Initial reporting on the president-elect’s selection of fast-food CEO Andy Puzder to replace Tom Perez as the next secretary of labor depicted Puzder as a “vocal” critic of Obama administration policies while failing to note the conservative media-fueled inaccuracies that inform the incoming secretary’s anti-worker views.
On December 8, The Wall Street Journal was first to report that President-elect Donald Trump planned to name Puzder -- the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s burger chains -- as the incoming labor secretary in his administration. The Journal’s report, and subsequent reporting from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today, focused mostly on Puzder’s opposition to specific economic initiatives from the Obama administration -- raising the minimum wage, expanding overtime protections, and extending the scope of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- while failing to mention that Puzder’s arguments against each have been widely discredited:
- The Journal reported that Puzder is a “vocal advocate for cutting back regulations,” which he claims “have stifled growth in the restaurant industry,” and concluded with the acknowledgment that Puzder has used the Journal’s own opinion pages to discuss “topics such as the negative effects of President Obama’s health-care law and of broad increase in minimum wage.”
- The Times noted that Puzder believes “large minimum wage increases hurt small business and lead to job loss among low-skilled workers,” adding that he believes the ACA created a so-called “restaurant recession” by reducing disposable incomes that American workers would otherwise “spend dining out.”
- The LA Times claimed that Puzder opposes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour “because he thinks that would cost many low-wage workers their jobs,” and quoted a Forbes op-ed published by Puzder on May 18 that alleged the Obama administration had created an “extensive regulatory maze” with overtime and health care reforms that drive up labor costs and “reduced opportunities, bonuses, benefits, perks and promotions” for workers.
- USA Today’s synopsis was much less extensive, merely labeling Puzder as “a major critic of what he calls unnecessary federal regulations, including a proposed hike in the federal minimum wage” before moving on to other rumored Trump appointments.
Despite amplifying Puzder’s criticism of progressive economic policies, none of the outlets saw fit to mention that his arguments are wrong.
First, Obama-era regulations have not “stifled growth in the restaurant industry” or created a “restaurant recession.” According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the restaurant industry is up more than 20 percent since Obama took office in January 2009:
Second, while it is true that Puzder is an ardent opponent of increased minimum wages -- he once argued that modest wage increases actually encourage low-wage workers to game the system so they can stay in poverty -- it is important to note that his arguments are unfounded. Puzder and other right-wing media personalities have waged a campaign of misinformation against raising the minimum wage, claiming that it hurts businesses and kills jobs. In reality, reliable professional studies of the minimum wage consistently find a negligible relationship between the minimum wage and employment activity.
As is the case with Puzder’s opposition to living wages, the incoming labor secretary’s antagonism toward the ACA is also not based in facts. Right-wing media outlets and allied politicians have spent years claiming that President Obama’s signature health care reform law is hurting the economy and stymieing the job market despite all evidence to the contrary. In reality, Obamacare has reduced the uninsured rate to historic lows, has reduced medical debt and benefited public health outcomes while strengthening the economic security of low-income families.
Finally, Puzder’s opposition to expanded overtime protections amounts to little more than retooled talking points generated by right-wing media. Conservative media outlets opposed President Obama’s proposed overtime expansion before they even knew the details, claiming it threatened to undermine American work ethic and turn the country into Greece. Puzder’s claim that a “regulatory maze,” which includes overtime expansion, has “reduced opportunities, bonuses, benefits, perks and promotions” ignores the obvious economic benefits of paying millions of American workers for the hours they actually work and that the overtime threshold “has the advantage of simplicity” that makes it efficient for employers to implement.
Media Matters outlined the many ways media should approach his troubled relationship with the truth. If coverage today is any indication, major outlets still have a lot to learn.