Author Page | Media Matters for America

Alan Pyke

Author ››› Alan Pyke
  • Fox Shields Austerity Push From Economic Realities Even Republican Leaders Recognize

    Blog ››› ››› ALAN PYKE

    Fox News covered Democratic criticism of harmful and unnecessary spending cuts as a purely political maneuver, without acknowledging that those criticisms are reflected in actual economic data, and echoed by economists and even by House GOP leadership.

    On the April 29 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer set up an interview with Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore by suggesting that only Democrats argue that America is not in a "debt crisis," and hinted that the raw total of U.S. debt belies that claim. Moore proceeded to divert the conversation far away from economic reality, first citing a Fox News poll on public concerns about the debt, then accusing anti-austerity Democrats of merely seeking to protect "the favored programs that they care about," before finally misleading viewers on the relationship between economic growth and spending cuts. From America's Newsroom:

    There are a few layers of deception to unpack here:

    1. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) acknowledged we don't have a "debt crisis." "We do not have an immediate debt crisis," Boehner said on ABC's This Week on March 17, acknowledging that he agrees with the President about the non-immediacy of the debt problem. "We do not have a debt crisis right now," Ryan said on CBS' Face the Nation on March 17, an acknowledgment Media Matters previously caught Fox concealing. This isn't, as Moore called it, "the new Democrat spin on the budget." It's an aisle-crossing reality.
    2. The primary research pillar of the austerity argument crumbled in mid-April. Insofar as austerity-pushing deficit hawks appeal to economic research at all, they primarily hitch their argument to research by Harvard economists Caroline Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. Reinhart and Rogoff argued that there is a tipping point, at a 90 percent debt-to-GDP ratio, past which economic growth is permanently stifled. Their research was thoroughly undermined by economists at University of Massachusetts Amherst, who found not only basic spreadsheet errors but unsupportable statistical weighting choices that render the Reinhart-Rogoff paper flatly wrong. This development might explain the uptick in anti-austerity rhetoric that Hemmer and Moore attribute to Democratic politicking.
    3. It's not just Democratic politicians arguing rapid austerity is harmful and unnecessary -- it's a broad range of economists. Richard Koo. Mark Thoma. Brad DeLong. Jared Bernstein. Dean Baker. Henry Aaron. Alan Blinder. Larry Summers. Even the American Enterprise Institute's John Makin (to say nothing of Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman). Observing that austerity is premature and harmful isn't a "new line" from one political party, as Moore claimed, but rather the consensus position of numerous and ideologically disparate economists.
    4. GDP data actually do show that spending cuts put a drag on the economy. While Moore mentioned the topline data on GDP growth for the first quarter of 2013, and then attributed that "healthy" number to "Washington get[ting] at least semi-serious about cutting wasteful spending," the actual data undermines his entire pro-austerity argument. "The U.S. government is in pullback mode, and whatever one thinks about reducing the size government in the long run, for now it is unequivocally the villain in slowing growth. If there'd been no change in government spending over the last six months, GDP growth would have averaged a respectable 2.55 percent, not the current soft 1.45 percent," The Washington Post WonkBlog's Neil Irwin wrote in his examination of the GDP report. The chart below shows just how slowed government spending has placed a drag on overall GDP growth in the age of austerity:

    These sorts of facts in the U.S., and related ones from other economies, are threatening to upend the entire austerity movement, as Irwin observes. But while that debate proceeds and evolves elsewhere, Fox News continues to offer conservatives a venue to avoid reconciling ideology and fact.

  • Major Errors Undermine Key Argument For Austerity Frequently Cited By Media

    Blog ››› ››› ALAN PYKE

    Reinhart and RogoffA wide swath of media figures have cited economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's January 2010 finding that a country's economic growth becomes impaired when its debt level exceeds 90 percent of gross domestic product. But the Reinhart-Rogoff paper is premised on an Excel error, revealed when other researchers reviewed the data underlying the commonly-cited debt-to-GDP threshold claim.

    Austerity proponents, such as House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), frequently claim that a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 percent signals economic doom, using Reinhart and Rogoff's work as leverage for imposing sharp cuts that economists agree would do serious harm to economic growth. Media coverage of  budget and economic policy throughout the past three years has also repeated that claim, often without a direct connection to the Reinhart-Rogoff work from which the notion derives.

    But that work, arguably the lynchpin of the case for imposing austerity in order to deliver economic growth, is crippled by basic errors, as the Roosevelt Institute's Mike Konczal explains:

    From the beginning there have been complaints that Reinhart and Rogoff weren't releasing the data for their results (e.g. Dean Baker). I knew of several people trying to replicate the results who were bumping into walls left and right - it couldn't be done.

    In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.

    They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result. [...]

    So what do Herndon-Ash-Pollin conclude? They find "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]." Going further into the data, they are unable to find a breakpoint where growth falls quickly and significantly.

    Rogoff and Reinhart responded to the criticism, which has since been criticized as a weak rebuttal. But now that those numbers are known to be wrong, the litany of media outlets which have cited them have an opportunity to reexamine their coverage of the austerity premise. Print media, notably The Weekly Standard, The Washington PostSan Francisco Chronicle, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have frequently reproduced the Reinhart-Rogoff thesis in covering budget and economic policy. Television and radio media have made frequent use of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper, including prominent mentions on NPR, CNN, and Fox Business.  

    The Reinhart-Rogoff threshold has long been challenged by fellow economists, such as former Federal Reserve economist Joseph GagnonPaul Krugman, and Josh Bivens and John Irons of the Economic Policy Institute, on the grounds that it gets the directionality of causation exactly wrong. These and other economists argue that high debt levels are a consequence of prolonged weak GDP growth, rather than its cause.

    As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker notes, however, the newly discovered errors obviate these more intricate economist responses to Reinhart-Rogoff: "we need not concern ourselves with any arguments this complicated. The basic R&R story was simply the result of them getting their own numbers wrong."

  • Fox Helps Bobby Jindal Recover From Tax Plan Rebuke By Pretending It Didn't Happen

    Blog ››› ››› ALAN PYKE

    Fox News buried Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's (R) decision to back down on his plan to eliminate the state's income tax, praising the now-dead proposal just days after Jindal acknowledged Louisianans reject the scheme.

    While the network has not covered* Jindal's April 8 speech rescinding the proposal, Fox News' America's Newsroom dedicated a segment on April 10 to the idea of repealing Louisiana's income tax. Before introducing Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, guest host Gregg Jarrett framed the topic, saying: "Creating jobs and helping put more money in your wallet--the state of Louisiana wants to scrap its state income taxes." As Jarrett continued, Fox displayed a graphical summary of the plan Jindal withdrew two days earlier:

    In his speech to state lawmakers, Jindal explained his decision to withdraw that plan as a recognition of fierce opposition to it. From The Times-Picayune:

    The speech is a major concession that Jindal's proposal, a complicated plan contained in a total of 11 bills, is unpopular both within and outside the Legislature. The proposal has come under increasingly heavy fire in recent weeks as business groups and advocates for the poor have assailed its effects and think tanks have questioned whether the math in the proposal adds up.

    Jindal acknowledges the strong opposition to the proposal in his prepared remarks.

    "I realize that some of you think I haven't been listening. But you'll be surprised to learn I have been," according to the text of the speech. "And here is what I've heard from you and from the people of Louisiana -- yes, we do want to get rid of the income tax, but governor you're moving too fast and we aren't sure that your plan is the best way to do it.

    "So I've thought about that. And it certainly wasn't the reaction I was hoping to hear. And now I'm going to give you my response and it's not the response people are accustomed to hearing from politicians.

    "Here is my response: 'Ok, I hear you,' " according to the text of the speech. "So I am going to park my tax plan."

    The governor went on to request that lawmakers write an income tax repeal bill of their own, and his administration has reportedly signaled interest in repealing the income tax even without any accompanying plan to make up the lost revenue.

    Numerous major news outlets reported on Jindal's speech as both a setback for his political career and a victory for the poor. MaddowBlog's Steve Benen noticed this is the second such rebuke Jindal's suffered so far this year, after his plan to end hospice care for Medicaid beneficiaries went down in the face of stiff criticism. But on Fox, Jarrett and Moore didn't just ignore Jindal's reversal. They praised Jindal's stillborn plan as a near-heroic effort to boost economic growth in his state. "The real story here is that Bobby Jindal is trying to take on the special interests in Louisiana, trying to make the case that Louisiana could be a really high-flying state if they could get rid of their income tax," Moore said.

    Beyond their attempt to recast Jindal's efforts in a more positive light, Moore and Jarrett continued Fox's pattern of misrepresenting the relationship between state income taxes and growth. Fox had previously ignored the regressive nature of Jindal's plan, and the April 10 segment featured the false claim that eliminating income taxes boosts state economic growth. Media Matters has previously shown Moore's work on that subject to be dishonest, and as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown, cuts in state income taxes are correlated with weaker economic growth except in oil-rich states. Furthermore, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported in February that the nine states with no income tax have shown substantially weaker economic growth than those with high income taxes.

    *A review of transcripts found that no Fox News Channel shows covered the Louisiana governor's speech from April 8. Fox Business's Stuart Varney interviewed Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform about Jindal's reversal on the April 9 edition of Varney & Co.

  • REPORT: Fox's Negative Labor Market Coverage Misses The Mark

    Network Ignores Its Own Standard For Improving Employment Conditions

    Blog ››› ››› ALBERT KLEINE & ALAN PYKE

    Fox News' coverage of weekly jobless claims in the first quarter of 2013 overwhelmingly focused on negative aspects of the labor market and broader economy. However, weekly claims numbers have been consistently improving, beating Fox's own standard for signs of a positive labor market.

    Fox Identifies Threshold For Improving Labor Market

    According to Fox News, economists believe when the weekly number of initial jobless claims filed stays below 375,000, it's a sign the labor market is healthy enough to reduce the unemployment rate.

    Fox News host Bill Hemmer cited that threshold on the January 10 edition of America's Newsroom, while showing a chart with a bright yellow line across it at the 375,000 mark:  "Economists say that weekly claims must consistently fall below 375,000, shown by that yellow line on the screen right there, to indicate that the job market is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate." When the next week's numbers came out on January 17, Hemmer's co-host Martha MacCallum again touted Fox's chart showing the threshold, noting, "You always want to look at the chart, in terms of the long-time trend here." She continued, "Economists say that the weekly claims number has to consistently fall below 375,000 as indicated by that yellow line."


    Weekly Claims Consistently Fall Below Fox's Threshold

    For the first quarter of 2013, weekly jobless claims have consistently fallen below Fox News' threshold of 375,000, signifying an improving labor market.


    The final report of the quarter, released on April 4, represents the first one-week spike over the 375,000 threshold in 2013, but the more telling number - the four-week moving average of weekly initial claims - remains well below Fox's bright yellow line. (Other news outlets report that the economists' consensus about the threshold is  400,000 weekly claims, and economist Frank Lysy says that new jobless claims occur at a rate of 310,000 to 320,000 per week when the economy is at close to full employment.)

    Fox's Coverage Dwells On Negative Metrics

    Despite consistent signs that the labor market is improving (by Fox News' own standards), Fox was overwhelmingly negative when reporting on weekly jobless claims.

    When the weekly claims beat consensus expectations or declined from the previous week, Fox News anchors regularly used the positive news to highlight other, unrelated metrics, such as rising gas prices or federal spending. When weekly claims did not meet expectations or rose from the previous week, anchors regularly used the news to paint a negative picture of the economy.

    Overall, Fox News was about 13 times more likely to present weekly jobless claims with a negative rather than positive tone. Furthermore, Fox's negative coverage greatly overshadowed neutral reporting.



    Media Matters reviewed every Thursday edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, and Happening Now from January 3, 2013 to April 4, 2013 and recorded the amount of time spent discussing the weekly jobless claims report.

    We identified "positive coverage" as that which indicated weekly claims were improving, or made broader positive implications for the labor market and overall economy. Positive coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.

    We identified "negative coverage" as that which indicated weekly claims were deteriorating, or made broader negative implications for the labor market and overall economy. Negative coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.

    We identified "neutral coverage" as that which directly reported the information in the Labor Department's weekly jobless claims report.

    When tone of coverage was unclear, Media Matters chose to err on the side of neutrality.

    We did not include coverage of topics that were unrelated to the weekly claims report, even if they were brought up in a segment that was primarily focused on the report. For example, the January 3 edition of Fox & Friends contained a segment that introduced the weekly jobless report and pivoted to discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. In this instance, time spent discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill was left out of the analysis. When it was unclear whether coverage of a topic was brought up in relation to the weekly claims report, Media Matters chose to exclude it from the analysis.

    In segments where coverage related to the weekly claims report was introduced before the report itself, Media Matters chose to begin time recording when the report was initially introduced.

  • Emerging Conservative Attack On Affordable Housing Policy Regurgitates Same Old False Crisis Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› ALAN PYKE

    Conservative media figures are painting a new White House push on affordable housing with the same dishonest brush they used to shift blame away from Wall Street for the housing bubble that precipitated the 2007-08 financial crisis.

    On the April 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Stuart Varney said that "lowering standards for who can borrow money to buy a home" is "what got us into trouble in the first place." The Washington Free Beacon made the same claim in an article titled "Subprime: The Sequel," and Ed Morrissey of claimed "the central failure in that bubble...was incentivizing increasingly risky loans with government cash and coercion."

    But the housing bubble of the early 2000s was caused by private sector lending behavior, not government policy. The government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, commonly called the GSEs, didn't lead private financial institutions into the subprime market and the complex financial instruments that made the bubble so toxic. Instead, they followed Wall Street there. As the University of North Carolina's Center for Community Capital explained, "Ultimately, profit not policy was what motivated Fannie and Freddie and loan products not borrowers were what caused their collapse."  

    The data support this explanation. The loans to borrowers with lower credit scores which the GSEs bought up fared much better than did similar privately-securitized loans. (Six times better, according to the Center for American Progress). A Federal Reserve report using different methodology "found no evidence" that government policies designed to encourage lending to lower-income borrowers had contributed to the subprime bubble. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's final report examined and thoroughly debunked the contrary argument, primarily made by the American Enterprise Institute's Ed Pinto:

    In direct contrast to Pinto's claim, GSE mortgages with some riskier characteristics such as high loan-to-value ratios are not at all equivalent to those mortgages in securitizations labeled subprime and Alt-A by issuers. The performance data assembled and analyzed by the FCIC show that non-GSE securitized loans experienced much higher rates of delinquency than did the GSE loans with similar characteristics.

    Morrissey's post labels Pinto, former executive at Fannie Mae, a kind of soothsayer "who originally pointed out the failure at [the Federal Housing Administration]." But beyond the wonks who've debunked Pinto's claims, financial experts and journalists like Bailout Nation author Barry Ritholtz, The New York Times' Joe Nocera, and Bloomberg's David Lynch have shown him to be a primary driver of the false blame-the-government narrative of the crisis five years ago that conservative media are applying to housing policy developments in 2013.

    An April 2 Washington Post article on the White House's efforts to broaden the reach of the current housing market resurgence notes that the recent improvement in the market "has been delivering most of the benefits to established homeowners with high credit scores or to investors who have been behind a significant number of new purchases." Housing officials, however, argue that a housing recovery that is limited to near-riskless buyers is constraining the broader economic recovery. According to the piece:

    From 2007 through 2012, new-home purchases fell 30 percent for people with credit scores above 780 (out of 800), according to Federal Reserve Governor Elizabeth Duke. But they declined 90 percent for people with scores between 680 and 620 -- historically a respectable range for a credit score.

    "If the only people who can get a loan have near-perfect credit and are putting down 25 percent, you're leaving out of the market an entire population of creditworthy folks, which constrains demand and slows the recovery," said Jim Parrott, who until January was the senior adviser on housing for the White House's National Economic Council.


    "I think the ability of newly formed households, which are more likely to have lower incomes or weaker credit scores, to access the mortgage market will make a big difference in the shape of the recovery," Duke said last month. "Economic improvement will cause household formation to increase, but if credit is hard to get, these will be rental rather than owner-occupied households."   

    Yet conservative ideologues in the media appear eager to cast any attempt to expand the list of winners in the housing market's comeback as a doomed repetition of an invented history of a crisis that was actually caused by widespread private-sector fraud, greed, and collusion.

  • O'Reilly's Comparison Of California To Cyprus Wraps Old Lies In New Fearmongering

    Blog ››› ››› ALAN PYKE

    Fox News host Bill O'Reilly endorsed the idea that the state confiscation of money from private bank accounts currently underway in Cyprus is likely to come to America, agreeing with a viewer's suggestion that "California will be America's Cyprus." His fearmongering is based on misrepresentations about how debt works in general, and about California's budgeting realities specifically.

    According to O'Reilly, California will inevitably default on its debt, and when that happens the state will simply start taking private property from Californians to settle up what it owes. From the March 27 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

    But debt does not work the way O'Reilly suggests. California can continue to service its debt, avoiding default even without reducing the principal amount owed, provided it stabilizes its debt levels. And it's doing exactly that, with a projected surplus in the current fiscal year after a combination of steep spending cuts and significant tax increases. Standard & Poor's upgraded the state's debt as a result, which should help further reduce the state's cost of borrowing (which is already half of what it was when Gov. Jerry Brown took office in 2011).

    Furthermore, according to CNNMoney, "California should have enough money next year to increase funding for education and pay down debt, while setting aside $1 billion in a reserve fund." O'Reilly failed to mention the state's recent, hard-won fiscal discipline, which belies his portrayal of the state's fiscal outlook.

    The Cyprus comparison would remain ludicrous even if California were not exhibiting increased fiscal health, as former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chair Sheila Bair has explained that such an arrangement "would never happen in the U.S. because we respect the rule of law and we have a strong agency called the [FDIC] that stands up for insured depositors and protects them." But O'Reilly's factual errors served an additional purpose that's common in the right-wing media.

    O'Reilly used the Cyprus fearmongering as a pivot to familiar falsehoods about the origins of California's debt. As Media Matters has repeatedly shown, the state's red ink stems not from union greed, but from budget laws that tie legislators' hands and ballot measures that simultaneously depressed tax revenue and increased the state's obligations. The conservative media's misdirection of blame for fiscal issues almost always ignores the cyclical, recession-driven nature of those balance sheet problems. But O'Reilly went further, ignoring the widely-reported end of Californian deficits to advance the same old canards about public finances.

  • 10 Examples Of Bill O'Reilly Flubbing Economics

    Blog ››› ››› ALBERT KLEINE & ALAN PYKE

    Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has a long and documented history of pushing economic misinformation on his program, reinforced recently by economist Richard Wolff who said O'Reilly's claims about the economy are false.

    On the March 25 edition of the independently syndicated Democracy Now!, former University of Massachusetts, Amherst economics professor Richard Wolff responded to O'Reilly's claim that European countries are going bankrupt because they are "nanny states," stating:

    WOLFF: You know, he gets away with saying things which no undergraduate in the United States with a responsible economics professor could ever get away with. If you want to refer to things as "nanny states" then the place you go in Europe is not the southern tier -- Portugal, Spain, and Italy -- the place you go are Germany and Scandinavia because they provide more social services to their people than anybody else. And guess what? Not only are they not in trouble economically, they are the winners of the current situation.


    [O'Reilly's] just making it up as he goes along to conform to an ideological position that is harder and harder for folks like him to sustain, so he has to reach further and further into fantasy.

    O'Reilly's misinformation on economic issues, however, is not just contained to commenting on the European experience. Here are 10 other examples of O'Reilly's failure to accurately understand economics:

    10. O'Reilly Falsely Compared The U.S. Debt Situation With That Of Greece. In an effort to force Congress to enact deep spending cuts, O'Reilly claimed that "like Greece, Ireland, and Spain...the USA has bankrupted itself." However, economists agree that the U.S.-Greece comparison is misguided and ignores the structure of the countries' economies.

    9. O'Reilly Dismissed The Recession's Effect On Gas Prices. O'Reilly expressed doubt over the economic downturn's effect on gas prices, claiming that President Obama's explanation for low gas prices was "totally bogus." In reality, gas prices dropped precipitously during the recession, a fact that many news outlets -- including Fox -- reported at the time.

    8. O'Reilly Claimed That Food Stamps Have No Economic Value. In a discussion about President Obama's stimulus bill, O'Reilly claimed that increasing spending on food stamps has "nothing to do with stimulating the economy." However, economists largely disagree, and studies have indicated that food stamps are among the most stimulative of government programs.

    7. O'Reilly Suggested Bush Tax Cuts Increased Revenue. In an interview with former President Clinton, O'Reilly claimed that because of "the tax cuts under Bush, more money flowed into the federal government." However, when tax revenues are expressed as a share of the economy, the Bush tax cuts resulted in the lowest level in any decade since the 1950s, a fact noted by many economists.

    6. O'Reilly Dismissed The Causes Of Income Inequality. In a discussion with Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers, O'Reilly brushed aside income inequality, claiming, "Income inequality is bull. Nobody gives you anything, you earn it." However, O'Reilly's statements ignored the fact that, at the time he said them, taxes on top income earners are at historic lows, and that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "typical middle-class households face higher rates than some high-income households."

    5. O'Reilly Blamed Undocumented Immigrants For California's Budget Problems. In a segment on California's budgetary problems, O'Reilly claimed that an "enormous amount of money" was being spent on the "illegal alien problem." However, O'Reilly ignored that fact that a majority of undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and that granting them legal status could have a positive impact on the economy.

    4. O'Reilly Repeatedly Suggested That "Irresponsible Behavior And Laziness" Cause Poverty. O'Reilly has consistently characterized the poor as "lazy" and "irresponsible," ignoring the consequences of the recent economic downturn and the rise in income inequality in recent decades.

    3. O'Reilly Claimed That The Economy "Would Be Fine" If We Cut Spending To 2008 Levels. In a segment discussing sequestration, O'Reilly called for a rollback in spending to 2008 levels, claiming that the economy "would be fine" if spending was cut to that level. However, this proposal that has been repeatedly criticized by economists as economically dangerous, costing as many as 590,000 jobs.

    2. O'Reilly Claimed That The Stimulus Was A Failure. O'Reilly has repeatedly stated that President Obama's stimulus package was a failure, ignoring the fact that, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, it increased employment by over 1 million jobs and raised GDP by between 0.8 and 2.5 percent.

    1. O'Reilly Repeatedly Claimed That Economy Is Worse Off Than It Was When Obama First Took Office. O'Reilly has consistently stated that the Obama administration's policies are hurting the economy, even going so far as to claim that it is worse off than it was prior to Obama's first inauguration. However, by almost every measure of economic health, including unemployment, net job creation, and GDP, the economy has improved greatly since 2009.

  • Fox Papers Over GOP-Obama Agreement On Debt Stability With Misleading Quote

    Blog ››› ››› ALAN PYKE

    Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)Fox News reporter Kelly Wright used a partial quote from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to paper over Ryan's acknowledgment that debt levels are stable for the near term, misrepresenting the debt conflict between President Obama and House Republicans.

    On the March 17 edition of CBS News' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked Ryan about an interview Obama had previously given to ABC News, in which he observed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt." Ryan conceded to Schieffer that "we don't have a debt crisis right now," going on to explain that Republicans differ with the president on how to handle the prospective crisis. From the March 17 edition of Face the Nation:

    RYAN: To borrow a phrase from my friend Erskine Bowles and the fiscal commission, we're the healthiest looking horse in the glue factory. That means America is still a step ahead of the European nations who are confronting a debt crisis of Japan that's in its second lost decade. It's partly because of our resilient economy, our world currency status. So we do not have a debt crisis right now, but we see it coming, we know it's irrefutably happening. And the point we're trying to make in our budget is let's get ahead of this problem. Look we know that in a debt crisis you pull the rug out from under people living on the safety net, you cut seniors in retirement. This is what we're trying to avoid. The purpose of having a reasonable balanced budget like we're proposing is let's prevent a debt crisis from happening in the first place. If we keep kicking the can down the road, if we follow the president's lead or if we pass the Senate budget, then we will have a debt crisis. Then everybody gets hurt. You know who gets hurt first and the worst in a debt crisis? The poor and the elderly. That's what we're trying to prevent from happening. Pro-growth economic policies to get people working, to bring in more revenue, and get the entitlement system under control so it doesn't go bankrupt so people can seriously plan for the promises that government has made for them in retirement. That's what we're saying, is, let's prevent a debt crisis from happening, we know it's coming, this budget does that.

    In the lead segment of the March 18 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, however, Wright excised Ryan's agreement with the president. After stating that despite Obama's "charm offensive," Republicans "remain skeptical about the president's sincerity," Wright offered a misleading paraphrase of Ryan's comments that implied that Obama's 'no immediate crisis' observation was a stumbling block in negotiations, rather than a point of common ground.

    WRIGHT: But some Republicans remain skeptical about the president's sincerity. Congressman Paul Ryan, who we just heard from, expressed doubts after the president's recent comment that America is not in an immediate debt crisis. Ryan contends that America is teetering on the edge of a crisis, and that it will have serious repercussions.

    [RYAN CLIP:] You know who gets hurt first and the worst in a debt crisis? The poor and the elderly. That's what we're trying to prevent from happening. Pro-growth economic policies to get people working, to bring in more revenue, and get the entitlement system under control so it doesn't go bankrupt so people can seriously plan for the promises that government has made for them in retirement. That's what we're saying, is, let's prevent a debt crisis from happening, we know it's coming, this budget does that.

    This heavy truncation of Ryan's quote suggests disagreement where there is none: Both Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) agreed with the president's assessment that any crisis is not immediate. That's because debt levels are stable in the near term, a fact straight from the Congressional Budget Office. The White House and the congressional GOP dispute the proper policy response to these non-immediate, middle-distance fiscal issues, but the president's "immediate crisis" comments are not controversial.

    President Obama and congressional Republicans agree about the importance of debt reduction, but dispute the timeline and architecture of that reduction. Ryan's belief that America is merely "the healthiest horse in the glue factory" may be misguided, but it is much more informative for fiscal debate watchers than Fox's focus on a ginned-up disagreement that Ryan and Boehner have already rejected.

  • For Positive Jobs Report, Fox Cuts Coverage In Half

    Blog ››› ››› ALBERT KLEINE & ALAN PYKE

    Fox News spent less than 11 minutes highlighting the February jobs report that showed the unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent, about half the time the network spent covering the August 2011 jobs report that indicated no net addition of jobs.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics' unemployment report for the month of February revealed that 236,000 jobs were added, causing the unemployment rate to fall from 7.9 to 7.7 percent. This marks the first time the unemployment rate has been below 7.8 percent since 2008, and the lowest unemployment rate during the entirety of the Obama presidency.

    Despite the significance of this development in the labor market, Fox News has been noticeably quiet on the subject in their morning programs, especially when contrasted with how they have covered previous negative economic news. On September 2, 2011 when initial reports showed no net addition of jobs for the month of August, Fox discussed this negative news for roughly twice the amount of time as the positive news on March 8, when the February jobs report was released.


    Furthermore, the majority of Fox's coverage discussing the drop in unemployment used the news as a foil to bring up unrelated indicators or downplay its significance.

    The fact that Fox spent little time discussing the drop in unemployment continues their documented history of downplaying positive economic news.


    Media Matters viewed coverage of Fox News from 8:30 AM (when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its report) to 12:00 noon on September 2, 2011 and March 8, 2013 and recorded the amount of time spent discussing the unemployment reports. We included teases and straight news segments. The analysis includes the shows Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, and Happening Now.

  • 5 Things Charlie Rose -- And You -- Should Know For His Scarborough-Krugman Debate

    Blog ››› ››› ALAN PYKE

    MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman will appear on PBS' Charlie Rose on March 4, following weeks of their high-profile dispute over the proper policy response to two competing problems: historically high unemployment and historically high public debt.

    After Scarborough hosted Krugman on the January 28 edition of Morning Joe, he wrote an op-ed for Politico that characterized Krugman as a solitary dovish voice on near-term debt. Over the ensuing weeks, the two sniped at one another, with Scarborough continuing his effort to marginalize Krugman, misrepresenting Krugman's colleagues in the process.

    Both economic data and the consensus among economists support Krugman's side of the debate. Still, Scarborough has labeled the economist a 'debt denier,' and deflected fact-based criticism with jokes about "bloggers eating Cheetos" and "skewed graphs liberals make up on their mom's PowerPoint." Given that their debate has at times produced more heat than light, here are five things that host Charlie Rose must take care to include in his show tonight:

         1.       Debt Levels Are Stable For The Coming Decade.

    The Congressional Budget Office says that the ratio of public debt to GDP will hold steady through the coming ten years, even without changes to current law:

    The stable near-term debt outlook undermines the common claim of a "debt crisis" that requires immediate austerity.

         2.       Austerity Is Already Placing An Enormous Drag On Economic Growth.

    Government consumption and investment has decreased nearly 5 percent over the past two years. Cuts have shrunk the public sector by a net 712,000 jobs not since the recession began, but since it ended in mid-2009. And the macroeconomic data are clear: the government's declining consumption is a drag on GDP growth.

         3.       A Wide Range Of Economists Agree With Krugman That Short-Term Deficits Are Not A Priority With Economic Output Lagging.

    Scarborough's January op-ed in Politico claimed that "almost all mainstream economists" disagree with Krugman; this is not true, and an accurate representation of expert opinion would improve the conversation.

    As Media Matters has shown, it is not just center and center-left economists like Richard Koo, Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker, Henry Aaron, Alan Blinder and Larry Summers who agree with Krugman that short-term deficit reduction is a bad idea with economic output so far behind its potential. It's also John Makin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, The Wall Street Journal's Rex Nutting, former Reagan budget adviser Bruce Bartlett, and others who Scarborough might count as natural allies. Makin's prescription for how we ought to run large deficits is anathema to progressives, of course, but economists across the spectrum agree that we can and should float just a few more years of large deficits, in order to grow the economy.

         4.       Economists Say The Best Way To Solve Long-Term Debt Issues Is To Invest In Growth Now, While Borrowing Is Cheap.

    Economic growth is the key to managing the debt. It is unusually cheap for the government to borrow money right now to finance such growth -- in some cases interest rates are negative, meaning the markets are basically paying us to borrow from them. The CBO finds economic output is $1 trillion behind what it should be, which is why so many economists take Krugman's side in calling for fiscal stimulus. The first CBO report to account for the "fiscal cliff" tax deal reinforced this position, as Nutting wrote in The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch: "the CBO gently hinted that the government should run higher deficits for the next four years to boost economic growth and job creation, and then start reducing the deficit in earnest in 2017 when the economy is fully healed." Any conversation about fiscal policy that fails to note these facts is inherently misrepresentative.

         5.       President Obama And Congress Have Already Enacted $2.4 Trillion In Deficit Reduction Since The Start Of FY2011.

    Although Scarborough blamed "a Keynesian spending spree" for a slowdown in economic growth late last year, the reality is that the President and Congress have passed laws that reduce deficits by approximately $2,400,000,000,000 over the 10-year budget window.

    The media frequently fail to acknowledge existing deficit reduction, but it is real and it is important to the ongoing conversation about fiscal policy.