Fox guest: "People use food stamps to buy marijuana," "cocaine," and "whatever the hell else people use to get high"
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The number of food stamp recipients is roughly equal to the number of people living in poverty, far below number who qualify for assistance
Fox News contributors and hosts defended President Donald Trump’s draconian budget request for fiscal year 2018 by coalescing around a talking point also voiced by the White House that spending cuts for nutrition assistance programs are justified because of their gut feeling that too many people are using them. In the real world, the number of food stamp recipients is roughly equal to the number of Americans living in poverty, which has remained elevated since the last recession ended.
During a May 23 press conference discussing Trump’s budget request, NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander asked Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to defend the president’s decision to cut programs like Social Security and Medicaid that he had promised to protect during the campaign. Mulvaney falsely claimed that no person who “really needs” assistance will be removed from the programs, and turned to Trump’s proposed new restrictions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as “food stamps,” as an example. Mulvaney noted that the number of SNAP recipients “spiked during the recession” to over 42 million and complained that it remains high today “eight years removed from the end of the recession.” Mulvaney ended his remark by wondering “why is the number still that high?”:
Mulvaney’s unfounded gut feeling that the number of people receiving SNAP benefits is too high was endlessly reiterated by Fox News and Fox Business personalities who have a long track record of attacking the program. On the May 22 edition of America’s News Headquarters, contributor Mercedes Schlapp bemoaned the so-called “entitlement mentality” of Americans who might oppose unnecessary cuts to food assistance. Later that day, on Your World with Neil Cavuto, host Cavuto complained the number of SNAP recipients has “ballooned to over 44 million today” (it’s actually 42 million), baselessly suggesting it was “not sustainable,” while conservative columnist Carrie Sheffield falsely claimed that federal food assistance has “crowded out the private sector.”
Fox returned to the complaint on May 23, dedicating time on Fox Business’ Cavuto: Coast to Coast and Risk & Reward to the same talking point that 44 million SNAP recipients seemed like too many and therefore the program must be cut. On Making Money with Charles Payne, host Payne and guest Liz Peek falsely argued that food assistance programs are meant only to be “emergency programs” while lamenting the number of users. During that day’s edition of Your World, Cavuto returned again to his complaint about the number of people enrolled in SNAP, remarking that if 44 million Americans are really in need of food assistance “we’re Mozambique, we’re not America.” Moments later, Cavuto was joined by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who defended adding new restrictions to food assistance programs and agreed with Cavuto’s characterization that there is no way so many people truly qualify for assistance.
Contrary to this misleading characterization, the number of SNAP recipients is actually lower than the number of people who qualify for the program and is roughly equal to the number of people living in poverty (see graph below). One would expect the number of SNAP beneficiaries to largely mirror the number of Americans living in poverty because the program is available, with some restrictions, for individuals earning up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level.
For much of the program’s history, the number of people who actually participated in the federal food assistance program was far less than the number who struggled with poverty and the number who potentially qualified for assistance. That began to change during the Bush and Obama administrations, when technological improvements and a bipartisan effort to tackle stigma helped get more deserving families and individuals enrolled in the program. Rates of waste, fraud, and abuse in the system have actually fallen as participation increased and, according to a November 2016 report from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, the gap between the number of Americans who qualify for assistance and the number who receive it has been narrowing for years:
On May 23, President Donald Trump released his vision for the fiscal year 2018 federal budget titled, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” which called for deep cuts to Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), student loan assistance, and anti-poverty programs geared toward working- and middle-class Americans while providing gargantuan tax cuts for top income earners and increasing military spending. As details of the budget began to surface in the lead up to the announcement, Media Matters identified some of the best take downs from journalists and experts hammering the proposal for its “ruthless” cuts.
Budget proposal will include deep cuts to Medicaid and Social Security, programs Trump promised to protect during campaign
Multiple news outlets have reported on the harsh human toll of President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which is expected to gut programs that guarantee basic living standards, including parts of Medicaid and Social Security. These cuts directly contradict Trump’s promise to save the programs “without cuts.”
The White House first hinted at slashing programs that help working- and middle-class Americans on February 26 when, according to Bloomberg, Trump floated proposals to increase defense spending by 10 percent while cutting programs including assistance for low-income Americans while still promising not to touch Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The White House claimed these drastic cuts would help spur economic growth, an absurd claim that was resoundingly ridiculed by economists as “deep voodoo” and “wholly unrealistic.” The administration’s initial budgetary proposals were so drastic and poorly thought out that they stunned many observers and experts. The White House even advocated cutting assistance to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would be particularly harmful to “small-town America,” and Meals on Wheels, which “doesn’t make economic sense” and would cruelly deny millions of elderly Americans basic companionship and a hot meal.
On May 21, The Washington Post reported that the White House will unveil a formal federal budget proposal that goes even further than the administration’s earlier indications by proposing “massive cuts to Medicaid” and other anti-poverty public assistance programs. On May 22, Axios reported that the president plans to cut $1.7 trillion over 10 years from federal assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which collectively serve tens of millions of people. (Axios incorrectly stated that Trump’s budget plan “won’t reform Social Security or Medicare,” before outlining Trump’s plan to cut SSDI and incorporate massive Medicaid restrictions that would become law if his Obamacare repeal plan is ever enacted.)
As details of Trump’s budget plan continued to leak, some media outlets explained the devastating consequences for millions of Americans if the White House gets its way and these drastic cuts take effect. They also explained that Trump’s embrace of deep cuts to components of Medicaid and Social Security represent a betrayal of his promises from the campaign.
CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans explained on the May 22 edition of CNN Newsroom that much of the money being cut from mandatory spending would come from Medicaid, which could see up to a 25 percent reduction in federal funding, pushing the financial burden onto the states and kicking 14 million people off their health insurance programs. Romans mentioned that protecting Medicaid is one of many campaign promises from Trump “that are turning out not to be true.”
On the May 22 edition of MSNBC Live, host Chris Jansing went even further in breaking down the human toll of Trump’s budget cuts with NBC News senior editor Beth Fouhy and New York Times national reporter Yamiche Alcindor. The show aired part of an interview with a mother of two young children, who told Fouhy that if these cuts are enacted, the costs of care for her child with cerebral palsy will bankrupt her. Then they showed a clip of Trump on the campaign trail proclaiming that he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” Alcindor discussed a report she wrote for the Times earlier this month about the human costs of budget cuts that would lead eliminate programs that help provide small communities with access to clean drinking water, drug rehabilitation centers, and jobs programs:
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In Fact, Report Shows SNAP Beneficiaries Have Similar Purchasing Habits To Non-SNAP Shoppers
A recent article in The New York Times grossly misinterpreted the findings of a government review of nationwide grocery purchases by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps.” The article incorrectly portrayed the study as showing that “a disproportionate amount of food stamp money is going toward unhealthful foods,” when in reality it showed that Americans across the board purchase similar items and that overall, everyone could be eating in healthier ways. The suggestion that SNAP recipients are somehow guilty of wasting money on frivolous food purchases is a tired right-wing media attack, and the Times’ sloppy handling of the recently released data is sure to embolden opponents of federal anti-poverty programs.
On November 18, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the federal food security program, released a report analyzing purchases at “a leading grocery retailer” in 2011. A key finding in the data was that “food purchases, consumption patterns, and dietary outcomes among SNAP participants and higher income households are more similar than different.” Recipients of SNAP benefits spent slightly more of their grocery budget on meats and “sweetened beverages” (which include many juices and soft drinks) while non-SNAP households spent slightly more on vegetables and “high fat dairy” items. Overall, “differences in the expenditure patterns … were relatively limited” across all major grocery categories:
According to the USDA’s summary of its findings, households that receive SNAP benefits and households that do not receive benefits have similar consumption habits, including the habit of purchasing food items like “sweetened beverages,” “soft drinks,” “salty snacks,” and other junk foods that “may not be fully consistent with” preferred dietary guidelines. Indeed, according to the full November 2016 report, the seven most common grocery purchases of SNAP and non-SNAP consumers are virtually the same, with “soft drinks” ranking first for SNAP households and second for all other customers and “bag snacks” ranking fourth for SNAP households and fifth for others:
However, The New York Times published a headline that seems to condemn low-income Americans for buying soft drinks -- “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda” -- and its piece noted that advocates of healthy living “have called for restrictions so that food stamps cannot be used to buy junk food or sugary soft drinks.”
Rebecca Vallas and Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress slammed the article in a blog for Talk Poverty, noting that the misleading article was accompanied by an image “of a grocery cart overflowing with 2-liter bottles of soft drinks and a store aisle that is nothing but a wall of soda.”
Talk Poverty cited several examples of research refuting the Times’ stance along with experts who “took to social media to highlight the study’s actual findings”:
Aside from missing the point of the USDA study, the Times’ report has several other issues. From the outset, the article defines SNAP as a “$74 billion food stamp program,” which makes the program sound extremely large even though it actually comprises a relatively small piece of the $3.6 trillion federal dollars spent in 2011. Reporting incomprehensible raw numbers in this way is not informative, it’s a scare tactic, and The New York Times publicly committed in October 2013 to improving its reporting on exactly this issue.
Furthermore, by promoting the misleading premise that SNAP users are wasting tax dollars on junk food, the Times provided ammunition to political interests set on destroying the program. Right-wing media outlets have spent years demonizing SNAP and other food assistance programs based on the premise that these outlets know better than the recipients themselves what the latter should be eating. This misinformation campaign has already impacted public policy, spurring Republican lawmakers in several states and in Congress to pursue unnecessary restrictions that hurt working families.
Finally, buried in the eighth paragraph of the Times piece, the paper quotes a USDA spokesperson who points out that the question “Are we consuming too many sweetened beverages, period?” can be applied to “all households,” not just SNAP recipients.
Even after admitting 15 paragraphs down that “food stamp recipients and other households generally made similar purchases,” the Times pivoted back to claiming the data are “deeply troubling” to public health experts focused on the pervasiveness of a sugar-rich diet on obesity. The Times quoted obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig, who called for restrictions against using SNAP on food items “that are demonstrably going to undermine public health.” The article chose not to cite an April 2014 report by public health experts affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which found that childhood access to food stamps in their current form actually already contributes to “a significant reduction” in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes later in life.
If the Times wanted to tackle the problems created by the traditional American junk food diet, the paper could have followed the example set by comedian and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, whose excellent October 25, 2014, takedown of the sugar industry addressed the issue without targeting a single low-income family.
**CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this post questioned the Times' inclusion of New York University professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health Marion Nestle's claim that SNAP expenditures on soft drinks are "a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry." Media Matters cited a November 2016 USDA report which indicated that the amount of SNAP funds going toward soft drink purchases equaled $357.7 million, not billions of dollars. Dr. Nestle's office reached out following the publication of this piece to contend that if the $357.7 million figure in the USDA report, which was based off figures provided by a "leading grocery retailer" in 2011, was representative of nationwide SNAP use, total expenses on soft drinks would amount to roughly $3.8 billion annually. We have removed reference to Nestle's comments in response to her office's feedback.
With that said, Media Matters stands by its conclusion that the article poorly informed readers about the nutrition assistance program and may have misled readers into believing soft drink consumption levels among SNAP recipients are uniquely inflated by the program -- a conclusion shared by The New York Times' public editor, who argued that the article "didn't do much to advance the discussion."
Tweet Could Encourage "More Hostile Views Toward Government Programs To Assist Black People"
The Daily Caller included racial imagery in a story and accompanying link to a post entitled “Republicans Hint At Food Stamp Reform But Stop Short Of Calling For Overhaul” featuring an image of two black people holding “replicas of food stamps” in front of a Shepard Fairey-style poster of President Obama.
— The Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) December 7, 2016
TV One’s Roland Martin took on the racially offensive tweet, noting they tweeted a food stamp story and show “two Black people & Obama poster. I see y’all @TuckerCarlson!”
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) December 7, 2016
The Daily Caller has routinely used racially charged headlines such as “White man overruns indigenous peoples with superior technology,” which was later changed, and “Barack Obama, Wife Beater," used in a gallery of images of the President where a sleeveless shirt was visible underneath his shirt and tie.
Vox’s Dylan Matthews reported on the problematic use of racially charged imagery in stories about government programs by highlighting a book by Princeton professor Tali Mendelberg which found images associating black people with poverty led study participants to “express significantly more hostile views toward government programs to assist black people,” and specifically that “the effect on their expressed racial views was stronger than the effect on their expressed opinions on welfare.”
The Daily Caller is owned by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who was previously also the site’s Editor-in-Chief, a role he resigned in order to begin hosting Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News. Since the show’s debut three weeks ago Carlson has already used his prime-time platform to defend the racist past of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL) by attacking the “totally discredited” NAACP, claim that “the American Nazi Party and the KKK don't really exist in a meaningful [way],” and allow a guest to proclaim that “there is very little evidence of classic racism anymore.” Carlson has recently come under fire after lecturing The New York Times about tweets from Times reporters he deemed crossed the line while ignoring the hateful rhetoric coming from his own news outlet.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) new series of proposals -- released June 7 in a report commissioned by House Republicans titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” -- aims to restructure federal anti-poverty programs, but they heavily rely on myths commonly promoted by right-wing media outlets that mislead about poverty and shame the poor. On June 6, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released its own plan to reform and restructure anti-poverty programs in the United States, offering an example of what serious proposals look like when informed by serious economic research, rather than by right-wing media myths.
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The African-American and Latino communities were badly underrepresented in climate change discussions on the network Sunday shows last year, according to a new Media Matters analysis, despite being among those who are most vulnerable to climate impacts.
Of the 33 guests invited onto the major broadcast networks' Sunday news shows to discuss climate change last year, only 12 percent were non-white. The climate change conversations on the Sunday shows, which often set the media and political agenda for the week, included only two African-Americans, one Latino, and one Asian-American. This is a gross underrepresentation of the African-American and Latino communities in particular. African-Americans and Latinos made up 6 and 3 percent of the Sunday show guests who were asked about climate change, respectively. According to the most recent U.S. Census, African-Americans comprise 13.2 percent of the country's population and Latinos comprise 17.4 percent.
Moreover, two of the four non-white guests -- including the only Latino -- were Republican presidential candidates who are also climate science deniers: Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. In an April 19 interview on CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer allowed Rubio to question the "percentage" of climate change that is "due to human activity," failing to point out in response that the vast majority of climate scientists say human activities are the primary factor in climate change. And on the February 8 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Carson to respond to criticism from "some Democrats" that "there are some elements in the Republican Party, both candidates and voters, who deny science, whether it is vaccinations, or climate change or evolution." Carson did not address climate change in his response, and then Wallace moved on to a discussion of "politics."
The other African-American guest was American Meteorological Society president Marshall Shepherd, who was invited on Face the Nation on December 13 to discuss the landmark international climate agreement reached in December at a United Nations conference in Paris. The Asian-American guest was Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, who appeared on a Fox News Sunday panel discussion of the Paris climate agreement, also on December 13.
Looking at the results by show, two of the four non-white guests -- Shepherd and Rubio -- appeared on CBS' Face the Nation, comprising one-third of Face the Nation's six total guests who were asked about climate change. The other two non-white guests, Carson and Tanden, appeared on Fox News Sunday, which hosted 18 total guests to discuss climate change in 2015. Neither ABC's This Week nor NBC's Meet the Press hosted a single non-white guest to discuss climate change in 2015.
The African-American and Latino communities were largely left out of the climate change discussion even though climate change affects them disproportionately. The NAACP has noted that African-Americans are particularly at risk from climate impacts such as rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths because they are more likely than whites to live in urban and coastal areas. New Hispanic immigrants are also more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to the National Climate Assessment, due to "[l]ow wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing."
Furthermore, minority communities have the most to gain from the shift away from dirty fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that low-income communities face disproportionate health impacts from fossil fuel pollution, and that shifting to low carbon energy sources can lessen these impacts. In 2014, a report from the NAACP found that nearly three-quarters of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. African-Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to die from asthma-related causes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Hispanic children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Hispanic whites.
This may help explain why African-Americans and Hispanics in the U.S. overwhelmingly support acting on climate change, according to multiple polls. And why prominent civil rights organizations have expressed support for the the Obama Administration's flagship climate policy, the Clean Power Plan -- including the NAACP, The League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Council of La Raza, and many more.
The lack of minority voices in the Sunday shows' climate coverage is in line with a broader lack of diversity on the Sunday shows that Media Matters has continued to observe. According to a new Media Matters study of diversity on the Sunday shows in 2015, the percentage of guests on the four network Sunday shows -- and CNN's State of the Union -- who were people of color ranged from 17 percent on Face the Nation to 25 percent on Meet the Press. And no more than a quarter of the guests on any of the Sunday shows were people of color in 2014, either.
Civil rights and environmental justice advocates have previously spoken out against the underrepresentation of communities of color in the media. Prominent advocates for the nation's Latino community have highlighted how the media's nearly complete lack of Latino representation ranges from the dearth of Latino voices and perspectives included in English-language news to the absence of substantive coverage of issues that matter most to Latinos.
As Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of the environmental justice organization Uprose, has explained to Media Matters, "understanding the intersectionality" between climate change and social justice is "really important. We can't pick, we can't choose. It all matters to us, all of these issues."
Yeampierre further wrote in The Guardian:
Those of us from low-income communities of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. US cities and towns that are predominantly made up of people of color are also home to a disproportionate share of the environmental burdens that are fueling the climate crisis and shortening our lives.
*This post has been updated to incorporate the newly-published study of diversity on Sunday shows in 2015.
Republican Legislators Around Country Are Pushing Restrictions That Mirror Fox News' "Food Stamp Surfer"
Fox News has spent years pushing the myth that food stamp recipients dine on steak and lobster with their meager food assistance benefits, leading to a string of Republican-sponsored bills attempting to bar recipients from buying certain "luxury food items," the latest of which comes out of the New York state Senate.
The Washington Post reported on February 23 that New York state Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-48) introduced a bill to restrict the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits -- commonly referred to as "food stamps" -- that closely resembled Republican proposals in Kansas and Missouri last year. The bill seeks to stop the purchase of "luxury food items," such as steak and lobster, with SNAP benefits. Ritchie claimed in a statement that the bill is intended to "protect taxpayers from abuse of a program that's intended to help those who have fallen on hard times." From The Washington Post:
If the bill introduced by Sen. Patty Ritchie passes, families participating in the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be restricted from purchasing "luxury food items" like steak and lobster.
The proposal falls in line with a decades-old conservative fear that people use government assistance to purchase high-end foods. A strikingly similar proposal popped up last year in Missouri ... and another was signed into law by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) in April.
"The goal of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is to help low-income consumers make wise and healthy food choices -- however in New York State, SNAP beneficiaries are able to use their taxpayer-funded EBT cards to purchase things like soda, candy, cake and other types of junk food and luxury items," the statement [from Sen. Ritchie's office] says, referring to electronic benefit transfer cards.
The state of New York already restricts SNAP benefits to unprepared foods -- prohibiting non-essential items including alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, and other non-food items -- but Ritchie's bill would go further, banning foods that are deemed "expensive." The Huffington Post, New York magazine, and others pointed out that the food stamp restriction is really meant to stop recipients from purchasing "steak and lobster" -- a mythical abuse of taxpayer dollars promoted by Fox News.
On August 9, 2013, Fox News aired an hour-long special titled "The Great Food Stamp Binge," highlighting a single Californian named Jason Greenslate, whom the network labeled "the new face of food stamps." During the special, Greenslate detailed his refusal to find gainful employment and discussed his purchases of sushi and lobster using his EBT card from the state. Fox distributed the special, which shamelessly misrepresented millions of struggling Americans who rely on nutritional assistance, to Republican members of Congress during heated budget debates, and the GOP responded by voting for massive cuts to SNAP.
Fox's shameless attempt to characterize SNAP recipients as freeloaders did not stop with the Republican-led budget cuts in 2013. In April 2014, Fox host Neil Cavuto and network legal analyst Andrew Napolitano hyped a single instance of fraud, a couple receiving SNAP benefits while living on a $1.2 million yacht, Napolitano implied the government "willy nilly gives this money away without verifying who's receiving it." In reality, SNAP achieved a historic low for waste and overpayment in 2012. In early 2015, Republican lawmakers in Kansas and Missouri introduced bills seemingly inspired by Fox News restricting how much money food stamp and welfare recipients could spend and what they could purchase, specifically prohibiting "steak, seafood, soda, cookies, chip[s], and energy drinks." In May 2015, during a House Committee on Agriculture hearing, Republican members of Congress pushed for additional SNAP cuts and restrictions by repeatedly referencing the "surfer out in California living on food stamps and eating lobster" as evidence of food stamp abuse.
Fox's narrative that millionaires are receiving benefits and surfer dudes are dining on lobster at taxpayer expense is directed at curbing access to food assistance for low-income Americans, and Republican elected officials continue to oblige. Republican leaders including Paul Ryan are attempting to refurbish their party's reputation on poverty, but they continue promoting policies based on right-wing media myths that actually harm the poor -- a fact not lost on the American public.
A February 18 editorial by the Las Vegas Review-Journal encouraged Nevada and other states to replicate Maine's food assistance program work requirements. But reports find the requirements could hurt many of the state's most vulnerable people.
New polling from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of Americans viewed the Republican Party as favoring the rich, compared to 26 percent who see Republicans as favoring the middle class, and 2 percent who see them as favoring the poor. This huge disparity in public perception of Republican policies is often lost on media outlets that fall for lofty GOP rhetoric claiming to care about low- and middle-income Americans.
A Media Matters study of network evening news found that the evening news has failed to report that 1 million low income Americans are at risk of having their food assistance benefits severely restricted following 22 states' reinstatement of work requirements as a condition of eligibility on January 1. While the cuts are aimed at able body adults with no dependents, experts agree these individuals are "very poor" and qualify for very few alternative means of assistance.