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  • Video: There's a housing discrimination crisis in America -- and coverage of the issue should reflect that

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    The Fair Housing Act was passed 50 years ago, but housing discrimination is still rampant, and media coverage of the issue is overly focused on President Donald Trump’s history of racism and discrimination in this arena. While his past is notable, it’s important for mainstream outlets to inform viewers about the widespread and complicated nature of housing discrimination by interviewing victims and highlighting fair housing research.

    The Fair Housing Act was supposed to protect the right to fair housing for all people. And yet the act is not fulfilling its goals, with unprecedented attacks from the Trump administration and continued discrimination by banks, lenders, landlords, and/or developers, against Black and Latinx people, the poor, the formerly incarcerated, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and single women who are looking to rent or buy a home. There were 28,181 reported complaints of housing discrimination in 2016, but according to the National Fair Housing Alliance, housing discrimination is seriously underreported. The organization estimates that there are actually over 4 million cases of housing discrimination each year in America.

    Mainstream television coverage of housing discrimination has been overly focused on Trump's personal history with discrimination. Mainstream news outlets are right to warn viewers about his history of racism and discrimination against Black people. However, mainstream outlets such as MSNBC and CNN should follow the lead of PBS and Democracy Now and use these opportunities to inform viewers about the issue, including by interviewing victims of housing discrimination and highlighting important fair housing research.

  • Fox's Stuart Varney hypes wage growth under Trump. In fact, real wage growth has gone down.

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox Business host Stuart Varney appeared on Fox & Friends to hype economic growth under the Trump administration, claiming “wages are rising 25 percent faster under President Trump than they did under President Obama.”

    From the July 31 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    STUART VARNEY (FOX BUSINESS NETWORK): The expansion of the economy coincided right at the time when we got the tax cuts, right at the time after we got deregulation. It pumped up the economy, and what you’ve got now is, essentially, tax cuts taking effect. Unemployment came down. Worker bonuses reached the highest levels ever, and the [Congressional Budget Office], the congressional bean counters basically, they say that wages are rising 25 percent faster under President Trump than they did under President Obama.

    But, according to the Center for American Progress, while nominal wage growth has ticked up slightly, “workers’ wages are flat or even slightly down, in real terms, over the last year” because “inflation has picked up more than wage growth.” Moreover, despite Varney’s claims that the Republican tax cuts “pumped up the economy,” according to the Center for American Progress, “real wages are flat or slightly down since the tax bill passed.”

    Furthermore, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s wage growth tracker showed that wages are in fact growing at a slower rate than they were in November 2016 under President Obama.

  • Mike Pence turns to Sinclair for an embarrassingly friendly interview as Trump defends the media giant 

    Pence on corporation-friendly tax cuts: “President Trump has been delivering on his promise: to cut taxes for working families” 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Vice President Mike Pence has joined a growing list of Trump administration officials benefiting from softball interviews with Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    On July 24, part of Pence’s sit-down interview with Sinclair chief political analyst and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn was shared online.

    In this latest “Bottom Line With Boris” segment, Epshteyn and Pence discuss how “President Trump has been delivering on his promise: to cut taxes for working families and businesses” thanks to the Republican tax overhaul known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In reality, the legislation predominantly benefited large corporations, and wages have actually fallen by 1.8 percent since the cuts were enacted. Epshteyn does not mention this in the segment, but rather asks the sorts of vague questions that set Pence up to use the interview as an infomercial for Trump and the Republican party.

    Here is a full transcript and video.

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: I joined Vice President Mike Pence on his trip to Philadelphia this week. He focused on tax reform. Here’s what he had to say.

    [INTERVIEW CLIP]

    MIKE PENCE: As you look at this economy, confidence is back, jobs are coming back. In a real sense, America is back, and it’s because President Trump has been delivering on his promise: to cut taxes for working families and businesses.

    EPSHTEYN: Where do you see the job market going in the next six months, a year, two years?

    PENCE: Well, 3.7 million new jobs is an extraordinary amount of progress, but the fact of the matter is there [are] still many Americans that are on the sidelines. But the encouraging news, Boris, is that in the last month the unemployment number nationally ticked up a little bit.

    EPSHTEYN: Right.

    PENCE: But that was because more Americans were now looking for jobs across the country. And so making sure that we continue to make these tax cuts permanent, that we continue to roll back red tape, but that we also make sure that Americans who are now looking for work have the training, the vocational education, and the skills to fill those good-paying jobs that are open now.

    EPSHTEYN: You’re criss-crossing the country ahead of the midterms. So important. How vital of a role is tax reform playing in your message while you’re out there?

    PENCE: To continue to move the nation forward, we’ve got to have partners. We’ve got to have renewed Republican majorities in the House and in the Senate that will work with us as we drive for more tax reform, roll back more federal red tape, and have an energy policy that puts America first. So we’re out there telling the story and it’s a great story to tell.

    [END OF INTERVIEW CLIP]

    EPSHTEYN: Here's the bottom line: The historic tax cuts signed by President Trump into law in December are going to continue to be a key agenda item for the Republican Party heading into November. Expect to hear a lot about the tax cuts on the campaign trail throughout the country.

    This interview segment will now air as “must-run” content on more than 100 Sinclair-owned and -operated local TV news stations across the country. As of publication, a Media Matters search of the iQ media database shows the segment has already aired in at least 20 states. There will be at least one more excerpt from the interview released as an additional segment in the coming days -- according to Epshteyn’s newsletter, the next Pence segment will focus on Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

    The fawning Pence interview is just the latest entry in a long list of friendly connections between Sinclair and the Trump inner circle. Sinclair has previously aired softball segments with at least six other administration officials, as well as Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

    Hours after the Pence segment was first posted online, President Donald Trump tweeted a defense of Sinclair, signaling displeasure with a recent and surprising Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to send Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media to its likely doom. Trump tweeted that an even larger Sinclair “would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People.” Had the deal been approved, pro-Trump propaganda like these interviews would have reached more than seven in 10 American TV households.

  • Fox is deceptively hyping GOP’s next tax bill that just benefits the ultra rich

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Back in December, when President Donald Trump signed into law changes in U.S. tax policy, Fox News helped Republicans spin the discussion surrounding the legislation by hyping anecdotal reports of bonuses, wage hikes, and investments. Now that Republicans are aiming to make the individual tax cuts permanent, Fox is at it again -- despite analyses showing how staggeringly disproportionate the benefits are for the wealthy and large businesses, that they barely lower tax burdens for some middle class and lower income families, and that they have had no noticeable positive effect on the economy.

    The law, officially titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), passed in December, and Fox hosts celebrated the legislation’s passage after contributing their own dishonest coverage. Fox News shows repeatedly focused on announcements of bonuses -- such as some AT&T workers receiving a $1,000 bonus their union already negotiated -- and small wage increases from some companies to portray the tax cuts as beneficial for ordinary working Americans.

    Others, including Fox’s Sean Hannity, claimed that the tax legislation would lead to increased investment by corporations, in some cases pointing to anecdotal examples of businesses announcing investments and saying they were possible because of the policy change. Two days after the legislation’s passage, Fox & Friends invited White House special adviser Ivanka Trump on to hype an increase to the Child Tax Credit in the legislation. (According to tax experts, “the expanded child credit will actually provide little relief for some of the lowest-income families.”)

    Republicans are now attempting to pass another tax bill, in part to make permanent the individual tax policy changes in the original law, which expire within 10 years. The White House is portraying a report that House Republicans are planning to advance a bill as “a big win for the middle class.” And Fox News is again helping Republicans with their spin. On July 18, Fox & Friends hosted Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee -- the committee the bill would originate from -- who said lawmakers should make permanent “those cuts for middle-class families.” Later on the show, Fox Business host Stuart Varney said: “I think Republicans are setting a tax trap for the Democrats. … Are the Democrats going to vote against something which really supports America's middle class?”

    But as reporting from NPR and experts from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) have explained, Trump’s tax cuts provide only minor benefits to the middle class, are geared toward the wealthiest Americans, and are having no noticeable positive effect on the economy.

    Trump tax cuts disproportionately benefit the wealthy

    NPR: Tax cut benefits to middle class are meager compared to those affecting the wealthy. NPR cited a December report from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center which showed that middle-class households are receiving meager tax benefits from the Trump tax cuts compared to the wealthiest households and that when those benefits expire, middle-class households will earn slightly less income than they did before the tax cuts were passed:

    [NPR, 12/19/17]

    EPI: Republican spin of tax cuts as primarily middle-class benefits “is false.” A blog post by EPI budget analyst Hunter Blair showed that Republican lawmakers’ attempted spin of the Trump tax cuts as targeted to the middle class “is false.” The post showed that the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers earn a disproportionately small benefit from the policy change, with the top 5 percent earning a larger share of the benefits relative to their income:

    [Economic Policy Institute, 4/13/18]

    CBPP: Trump tax cuts deliver largest benefits to the wealthiest while boosting income inequality. The CBPP explained in an April report that Trump’s tax plan “will increase income inequality since it delivers far larger tax cuts to households at the top, measured as a share of income, than to households at the bottom or middle of the income distribution”:

    [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/9/18]

    CBPP: Increase in Child Tax Credit skews toward the wealthy. The CBPP report explained that “10 million children under age 17 in low-income working families will receive no CTC increase or a token increase of $75 or less.” Further, the law increased the upper limit for the Child Tax Credit from $110,000 in income annually to $400,000, with the wealthiest getting an increase worth several times more than the increase middle-class families will receive:

    [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 4/9/18]

    Data so far show Trump tax cuts having no positive effect on the economy

    EPI: “There is no evidence that wage growth has materially picked up since the TCJA’s passage.” In June 1 testimony submitted to the House’s Tax Policy Subcommittee, EPI explained that “there is no evidence that wage growth has materially picked up since the TCJA’s passage.”

    [Economic Policy Institute, 6/1/18]

    Bloomberg’s Noah Smith: Federal Reserve data and PayScale index show wages fell after Trump tax cuts took effect. In a July 18 Bloomberg column, Noah Smith pointed to Federal Reserve and private sector data to show that wages actually declined since the Trump tax cuts were passed:

    [Bloomberg, 7/18/18]

    EPI: Bonuses were overhyped, and they are less likely to occur in future years. EPI’s testimony explained that “nearly 40 percent of American workers get bonuses every year,” and that there was a financial incentive to give bonuses after the law’s passage at the end of 2017 when such bumps could be less expensively written off on corporate tax filings. As EPI explained: “What this means is that even if some increase in bonuses occurred in 2017 because of the TCJA (this remains a big ‘if’), there is no reason to think such bonuses will recur in the future.” [Economic Policy Institute, 6/1/18]

    EPI: “There is no serious evidence that the TCJA spurred a notable pickup in business investment.” EPI’s testimony showed that business investment has grown less than it did in either 2011 or 2014. “In short, we do not yet have economy-wide data showing a rapid upsurge of investment due to the TCJA.”

    [Economic Policy Institute, 6/1/18]

  • Trump's tariffs could hurt millions of Americans, but media focus instead on presidential drama

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 31, CBS News reported on retaliatory tariffs from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, targeting numerous products including American steel and aluminum, playing cards, motorcycles, and tobacco. European Commission president Jean-Paul Juncker said that Trump’s move “leaves us with no choice but to proceed … with the imposition of additional duties on a number of imports from the U.S.”

    News reports and experts say the tariffs will hurt Americans in a number of ways. Though the steel and aluminum industries stand to benefit, “almost every US industry” that uses these metals will be faced with higher manufacturing costs, which “will likely get passed on to consumers.” These higher costs could “kill hundreds of thousands of jobs” as companies scramble to offset artificially high prices. Retaliatory tariffs levied by other nations are threatening a wide range of businesses, from agriculture to commercial production. According to The New York Times, even Trump’s own Council of Economic Advisers concluded that the tariffs would hamper economic growth.  

    But media coverage of U.S. allies’ responses to Trump’s economic attack centered on  the sensationalism and drama of the moment. Though CNN interviewed or cited economists in a few segments on the tariffs’ effects for American workers and business, the majority of the punditry  focused on the shock value of levying tariffs against U.S. allies. CNN also interviewed Stephen Moore, a Trump campaign economic advisor whom CNN hired as its in-house defender of the president who dodged policy questions to muddy the facts and obsequiously push the Trump agenda (which is how interviews with former or current Trump officials usually go); the network did not interview any workers who could potentially be hurt by the retaliatory tariffs.

    Fox News, meanwhile, played up the personal drama Trump incited with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Fox personalities said that “the public spat between these world leaders [Trump and Trudeau] is something to watch,” argued that Trudeau should “maybe … realize it’s not personal,” and generally attacked Trudeau for, among other things, “trying to out-alpha President Trump.” Lou Dobbs hailed Trump’s defeat of our allies’ “globalist conspiracy,” and on Dobbs’ show, sworn Nazi sympathizer Sebastian Gorka denounced Canada’s response to Trump because Canada “started it.”  When Fox figures tried to analyze the tariffs, they usually didn’t get beyond spouting worn-out taglines such as the electorate wanted the “disrupter-in-chief” to provide “a complete change in direction.” Jesse Watters got creative, however, when he positively compared Trump’s tariffs to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, a 1930 tariff commonly understood to have “exacerbated the Great Depression.” (Fox & Friends did feature one dairy farmer who, predictably, supported Trump’s agenda.)

    Much of the coverage on MSNBC also focused on the spectacle and/or provided a superficial analysis of Trump’s actions. But anchors Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi, along with correspondent Vaughn Hillyard, did do substantial reporting on how the tariffs might impact American laborers, coverage which often included the workers themselves, during their combined three hours of hosting time., Velshi and Ruhle dedicated segments to explaining the far-reaching nature of the tariffs from U.S. allies (as well as an earlier round of tariffs from China) and how they might affect laborers and consumers alike.

    On-site reporting focused on affected farmers, and several reports focused even further on specific industries -- pork products, potatoes, and bourbon among them -- targeted by the tariffs.

    Ruhle, Velshi, and Hillyard notwithstanding, a common facet of tariff coverage was, as Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth said, the “unpredictability” of the situation, because it “makes for good TV.” With Friday’s White House announcement of another $50 billion in tariffs against Chinese products, media need to move beyond the drama and focus on the substance and the potential devastation to some Americans.

  • Dozens of local Fox affiliates run misleading segments pushing Social Security benefit cuts

    Cuts to Social Security are not inevitable

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox Broadcasting Co. used a 2017 report by the Social Security Board of Trustees nearly a year after its release to scare its viewers into thinking benefit cuts and further increases to the full retirement age are inevitable. In at least 93 news segments on May 21, dozens of Fox affiliates warned of an approaching time when Social Security tax revenue would be outpaced by its spending on benefits, without once mentioning that a modest revenue increase would solve the problem.

    On just May 21, Fox affiliate stations aired at least 93 news reports on the 2017 trustees' report. Many of the segments had generally the same content as the one aired in the 4 a.m. hour on WXMI (FOX17) in Grand Rapids, MI:

    ANCHOR: The Social Security Board of Trustees said [in] its 2017 annual report that 2022 will make the first time in more than 40 years that Social Security pays out more in benefits than it takes in. And so deficits are going to continue to be depleted out of the roughly $3 trillion in asset reserves. Now what does this exactly mean? A cut in benefit payouts of up to 23 percent might be made by then, just to keep the payouts going through 2091 if Congress doesn’t take stronger measures.

    Now, reasons for the problems include people are living longer, lower interest rates affect the yields on special issue bonds, and more baby boomers are going to be entering the system with really not enough workers to cover for them. One trend for sure to continue is raising the age at which you get full benefit retirements.

    These reports are misleading in multiple ways. Their claims that in the next few years, benefit cuts of over 20 percent might be necessary are flat-out false. Social Security has built up a nearly $3 trillion surplus so that full benefits could be paid out when there’s a large increase in new retirees, as America is currently experiencing with its retiring baby boomer generation. As the 2017 trustees' report (which all these Fox reports are citing) explains: “Social Security’s combined trust funds increase with the help of interest income through 2021 and would cover full payment of scheduled benefits on a timely basis until the trust fund reserves become depleted in 2034.” So, contrary to Fox’s fearmongering, there will be enough money to pay out full benefits for nearly two decades. Beginning in 2034, as the trustees' report notes (not 2022 as the FOX segments claim) Social Security faces a problem of not having enough revenue to pay out full benefits -- but it can be addressed without cutting benefits by simply raising additional revenue.

    The other outcome mentioned in this Fox report (and in nearly two dozen others) is a continued increase in the retirement age to earn full Social Security benefits. But such a change is also not inevitable -- nor would it address the full problem. As a 2015 Congressional Budget Office analysis of policy options on the 75-year balance of Social Security demonstrated, raising the full retirement age to 70 (it is currently 67 for people born in 1960 and after) would not have as much positive effect on Social Security’s balance as, say, eliminating the taxable maximum limit on income (currently, income above $128,400 is not taxed for Social Security). Taxing income above the current maximum without increasing the benefits for those specific high-income earners would improve Social Security’s balance sheet even more. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained in reaction to the 2017 trustees' report, the payroll tax currently “covers only about 83 percent of covered earnings, well short of the 90 percent figure envisioned in the 1977 Social Security amendments.”

    Fox’s failure to suggest increasing Social Security revenue is even more glaring because it’s discussed as a solution in the very report Fox is citing. In its conclusion, the trustees' report states that “an immediate and permanent payroll tax rate increase of 2.76 percentage points” would be enough to keep the Social Security trust fund fully solvent through the next 75 years.

    Furthermore, Fox is presenting the upcoming deficit in Social Security as a sudden crisis, but in fact it’s been anticipated for decades. The 1984 trustees' report explained that “income will generally exceed outgo, developing a substantial surplus each year. After about 2020 the reverse is true, with outgo exceeding income.” That report also anticipated the demographic issues the country is currently experiencing:

    Several important long-range demographic trends, already under way, are anticipated to raise the proportion of the aged in the population in the next 75 years:

    1. Because of the large number of persons born shortly after World War II, rapid growth is expected in the aged population after the turn of the century.
    2. At the same time, low birth rates would hold down the number of young people.
    3. Projected declines in mortality rates also would increase the numbers of aged persons.

    Methodology: Media Matters used iQ media to search for local news reports for the week of May 21-25 featuring discussion of possible Social Security benefit cuts using the search terms “Social Security” together with “2022.” The vast majority of results were from Fox affiliates on May 21

  • Fox News isn't covering Ivanka Trump's new China trademarks potentially worth millions

    After Ivanka’s trademarks were approved, President Trump promised to “save jobs” at ZTE, a Chinese telecom that traded with Iran and North Korea. Ivanka then got more trademarks.

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On May 28, The New York Times reported that Ivanka Trump received seven new trademarks from the Chinese government six days before her father, President Donald Trump, “vowed to find a way” to save Chinese telecommunications company ZTE from bankruptcy. Fox News has yet to cover the story.

    The Times article noted, “Even as Mr. Trump contends with Beijing on issues like security and trade, his family and the company that bears his name are trying to make money off their brand in China’s flush and potentially promising market.” According to experts, “the timing appeared to be a coincidence, given how quickly Ms. Trump won her previous trademark requests from the Chinese authorities,” but one of the experts quoted in the piece noted, “From application to registration, this is very fast.” Another expert disagreed on the speed, but acknowledged that Ivanka’s position and fame likely played a role in the approval process. And according to American ethics experts, the trademarks, along with the family’s existing businesses in China, suggest that Chinese officials may be giving the president’s daughter “extra consideration” because she’s “the president’s daughter — a person who also works in the White House.” The trademarks are potentially worth millions.

    Trump’s action to “save jobs” at ZTE came after the Chinese telecommunications company was “left paralyzed after American officials forbade companies in the United States” from selling goods to ZTE, after the company violated U.S. trade controls on Iran and North Korea. The American intelligence community has also warned that ZTE products “may pose an unacceptable risk” of espionage. Ivanka Trump was granted an additional two trademarks eight days after the president’s announcement. 

    Unlike other networks, Fox News has yet to find time to cover the Times story published yesterday. But it has discussed the following about the president’s daughter:

    • On May 28, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt suggested Chelsea Clinton criticized Ivanka’s complicity in her father’s actions because she wants to run for president, and diaper enthusiast and Turning Point USA Director of Urban Engagement Candace Owens bragged about meeting the first daughter.
    • A Special Report package mentioned an American diplomat who had “accompanied Ivanka Trump to the South Korean Olympics in February.”
    • On May 29, RNC spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany mentioned on Fox & Friends an initiative Ivanka has worked on with the World Bank.

    Trump’s orbit, from campaign to the presidency, is certainly not short on corruption and scandal, and this is not the first such story that Fox News has ignored or downplayed. The network has dutifully and reliably downplayed story after story -- usually related to the Russia investigation(s) -- that puts the president in a bad light.