Craig Harrington

Author ››› Craig Harrington
  • Trump Claimed He Saved American Jobs At Ford, But The Company Is Reportedly Shedding Thousands

    Ford May Lay Off 10 Percent Of Global Workforce, Highlighting Problematic Media Promotion Of Trump’s Empty Jobs Boasts

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Reports are circulating that American auto giant Ford Motor Co. plans to cut up to 10 percent of its global workforce in a bid to boost the company’s profits and its share price, with a focus on cutting nonunion salaried workers in North America and Asia. The news is potentially devastating for thousands of American workers and reveals another empty boast from President Donald Trump, who previously enjoyed a flood of positive press when he took personal credit for job creation at the company.

    On May 15, The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford CEO Mark Fields plans to shrink his company's global workforce by roughly 10 percent as part of a “drive to boost profits and the auto maker’s sliding stock price.” The Journal noted that such heavy job cuts at a company with 200,000 employees around the world, “half of which work in North America,” could “trigger a political backlash at the White House” for a president who “has repeatedly pointed to auto makers like Ford as examples of companies adding U.S. jobs.” The initial report was soon corroborated by Bloomberg, CNBC, CNNMoney, Reuters, and the Detroit Free Press, with some reporting that thousands of nonunion salaried employees in the U.S. might face layoffs. Many reports discussed the political fallout such a move could create for a Trump administration that has routinely claimed unfounded credit for spurring job growth at Ford and other companies in the U.S. On the May 16 edition of MSNBC Live, CNBC reporter Dominic Chu explained that the cuts would likely target administrative and managerial positions throughout the company as Ford tries to squeeze its workers:

    In the past, Trump has promoted reports of job creation at Ford and other companies by shoehorning himself into fawning press reports of business decisions he had little or nothing to do with. (See: Alibaba, Carrier, SoftBank.) Trump even falsely took credit for Ford canceling a planned factory expansion in Mexico, but the company later broke ground on a new Mexican factory expansion at a different location.

    After months of allowing themselves to be misled by Trump’s false tweets and rants, reporters finally appeared to have caught on; they largely downplayed Trump’s role in a March 28 investment agreement between Ford and the United Auto Workers union, which he heralded on Twitter. Unfortunately, much of the damage from the earlier glut of insipid coverage has been done. American companies are not making business decisions based on Trump’s rhetorical flourishes, but millions of news viewers still erroneously think of the president as a sort of “dealmaker-in-chief.”

  • CNN Town Hall Shows That The Health Care Debate Is About Life And Death

    Audiences Need To Hear More Stories From People Like Kati McFarland

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Viewers of CNN’s prime-time town hall event with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) witnessed personal stories from Americans across the political spectrum concerned about their country’s future. One person’s struggles, in particular, highlighted the life and death stakes of the Republican Party’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and set a standard for contextualizing the human costs of this political debate that other news outlets should follow.

    On May 15, Pelosi appeared for an hour-long town hall during which she shared her perspective on how Democrats in Congress plan to respond to the right-wing agenda set out by their Republican colleagues and President Donald Trump. Moderator Chris Cuomo opened the forum with the late-breaking bombshell that Trump improperly shared classified intelligence with agents of the Russian government and moved on to questions from the audience on a host of topics.

    One person Cuomo introduced was 25-year-old college student and Arkansas resident Kati McFarland, who “made headlines earlier this year” when she confronted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) at a February constituent event regarding his support for repealing the ACA. McFarland presented Pelosi with the same grim reality that she told to Cotton, stating, “Without the ACA that saved my life, without the protections of the ACA, I will die.” She also questioned what Pelosi and Democrats plan to do to stop the Republican health care agenda, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), from becoming law and putting her life at risk. From the May 15 town hall:

    McFarland’s perspective as one of the millions of Americans who might lose their health insurance coverage and patient protections enshrined in the ACA is sorely lacking from broadcast and cable news coverage of the health care policy debate.

    A Media Matters analysis of cable news programming from February 18-26, a week of nationwide grassroots collective actions dubbed by organizers as the “Resistance Recess,” revealed that just three of 88 guests featured during prime-time discussions of a wave of town hall protests sweeping the country were actual attendees of the events. Outlets largely relied on journalists and political pundits to discuss the optics of the burgeoning political resistance movement, rather than the people and issues leading that resistance. Shortly after the AHCA narrowly survived a vote in the House of Representatives, Media Matters called on news outlets to feature more stories about people like McFarland who are directly affected by the GOP’s health care agenda. McFarland’s appearance at CNN’s prime-time town hall is a good start, but the human consequences of the GOP’s attempt to dismantle health care reform must remain a mainstay of news coverage. For millions of Americans the end results are about far more than political calculus; this is about life or death.

  • CNN’s Stephen Moore Accidentally Confirms Trump Was Lying About Commitment To Protect Medicaid

    Moore: Medicaid Cuts Were “Central To Our Plan All Along,” Contrary To Trump’s Public Statements

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Discredited right-wing economic pundit and former Trump campaign economic adviser Stephen Moore accidentally let slip that gutting the Medicaid program “was central” to President Donald Trump’s plan to repeal Obamacare, despite the president’s repeated assertions that he would not touch the program. The statement corroborates admissions Moore made at a private event last July, when he claimed that Trump would fund massive tax cuts and reckless spending by dismantling programs that provide basic living standards for millions of Americans.

    During the May 8 edition of CNN Newsroom, Moore -- CNN’s “senior economics analyst” -- was joined by University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee to discuss the merits of billionaire businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett’s argument that the Trump health care agenda amounts to little more than a tax cut for the rich funded by cuts to health care subsidies for low-income Americans. Goolsbee pointed out that Trump’s health care legislation “cuts taxes for high-income people by hundreds of billions of dollars” at the expense of Medicare and Medicaid, which Trump promised “he would never cut.” Moore interjected falsely: “He never said that we weren’t going to reform Medicaid,” arguing, “That was central to our plan all along”:

    Moore’s claim was debunked on air by co-hosts John Berman and Poppy Harlow, as well as Goolsbee, who cited Trump’s tweets and public statements as proof that he had broken his promise to protect Medicaid. Reporters who tuned in for the performance also noted Moore’s false statement. Moore accepted Berman’s correction before quickly pivoting to talking points extolling the virtues of converting Medicaid to block grants, which would also amount to a massive benefit cut for recipients.

    Moore’s secondary claim that gutting Medicaid was “central to our plan all along” drew little notice from the fact-checkers, but it sheds light on Trump’s real agenda. According to a September 7 article from HuffPost political reporter Christina Wilkie, Moore had outlined Trump’s often contradictory economic plans during a “question-and-answer session” at a private July 14 meeting of the conservative Council for National Policy (CNP) in Cleveland, OH. During the event, Moore suggested that Trump planned to pay for his costly economic agenda by removing supposedly onerous public protections imposed by the federal government and enacting “draconian public assistance reforms and cuts in social services.” Since taking office, Trump has proposed a budget and health care agenda that would fulfill those promises. As the article noted, Moore’s zeal for tearing down anti-poverty programs, including Medicaid, seems to undermine Trump’s claim that he would focus on “looking out for the downtrodden.” It also confirms that imposing this harsh agenda -- and lying about it -- was indeed “central to” the Trump team’s economic plan “all along.”

  • The Passage Of Trumpcare Means It Is Time To Interview Kati McFarland Again

    The “Resistance Recess” Star Said ACA Repeal Would Mean Certain Death; Americans Need To Hear Her Story

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Republican attempts to coalesce around a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were initially stymied after tens of thousands of Americans swamped constituent events across the country during a week of actions collectively known as the "Resistance Recess." One of the activists whose story caught national attention was Kati McFarland, a 25-year-old Arkansan battling chronic health conditions, whose heartfelt plea to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) helped contextualize the GOP's health care repeal agenda. Her story is now more important than ever.

    The May 4 party-line passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) means the Republican Party’s years-long crusade to “repeal and replace” Obamacare faces only one more hurdle before arriving at the president’s desk: the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. According to reporting from The Washington Post, members of the GOP caucus plan to draft and pass their own version of a health care overhaul, which may or may not reflect the disastrous principles outlined in the AHCA. An independent congressional analysis predicted the original House version would disproportionately impact poorer, older, and sicker Americans, resulting in 24 million additional uninsured adults in 10 years and an additional $337 billion in deficit spending.

    As the Senate begins deliberations over its own health care agenda, it is vital that news outlets include perspectives from the tens of millions of Americans whose lives and livelihoods may be impacted by that legislation, and share what losing access to care will mean for them.

    In February, tens of thousands of Americans flooded constituent services events around the country demanding that elected officials offer viable health care reform policies. A Media Matters analysis of cable news programming from February 18 through 26 revealed that just three of the 88 guests featured during prime-time discussions of those events were attendees affected by the outcome of the health care debate. Prime-time news programming overwhelmingly featured political reporters and pundits arguing about the optics of town halls filled with constituents demanding answers, and very little attention was paid to the residents themselves or their concerns. Kati McFarland, whose exchange with Cotton became a viral sensation, was interviewed once each by CNN and MSNBC far outside of the prime-time window that would have brought her story to millions of viewers.

    Most of the media coverage of the AHCA so far has focused on whether President Trump has finally won his first legislative victory, with reporters hyping the optics of the legislation rather than discussing the threat it represents to tens of millions of Americans. Outlets still have a chance to get the story right, and with members of the House of Representatives headed home for recess over the next week, there should be no shortage of outraged constituents willing to share their stories -- if media are willing to listen.

  • CNN's Christine Romans Credits Trump For Minuscule Uptick In Manufacturing Employment

    The Usually Reliable Analyst Is Inventing Good News For The Trump Administration

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    CNN hyped meager growth in manufacturing employment shown in the latest monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as an example of robust Trump-driven job creation -- a claim so absurd it would make Fox News blush.

    On May 5, the BLS released its employment update for April 2017, showing that the economy created 211,000 new jobs while the unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent, its lowest point in 10 years. Despite further negative revisions to job creation estimates for February and March, the report was generally solid and continued a 79-month streak of steady job creation and labor market improvement dating back to October 2010. In light of a meager March report, which Bloomberg described as “a weaker-than-expected reading,” the job market remains on a relatively stable and healthy upward trend since job growth began during the Obama administration. FiveThirtyEight senior economics writer Ben Casselman helpfully illustrated these long-running trends in a series of tweets. In an interview with The New York Times, economist Jason Furman actually expressed his surprise “that this late into an expansion the economy is still adding jobs well above the steady-state pace.”

    There is plenty to like in this monthly jobs report, as has been the case for years, but for some reason CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans decided to overly inflate the significance of one specific portion that would serve as the most useful talking point for President Donald Trump. After discussing the top-line jobs and unemployment numbers, Romans absurdly claimed that the Trump administration should be credited for “kind of reviving some of the interest in the manufacturing sector,” which gained 6,000 jobs in April and 41,000 net jobs since January. From the May 5 edition of CNN’s New Day:

    Romans’ comments were odd considering that she admitted health care created far more jobs in April (37,000) than manufacturing, and health care could be in peril in light of Trump’s attempt to take insurance away from millions of Americans. But even more concerning is that while it is true that the manufacturing sector, which employs approximately 12.4 million Americans, has seen 41,000 new jobs added since January, that increase -- a mere 0.3 percent -- is little more than a rounding error. In fact, the April 2017 report states that month-to-month job creation in the sector “showed little change,” and the final number will still be subject to two more revisions. As is the case with every other major labor market indicator, manufacturing employment began steadily increasing seven years ago in the wake of financial and economic rescue measures passed by the Obama administration. Employment in the sector has been relatively flat the past year:

    In total, the jobs report for the last month wasn’t very different from other reports of the recent past, which had become routinely positive since the economy began recovering from the Great Recession. And Romans’ adoring portrayal seemed more suitable for the professional sycophants at Fox News than the reporting team at CNN.

  • Fox’s Legendary Hypocrisy Is On Full Display With Today’s Underwhelming GDP Report

    Meager Growth Under Obama Meant We Were “Sliding Toward Recession”; For Trump, Fox Predicts A “Bounce Back”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    The latest report from the Commerce Department found American economic growth in the first quarter of 2017 fell just short of most economists’ expectations. A virtually identical report one year ago was met with a chorus of outrage and hyperbole from the professional antagonists at Fox News, but their doomsaying has mellowed completely with President Donald Trump occupying the Oval Office.

    On April 28, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released a report detailing the rate of change in real gross domestic product (GDP) during the first quarter of the year. The report showed GDP had increased just 0.7 percent during the time frame, which was both below expectations and the “weakest growth in three years.” According to The New York Times, the indicator “upset expectations for a Trump bump at the start of 2017,” while The Washington Post added that underwhelming economic performance “highlights the challenge this administration … will face trying to meet its target rate of 3 percent economic growth.” During a segment on CNN’s New Day, chief business correspondent Christine Romans noted that “the main culprit” holding back economic growth is “some nervousness among consumers,” whose spending accounts for more than half of the economy:

    At Fox News, however, the GDP report was met with muted reactions and renewed criticism of the supposedly weak economy Trump inherited from President Obama. Fox Business host Stuart Varney admitted at the outset of the April 28 edition of Varney & Co., that the report was “very, very weak” before predicting “the Left [will blame] President Trump” for sluggish first-quarter growth while guest John Lonski surmised that the economy would “bounce back” in the second quarter of the year. Later in the program, after a guest complained about the economy settling into a cycle of slow growth, Fox Business anchor Ashley Webster pleaded, “It’s just the first three months, give it time,” before predicting higher rates of growth over the next three months stemming from deregulation. Fox Business contributor Elizabeth MacDonald added that “this is an overhang … of the Obama years” while complaining that “this is what the president has inherited.” From Varney & Co.:

    The measured response from Fox’s cast of characters is a far cry from how they responded to a virtually identical GDP report published by the BEA on April 28, 2016. Varney falsely characterized first-quarter GDP growth of last year -- which at 0.5 percent also missed expectations before being upwardly revised -- as proof that the economy was “sliding toward recession” and ignored other indicators showing the economy was improving. One day later, Varney continued lambasting Obama during an appearance on Fox & Friends in which he pushed the unsubstantiated claim that the post-recession recovery was a historic failure.

    This is not the first time a Fox personality has backtracked on mischaracterizations of the economy in order to hype or defend the Trump administration. The network has completely reversed its tone toward the monthly jobs reports since Trump took office, giving him credit for jobs he didn’t create, fawning over job creation that had become routine under Obama, and heaping praise on economic indicators identical to those they had once excoriated.

  • Broadcast Evening News Programs Pilloried Trump’s Tax Cut Outline

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn finally unveiled President Donald Trump’s plan for a major overhaul of individual and corporate income taxes in the United States during an April 26 press briefing. The plan, which seemed to many observers like a less detailed version of the budget-busting agenda Trump campaigned on, was assailed by reporters and economic analysts on the major broadcast evening news programs for its sparse details and profligate giveaways to the wealthy, including a likely tax break for the president himself.

  • Right-Wing Media Push Absurd Pizza Lobby Claim That Franchises Are Burdened By Basic Food Labeling

    Pizza Franchises Are Lobbying Trump To Kill Another Public Protection Enshrined In ACA

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    A pizza industry lobbying campaign against food labeling requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has gained momentum in recent weeks as right-wing media promote exaggerated complaints that it would be “costly and burdensome” to require chain restaurants to display calorie information on menu items. Conservative outlets are urging President Donald Trump to rescind the long-delayed implementation of certain food labeling requirements, while completely ignoring that the long-term benefits of such public protections vastly outweigh the short-term costs.

    On the April 19 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Domino's franchisee owner Chris Reisch asked Trump -- who is an obsessive Fox & Friends viewer -- to stop a rule that was passed as part of the ACA and goes into effect on May 5, requiring chain restaurants to display the calorie counts of items on their menus. Reisch preposterously claimed the food labeling requirement would force him to “have a book at the counter” to display the calorie count of the 34 million topping combinations of Domino’s pizza and promoted the openly ridiculous claim that kitchen staff might face jail time for putting too many toppings on a pizza:

    During his interview, however, Reisch did not disclose that he was recently on Capitol Hill lobbying against food labeling, overtime pay, and labor rights on behalf of the American Pizza Community (APC) -- the lobbying arm of the pizza industry.

    According to The Washington Post, the APC is leading “a desperate push” to curb food labeling standards before they go into effect, “more than seven years after [the ACA] was signed into law” and years after most other chain restaurants already complied with the new standards. Having already gone to Congress with its complaints, the pizza industry may have hoped to reach the president directly via Fox & Friends, which culminated a month-long chorus of right-wing outlets slamming the rule on the industry’s behalf.

    In the past few weeks, right-wing outlets and fringe conservative sites have assailed the ruling, citing its supposedly onerous costs and bemoaning the confusion it could cause for customers. Since March 22, The Washington Free Beacon, PJMedia (twice), the National Review, NewsBusters, Investor’s Business Daily, CNS News, and FoxNews.com have promoted varying arguments that the rule would be “costly and burdensome,” that it “lacked common sense,” and that it amounted to little more than “pizza shaming.” CNS News hyped a report from the food services industry that incorrectly estimated the cost of compliance at $1 billion in its first year and NewsBusters questioned if the government should have any role in mandating that companies disclose nutritional information to the public.

    In reality, the actual ACA rule requires restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to display the calorie counts of all standard menu items, and has exceptions for temporary items. When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its food labeling standards in November 2014, it estimated that the industry-wide costs would be roughly $1 billion over a 20 year period -- a sum that pales in comparison to the $767 million profit Domino’s earned in 2016 alone. Overall, the FDA estimated that the benefits of Americans eating healthier because of the additional nutritional information would exceed the total cost of implementation by over $8 billion:

    Reisch’s claim that the rule would be too costly loses steam in light of the FDA’s findings but it is even more bizarre considering he admitted that Domino’s already has this information and posts the calorie counts of its pizzas and toppings online. On April 17, MarketWatch reported that pizza companies are opposed to displaying calorie counts on menus even though “Americans are paying more attention to food ingredients” and polling showed up to 68 percent want chain restaurants to post calorie information. On her Food Politics blog, nutrition and public health professor Marion Nestle pointed out that the fierce pushback against posting calories on menus, regardless of the low cost and outsize health benefits, shows that these companies “would rather you did not have this information.” This attitude makes it that much more important for government to protect consumers access to this knowledge.

  • Wash. Post’s Reporting On Social Security Disability Insurance Is Hopelessly Flawed

    A Longform Foray Into SSDI Echoed Conservative Misinformation, Was Replete With Data Errors

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Disability advocates hammered a faulty feature article published last month in The Washington Post that portrayed disability insurance as a form of long-term unemployment insurance in rural communities and claimed that as many as a third of people in those communities received disability assistance. Advocates analyzed the article’s data and found that the Post had vastly overstated the number of people receiving assistance on the program, prompting the paper to issue a correction. That correction, however, ignores the article’s more devastating flaws.

    The Post’s March 30 article titled, “Disabled, or just desperate?” followed Alabama resident Desmond Spencer and his family as they struggled to make ends meet and narrated his unease about applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The piece cited data purportedly provided by the Social Security Administration to argue that Spencer’s condition was typical of working-aged adults in rural communities around the country. A Media Matters analysis of the actual content found that it was filled with tropes, gimmicks, and dog whistles frequently promoted by right-wing opponents of SSDI. Disability advocates questioned the portrayal of a single anecdotal account as representative of millions of Americans, and Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress (CAP) slammed the Post for creating a “dystopian portrait” of an SSDI system “riddled with rampant abuse.”

    A week after publishing the initial report, the Post’s editorial board cited the flawed article as part of its case in favor of unnecessary “reforms” of the disability insurance system that would add even more restrictions to SSDI. Media Matters again criticized the Post for mischaracterizing the program and peddling myths about the social safety net common in conservative media. Economist Dean Baker also browbeat the editorial for targeting a program that helps provide basic living standards at a time of rampant economic inequality.

    The core argument forwarded by the initial Post report was that as many as one-third of working-age adults in rural communities are reliant on SSDI for most or all of their monthly income. Yet, the paper did not acknowledge whether or not these people are actually disabled. Instead, the article wove a narrative of low-income Americans struggling to find gainful work who end up on disability as a form of long-term unemployment. An April 13 blog published by CAP outlined how analysts attempted “to replicate [the Post’s] analysis” only to find that “their numbers are flat-out wrong.” After a careful inspection, CAP discovered that the Post’s numbers overcounted the number of children and working-age adults receiving SSDI, and failed to correct for the double-counting of roughly 1.3 million people. CAP even uncovered that the paper was missing data entirely for nearly 100 of the “rural counties” the article was supposed to be analyzing. In response to the these revelations, the editors responsible for the Post’s report issued a lengthy correction to the article and updated it throughout to remove and amend data.

    In an April 18 blog post, the team at CAP noted that the fixes still didn’t go far enough since more accurate data actually disproved the Post’s core argument. The revised and corrected report is still built on questionable data and it continues overcounting the number of working-age adults reliant on disability insurance. Most importantly, the core claim that disability checks are a primary source of income for “as many as one-third of working-age adults” in rural communities encompassing “large swaths of the country” appears to be completely false; CAP’s team could find only one county -- out of 3,143 -- that fit the Post’s dystopian description of disability. From the Center For American Progress’s TalkPoverty.org (emphasis added):

    Even using The Post’s flawed methods, they were only able to find one county—out of more than 3,100 counties nationwide—where the story’s central claim that “as many as one-third of working-age adults are receiving monthly disability checks” holds up. Not a single other county even comes close. In fact, The Post’s own analysis—which it has now made available in a public data file next to the story, yields an average rate of about 9.1 percent of working-age adults receiving benefits across rural counties—just three percentage points higher than the national average.

    And yet the article is framed as follows: “Across large swaths of the country,” the article still reads, “disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults are receiving monthly disability checks.”

    If by “large swaths” and “scores of… rural communities” The Post means McDowell County, West Virginia, population less than 21,000 residents—and nowhere else in America—then sure.

    But the fact is there’s a word for using data this way: cherry-picking.

  • Wash. Post Profile Of Disability Insurance Recipients Borders On Poverty Shaming

    The Post Is Just Asking -- Are Millions Of Americans Legitimately “Disabled, Or Just Desperate” For Work?

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    A Washington Post profile of a struggling low-income family painted what the Center for American Progress called a “dystopian portrait” of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and its recipients. The negative framing of the disabled echoed misleading portrayals commonly promoted by right-wing media.

    The in-depth March 30 article used a low-income family in rural Alabama as a proxy for rural communities around the country that have become increasingly dependent on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program over the past two decades. Unfortunately, the Post’s profile of the state of disability in the United States pushed a number of misleading characterizations of SSDI and its recipients that are commonly peddled by right-wing media outlets when they target the social safety net:

    • The article stated disability usage “has surged … from 7.7 million to 13 million” since 1996, failing to provide context for how SSDI recipients compare to a population of well over 320 million while glossing over the predictable demographic trends responsible for the uptick.
    • The Post neglected to mention that only 13 million out of more than 53 million American adults living with a disability actually receive benefits from SSDI.
    • The article highlighted the raw amount of money the federal government projects to spend on SSDI this year ($192 billion) without contextualizing that sum as a proportion of overall federal spending (less than 5 percent).
    • The article manufactured a false dichotomy between “the severely disabled,” who obviously cannot work for a living, and supposedly “murkier” cases where enrolling in SSDI “is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether” by an otherwise able-bodied person.
    • The article followed a man, Desmond Spencer, who suffers from chronic pain resulting from on-the-job injuries accumulated through a career in manual labor, but it focused on the shame he feels at the thought of applying for SSDI without considering if he might actually qualify for assistance.
    • The article continually juxtaposed Spencer’s difficulty in finding gainful employment with his struggle over applying for SSDI, even though being unemployed for nonmedical reasons is not a criterion for the program.
    • The article scrupulously detailed unhealthful daily habits of several SSDI recipients -- smoking and drinking soda -- that are typical behaviors for tens of millions of Americans but often portrayed as wasteful when they are done by individuals receiving government benefits.

    Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress chided the Post for creating a “dystopian portrait where Social Security disability benefits represent out-of-control government spending riddled with rampant abuse.” Vallas wrote that qualification for the program is actually “incredibly hard” and linked to July 2014 testimony from the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, which explained that aging Baby Boomers, natural population growth, and women entering the workforce are primarily responsible for increased disability usage. Most importantly, Vallas concluded her response by noting that narratives similar to that published by the Post have been used in the past by conservative opponents of safety net programs.

    A response from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analyst Kathleen Romig hit the Post’s write-up of SSDI for focusing so intently on “an atypical case: a young applicant in a county with an unusually high share of disability beneficiaries.” Romig also noted that it’s misleading to conflate absence of local job opportunities with a spike in disability cases because applicants must “prove that they can’t earn substantial wages anywhere across the economy — regardless of whether such work exists where they live.”

    A March 31 statement from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) added even more critical context missing from the Post’s report, including statistics detailing the strict standards for SSDI, the high likelihood that recipients are dealing with a terminal illness, and the fact that the number of people receiving benefits through SSDI has “level[ed] off and is projected to decline further in the coming years.”

    The pitfalls and blind spots bedeviling the Post’s foray into disability coverage are nothing new. In 2013, NPR’s Planet Money and All Things Considered and WBEZ’s This American Life promoted an error-riddled story using anecdotal evidence to portray disability recipients as grifters gaming the system. Months later, CBS News’ 60 Minutes aired a similarly misleading report, which falsely claimed SSDI is “ravaged by waste and fraud” and promoted biased research produced by partisan opponents seeking to gut the program.

    The Post’s mischaracterization of SSDI as a seemingly simple way for low-income Americans to secure a source of income is the kind of misinformation disability advocates have come to expect from Fox News, which has spent years attacking the program and its recipients.