Fox Uses Misleading Numbers To Attack Obama's Economic Record

Mocking the Obama campaign's “Forward” slogan, Fox News displayed a graphic purporting to show that the economy has worsened under President Obama. But the data in the graphic hide the economic recovery under Obama and ignore the effect of the economic downturn and fiscal policies that started under President Bush.

Fox Attacks Obama's Economic Record With Misleading Numbers

Fox & Friends Attacks Obama Campaign Slogan “Forward” With Series Of Misleading Statistics. On the May 1 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade mocked the new slogan for the Obama re-election campaign, “Forward,” by airing a graphic that purported to show “how things are right now as opposed to when they were when [President Obama] was elected.” From Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: They say that this particular slogan is going to stress the fact that looking forward how the president needs to build on his accomplishments and deserves a second term. But when you look forward, let's take a look at some of the things -- and this data gathered by the New York Post this morning, let's take a look at how things are right now as opposed to when they were when he was elected.

KILMEADE: For example, the debt was $10 trillion, now it's $15.6 trillion. The jobless rate is now up to 8.2 [percent], was 7.8 [percent].

DOOCY: Both forward numbers.

KILMEADE: Right. And gas is $3.81, $2.50 when he took over. Americans on food stamps almost doubled. It was 28.2 million, now it's 46.2 million.

DOOCY: Forward.

GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): So that's one way of analyzing the new slogan.

KILMEADE: But he tried --

CARLSON: I don't think that's the way they're going to analyze it.

During the segment, Fox & Friends aired the following graphic:

Fox Obama economy graphic

[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/1/12]

But Fox Misleads On All Four Attacks

CLAIM: “The Debt Was $10 Trillion, Now It's $15.6 Trillion.”

WHY IT'S MISLEADING: The Debt And Deficit Increase Under Obama Is Largely Due To Bush-Era Policies

Ezra Klein: Bush Policies Responsible For Vast Majority Of Debt Increase Under Obama Administration. In a January 31 Washington Post column, Ezra Klein estimated that Obama's policies are responsible for $983 billion of the nearly $5 trillion increase in public debt over the course of his administration, while the remainder of the debt increase is attributable to Bush-era policies. From The Washington Post:

[I]f you're a deficit-obsessed voter, the clock doesn't answer the key question: How much has Obama added to the debt, anyway?

There are two answers: more than $4 trillion, or about $983 billion. The first answer is simple and wrong. The second answer is more complicated but a lot closer to being right.

When Obama took office, the national debt was about $10.5 trillion. Today, it's about $15.2 trillion. Simple subtraction gets you the answer preferred by most of Obama's opponents: $4.7 trillion.

But ask yourself: Which of Obama's policies added $4.7 trillion to the debt? The stimulus? That was just a bit more than $800 billion. TARP? That passed under George W. Bush, and most of it has been repaid.

There is a way to tally the effects Obama has had on the deficit. Look at every piece of legislation he has signed into law. Every time Congress passes a bill, either the Congressional Budget Office or the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the effect it will have on the budget over the next 10 years. And then they continue to estimate changes to those bills. If you know how to read their numbers, you can come up with an estimate that zeros in on the laws Obama has had a hand in.

A chart accompanying the column made in conjunction with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) illustrated the debt impact of Bush's policies versus Obama's:

Wapo bush debt chart

[The Washington Post, 1/31/12; The Washington Post, 1/31/12]

CBPP: "[V]irtually The Entire Deficit Over The Next Ten Years" Due To Bush Policies, Economic Downturn." CBPP published an analysis of federal deficits in December 2009, which was most recently updated on June 28, 2010, titled, “Critics Still Wrong on What's Driving Deficits in Coming Years: Economic Downturn, Financial Rescues, and Bush-Era Policies Drive the Numbers.” The report noted:

Some critics continue to assert that President George W. Bush's policies bear little responsibility for the deficits the nation faces over the coming decade -- that, instead, the new policies of President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress are to blame. Most recently, a Heritage Foundation paper downplayed the role of Bush-era policies (for more on that paper, see p. 4). Nevertheless, the fact remains: Together with the economic downturn, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years.

The report also graphed the effects of Bush's policies and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the deficit. From the report:

CPBB debt chart

[CBPP, updated 6/28/10, emphasis in original]

For more on the impact that Bush's policies have had on the federal debt, click here.

CLAIM: “The Jobless Rate Is Now Up To 8.2 [Percent]” But “Was 7.8 [Percent]” When Obama Took Over

WHY IT'S MISLEADING: After Continuing The Upward Trend From The Bush Administration, Unemployment Has Dropped Under Obama

CBPP: “The Pace Of Monthly Job Losses Slowed Dramatically Soon After President Obama And Congress Enacted The Recovery Act.” As CBPP noted in an April 27 report, the trend of job losses at the end of the Bush administration “slowed dramatically soon after President Obama and Congress enacted the Recovery Act in 2009.” The report included a chart showing that unemployment continued its upward trend immediately after Obama took office, then began dropping. From CBPP:

CBPP unemployment

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/27/12]

Bureau Of Labor Statistics: Unemployment Has Dropped From High Of 10 Percent To 8.2 Percent Under Obama. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, the unemployment level began increasing in January 2008 and reached a high of 10 percent in October 2009 before declining to the current 8.2 percent rate. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

BLS unemployment

[Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 5/1/12]

Steve Benen: Initial Unemployment Claims Have Dropped Steadily Since Stimulus Passed. In an April 5 blog post, Steve Benen noted that initial unemployment claims have been dropping since the Recovery Act was passed. The blog featured a chart showing the decrease with the passage of the Recovery Act highlighted:

MaddowBlog chart

[MaddowBlog, 4/5/12]

CLAIM: “Gas Is $3.81” But Was "$2.50 When [Obama] Took Over"

WHY IT'S MISLEADING: Gas Prices Crashed In Late 2008 And Are Dependent On Economic And International Forces

Gasoline Prices Plummeted In Late 2008 In The Midst Of A Massive Recession. This chart shows that oil and gas prices fell sharply in late 2008 (displayed as an index to show the correlation between oil and gas prices):

Oil price chart

[Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, accessed 2/16/12]

Analysts: Speculation, Refinery Closures Currently Pushing Up Prices. From a February 14 Bloomberg Businessweek report:

Strangely, the current run-up in prices comes despite sinking demand in the U.S. “Petrol demand is as low as it's been since April 1997,” says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. “People are properly puzzled by the fact that we're using less gas than we have in years, yet we're paying more.”

Kloza believes much of the increase is due to speculative money that's flowed into gasoline futures contracts since the beginning of the year, mostly from hedge funds and large money managers. “We've seen about $11 billion of speculative money come in on the long side of gas futures,” he says. “Each of the last three weeks we've seen a record net long position being taken.”

Refineries have also been getting squeezed by higher crude prices over the past several months, forcing some of them to shut down rather than operate at a loss, says [equity analyst Jason] Stevens. " [Bloomberg Businessweek, 2/14/12]

For more on the factors influencing gas prices, click here.

CLAIM: “Americans On Food Stamps” Have “Almost Doubled” Under Obama From “28.2 Million” To “46.2 Million”

WHY IT'S MISLEADING: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Increase Was Greater Under Bush, And Is Largely Due To The Economic Downturn Of 2008

FactCheck.Org: Food Stamp Program “Has So Far Grown By 444,574 Fewer Recipients During Obama's Time In Office Than During Bush's.” In a January 18 “fact check” of what it called “Newt [Gingrich's] Faulty Food-Stamp Claim,” stated that “Gingrich strains the facts when he accuses Obama of being responsible,” writing: “Newt Gingrich claims that 'more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.' He's wrong. More were added under Bush than under Obama, according to the most recent figures.” The article continued:

Gingrich would have been correct to say the number now on food aid is historically high. The number stood at 46,224,722 persons as of October, the most recent month on record. And it's also true that the number has risen sharply since Obama took office.

Food Stamp chart

But Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents. We asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition service for month-by-month figures going back to January 2001. And they show that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.

And under Obama, the increase so far has been 14.2 million. To be exact, the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama's time in office than during Bush's.

It's possible that when the figures for January 2012 are available they will show that the gain under Obama has matched or exceeded the gain under Bush. But not if the short-term trend continues. The number getting food stamps declined by 43,528 in October. And the economy has improved since then. [, 1/18/12]

US News & World Report: Food Stamps Enrollment Was On The Rise “Well Before” Obama Took Office. From US News & World Report:

Food stamp usage has, as Gingrich suggested, increased dramatically during the Obama presidency, but hanging the increase on the president is difficult. Participation in the Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the program to which “food stamps” refers, has increased from an average of 28.2 million people per month in FY 2008 to 46.2 million as of October 2011, the most recent month for which data is available. However, SNAP participation has been on the rise since well before President Obama took office. Nearly 17.2 million people in FY 2000 participated in the program, a figure that increased by nearly 64 percent by 2008. [US News & World Report, 1/17/12]

CBPP: Growth “Reflects The Fact That More Households Are Becoming Eligible Because Of The Recession.” According to CBPP, the “rapid caseload growth primarily reflects the fact that more households are becoming eligible because of the recession.” CBPP added: “SNAP caseloads can grow for two reasons: because more households are qualifying for the program and enrolling or because a larger share of eligible households are signing up. Both of these occurred in recent years.” [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1/9/12]

For more on the role of the economic downturn on SNAP enrollment, click here.