have reported separately on Bolton's position in the campaign.
Conservative media have claimed that the Obama administration is waging a "war" on "cheap," "clean" coal that will cause blackouts and massive layoffs. In fact, the Obama administration has simply implemented long overdue and legally required clean air regulations to protect public health without hurting electric reliability or employment, and much of the transition away from coal is due to the rise of cheaper, cleaner natural gas.