Back When Fox Was Fine With Raising The Minimum Wage

When Did Fox News Turn On Workers?

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Fox News remains focused on attacking the idea of raising the minimum wage, a move that would boost incomes for more than 16 million Americans. Ever since President Obama pushed the widely popular initiative to the forefront of his agenda during his State of the Union address last month, Fox commentators have robotically trashed the policy move. And done so from all angles.

They've fretted that raising the minimum rate would mean "higher wages for workers." (That's kind of the whole point.) They've belittled the issue as being unimportant by claiming few people are affected by a national wage increase. (Wrong.) They've derided it as a jobs killer that would doom big business. (Not quite.) And they've dismissed an income boost as nothing more than a "transfer of wealth from some low- income earners to other low-income earners." (Also false. The Congressional Budget Office projects a wage increase would boost net income by $2 billion.)

The attacks have become something a cornerstone to Fox's program in early 2014. This, while Republicans stand firmly opposed to Obama's wage proposal, to the point where it's unlikely to come to a vote, just as Republicans earlier this month filibustered an effort to extend unemployment insurance for U.S. workers.

Here's what's interesting and what helps put into perspective the radical turn that not only Fox News has taken in recent years, but the entire conservative movement in America: In early 2007, after Democrats had gained control of both the House and the Senate, one of their top legislative priorities was passing a bill to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. The two-plus dollar boost was the first in a decade.

And you know what the collective Fox News reaction was to the prospect of an increased minimum wage in 2007? Nobody seemed that upset. Based on a review of Fox News' nighttime transcripts via Nexis, the issue was mostly dealt with -- when dealt at all -- in news updates as Democratic and Republicans negotiated the Fair Minimum Wage Act's certain approval. 

There wasn't endless hand wringing, condemnations, or predictions of economic doom. For instance, in January of 2007, Fox contributor Mara Liasson described passing the minimum wage as "low-hanging fruit" for Democrats since the idea wasn't at all "controversial." (Indeed, 26 Republican House members had previously urged party leaders to schedule a minimum wage vote.)

That same month when Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace sat down with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to discuss the year's legislative agenda, the senator assured the host, "We're going to be able to get off to a good start with ethics reform and probably craft a minimum-wage increase that's acceptable to both sides and see how far we can get on a cooperative basis." (Then as now, increasing the minimum wage was widely popular with voters.)

There was no cavalcade of snide commentary in the winter of 2007. There was no denouncing the minimum wage as "black teenage unemployment act," which a regular Fox News guest did recently.

Instead, the bill, which included tax cuts for small businesses, passed 94-3 in the Senate and 315-116 in the House, and President Bush, who in 2004 had previously endorsed a minimum wage bill that had been championed by a Republican senator, signed the bill into law. On Fox, the issue wasn't presented as a deeply contentious one (when the bill came up for a vote, the House debate was "limited" reported the New York Times), nor were affected low-wage workers depicted as lazy and unmotivated.  

Ten years later, all of that now seems unimaginable as the conservatives, cheered on by Fox News, not only cling to their strategy of padlock obstructionism, but shower contempt on low-wage workers.

Why the extreme change on the issue of minimum wage? First, a Republican president in 2007 was willing to approve the wage boost, which meant Republicans weren't going to bottle it up in Congress. Secondly, it's because Fox News, like the conservative movement, has become so very radical since 2007. And sometime during that period Fox News decided to wage war on workers. (Not to mention broadcast its rapturous love of the super-rich.)

What's unfolded more recently is that Fox's well-documented contempt for labor workers and government employees, as well as those living in poverty, has broadened to included millions of more Americans who far-right pundits seem to think are dragging the country down with their weak work ethics and shoddy productivity. Their sins? Wanting to earn $10 an hour, have access to quality, affordable healthcare, collect unemployment insurance when necessary, and enjoy workplace flexibility.

Two weeks ago, millionaire Fox pundits were lecturing "layabout" workers who, thanks to the security of having Obamacare, might voluntarily leave the workforce in coming years, perhaps to help raise children or care for an ailing family member. The freedom of not being locked into a dead-end, low-paying job solely for the purpose of receiving health care struck Fox talkers as bad news, and reflected poorly on America's increasingly lazy workforce addicted to "the hand-out society."

Now, many of the same celebrity pundits are haranguing Americans about how instead of complaining about their pay they just need to work much, much harder.

"Isn't that the quickest and best way to get out of poverty, is just simply to work your butt off?" asked Andrea Tantaros during a Five discussion about the minimum wage this week. That same day, Fox colleague Brain Kilmeade wondered if the "biggest problem facing our country right now" is "people not working hard."

Not that long ago, the conservative movement and its media allies wanted to be seen as the champions of America's working class. Today, as Fox News leads a barrage of attacks against wages, benefits, time off and flexibility, everyday workers have become a favorite right-wing target

Posted In
Fox News Channel
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.