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  • 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.

  • Black man's work, white man's credit: Fox’s Stuart Varney credits Trump for an Obama-era economic trend

    Varney claims April 2018’s record median household income is a stark contrast compared to “a dead flat line” under Obama, except the upward trend began in 2014 thanks to Obama.

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On the May 24 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney trumpeted a report showing last month had the highest median U.S. household income since January 2000, which Varney called a “direct result of President Trump’s policies.” However, the growth seen under Trump is a continuation of a trend begun during the Barack Obama administration -- even though Varney falsely claimed there was no household income growth under Obama.

    STUART VARNEY (HOST, VARNEY & CO.): President Trump's growth policy, his growth program, is working. We are gradually returning to prosperity. And it is the direct result of President Trump's policies. He has gone for tax cuts, he has gone for deregulation, and he has turned the economy around. And with it, he has turned around that feeling of prosperity that households have. That graphic you just showed: January 2017, $59,400 median household income. Half the population more, half the population less. OK. Fast-forward to April 2018, you’re up $2,000 per household. Three percent higher in, what, 15 months. That compares to a dead flat line throughout the eight Obama years. We are returning to prosperity because of President Trump's policies.

    Varney’s bizarre claim that median household income was “a dead flat line throughout the eight Obama years” is a fabrication. Household income fell because of the George W. Bush-era Great Recession, which Obama’s policies began to reverse. The median household income Varney congratulated Trump for is the latest data point in a consistently upward trend that began during the Obama administration, in late summer 2014. More broadly, data shows that median household income has generally been trending upward since summer 2011. 


    Image via TalkMarkets

    As The Washington Post’s Nicole Lewis explained in December 2017, members of the Trump administration, including Trump, like to brag about the economy and assign him outsize credit for it. However, due in part to the complexities of the economy and the pace of rolling out presidential policy, Trump’s economic policy has yet to fully impact the nation, whereas “we are probably still feeling the effects of policies laid out by the previous administration.” 

    Regular readers of The Fact Checker know we automatically award Two Pinocchios to anyone (editorials included) who gives sole credit to a president for economic improvements. That’s because the U.S. economy is complex, and the decisions of companies and consumers often loom larger than the acts of government.

    Moreover, it usually takes time and effort for presidential policies to work their way through the country. One year into the presidency, we are probably still feeling the effects of policies laid out by the previous administration.

  • Fox News figures are downplaying Trump’s moves towards a trade war with China

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As President Donald Trump ramps up a potential trade war with China, Fox News and Fox Business figures have been downplaying the damage his actions could do.

    Since the beginning of 2018, President Donald Trump has been rolling out increasingly aggressive tariffs on Chinese goods. In January, the president announced new tariffs targeting solar panels and washing machines, goods that primarily come from China. In March, he announced further tariffs on steel imports. And this week, the U.S. announced $50 billion worth of new tariffs, prompting the Chinese government to retaliate, placing tariffs on “128 American-made products” and asserting that the U.S. tariffs “violate World Trade Organization rules.”

    Following the news of China imposing retaliatory tariffs, CNN interviewed several economists who expressed concern that the increased economic hostility between the two nations might soon spiral into an all-out trade war. Joseph Brusuelas, chief U.S. economist at accounting and consulting firm RSM, told CNN, “This is a classic lose-lose proposition, no one wins.” After Trump threatened to impose additional tariffs, and the Chinese government promised to respond in kind, experts warned that additional tariffs would hurt both countries.

    Despite experts’ concerns, Fox News and Fox Business figures are downplaying fears of a trade war:

    • On America’s Newsroom, Fox’s Maria Bartiromo dismissed concerns about trade, commenting that she’s “not worried” about trade fears because she looks “at the broader picture.”

    • On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocy downplayed Trump’s trade moves by claiming, “there are no tariffs,” arguing that “this is the starting point,” and “it’s all a suggestion, it’s all a negotiation.”

    • Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce argued that “this is not about a trade war,” and compared America’s trade deficit with China to “a battered woman situation.” She also asserted that ““this will, in the end, because of Trump’s ability to negotiate, work out well.”

    • During the same broadcast, Fox Business’ Charles Payne claimed that “President Trump [has reminded] us that we’re not in a trade war,” because, “China already won that.”

    • On Fox News Radio's The Brian Kilmeade Show, Fox’s Brian Kilmeade dismissed the possibility of a trade war, claiming, “I do believe this is what we call the pre-fight, and so far, it's hype. It doesn't mean there's actually going to be a Showtime, HBO main event.”

    • Trump sycophant Lou Dobbs dismissed those who claim there is no trade war, claiming that there already is a trade war with China, but the United States simply wasn’t “fighting it until this president arrived in Washington.”

    • Fox Business' Stuart Varney explained away stock market backlash to Trump's tariffs as "an emotional response,” and claimed that “all this talk of a trade war” is “overblown.”

    • Frequent Fox guest Ron Meyer referred to China’s retaliatory tariffs as “minor.”

    • Fox’s Charles Payne claimed that the stock market drop following the announcement of China’s retaliatory tariffs was actually Wall Street “not only overreacting but trying to intimidate the White House."

    • On America’s Newsroom, Bartiromo claimed that she’s “not afraid of a trade war.” and that Trump’s actions are “more of a negotiation.”

    • During an appearance on America’s Newsroom, Payne dismissed fears about a trade war by claiming “we’re already in a trade war. We have been fighting with one hand behind our backs.”

    • On Fox News’ Outnumbered, Fox’s Geraldo Rivera argued that China’s retaliatory tariffs were insignificant and represented “chump change,” and expressed his confusion about why the market responded “so emotionally” to China’s tariffs.

    • During the same broadcast, Fox’s Trish Regan expressed her dismay at unfair Chinese trade policies, and said, “If it takes throwing around the idea of a few tariffs … maybe that works. Maybe it is, indeed, the art of the deal.”

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity dismissed concerns about a trade war on his radio show, claiming, “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a trade war.”

    • On Fox News’ Outnumbered, Fox’s Dagen McDowell defended Trump’s “approach with China,” claiming that there is a “method to this madness,” and that we don’t know if these “tariffs will ever be put in place.