Poverty

Issues ››› Poverty
  • Fox News Rewards O’Reilly Minion Jesse Watters With Prime-Time Slot On The Five

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ, ZACHARY PLEAT & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Fox News is rewarding Jesse Watters with a prime-time slot on the panel show The Five as part of the shakeup caused by Bill O’Reilly’s ouster. Watters, a former O’Reilly producer and longtime protégé, was widely condemned last year for a racist segment set in New York City’s Chinatown. His ambush interviews have disparaged immigrants, women, African-Americans, the homeless, and members of the LGBTQ community, and he earned notoriety for an incident in which he “followed, harassed, and ambushed” a female journalist on camera.

  • VIDEO: Media Can't Ignore The Voices of Activists

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    In a time of historic protests and activism against bigoted and hateful policies of President Donald Trump and his administration, news outlets need to scrap the so-called “fair and balanced” panels of pundits and politicians speculating and judging protests from a studio.

    Since day one of the Trump administration, there have been organized efforts around the country to protest the president’s policies. These include the Women’s March On Washington in January which mobilized an estimated 3.6 to 4.6 million protestors around the world, demonstrations at airports across the U.S. a week later to protest banning and detaining Muslim travelers, the International Women’s Day Strike, the upcoming Tax Day March in April to pressure Trump to release his full tax returns, the People’s Climate March in the same month, and the Immigration March in May. Journalists can no longer ignore the activists, organizers and protestors who are taking to the streets and to town halls across the country to demand accountability and change.

    Media have dismissed the protests as spectacles, alleged that they are being staged, or falsely claimed that the protesters are paid to show up. Activists have been central to the evolution of American democracy and have fought for policies that are more inclusive and that better their communities.

    News outlets need to let activists tell their stories.

  • Wash. Post Uses Shabby Reporting To Justify Cutting Social Security Disability Insurance

    Experts Browbeat The Post’s Call For “Reform” Of SSDI At A Time Of “Unprecedented Inequality”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    The Washington Post’s editorial board used its paper’s own flawed profile of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients to justify the unsubstantiated claim that the program discourages people with disabilities from working and therefore “needs reform” in the form of increased restrictions and benefit cuts.

    On March 30, the Post ran a profile of a struggling low-income family as a proxy for millions of Americans who are dependent on SSDI that bordered on poverty shaming. The article misleadingly characterized SSDI recipients and the social safety net in ways that echoed myths commonly peddled by right-wing media outlets.

    Then, on April 8, the Post‘s editorial board referred back to the paper’s portrayal of SSDI while misleadingly claiming that the program’s eligibility requirements create “every incentive to cease working,” and that those requirements are part of the reason so few beneficiaries ever return to the workforce. The editorial board bizarrely added that recipients would be incentivized to work if SSDI benefits could be scaled down gradually as workers with disabilities returned to the workforce. Yet, the Post makes no mention that SSDI already has a return to work trial period where recipients can attempt to rejoin the labor force without losing assistance. Even more peculiar, while it argued for unneeded reforms, by the editorial board’s own admission the program is not actually rife with wasteful spending and recipients are only eligible if their disability prevents them from working. From The Washington Post:

    Nor is the program’s growth the result of rampant fraud, as sometimes alleged; structural factors such as population aging explain much recent growth. Nevertheless, at a time of declining workforce participation, especially among so-called prime-age males (those between 25 and 54 years old), the nation’s long-term economic potential depends on making sure work pays for all those willing to work. And from that point of view, the Social Security disability program needs reform.

    In particular, SSDI’s rules require that applicants be unable to engage in any significant paying work, or “substantial gainful activity,” in the program’s argot. Would-be recipients thus have every incentive to cease working completely to qualify — and to avoid rehabilitation lest they lose cash benefits and that all-important health care. And, in fact, only a tiny percentage of SSDI beneficiaries return to the labor force once they exit. “The decision to apply, in many cases, is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether,” as [Washington Post reporter Terrence] McCoy wrote. “For the severely disabled, this choice is, in essence, made for them. But for others, it’s murkier. Aches accumulate. Years pile up. Job prospects diminish.” The typical SSDI recipient now is a middle-aged worker whose main ailment is musculoskeletal or psychological.

    The Post is overselling the notion that SSDI creates an incentive for people with disabilities to abstain from work -- and it is doing so while linking back to research on ailments of SSDI recipients that was published in 1995. In actuality, SSDI recipients are only eligible to receive benefits if the Social Security Administration agrees that their disability prevents them from working. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), which analyzed data collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), eligibility requirements in the United States are already “among the strictest in the world” and program benefits “are less generous than most other countries’ disability benefit programs.” According to CAP, almost 80 percent of SSDI applicants are denied during the initial application and “thousands of applicants die” annually waiting to learn if they will receive assistance. Furthermore, CAP also found that disability recipients who are approved tend to skew older and had worked in physically demanding jobs before applying for benefits.

    An April 9 blog from Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) economist and co-founder Dean Baker browbeat the Post for complaining about people with disabilities not working when inequality is at an “unprecedented” level -- the paper’s tone deafness is all the more apparent at a time when the wealthiest Americans live a decade longer than their low-income counterparts. Baker continued by pointing out that the benefits from SSDI are far from lavish, averaging a mere $1,170 a month, which amounts to less than a full-time job paying the federal minimum wage.

    The editorial board closed its call for needlessly reforming SSDI by claiming that its aim is to “help people with disabilities retain the earnings and dignity that come from work,” an argument that mirrored rhetoric from the right-wing Heritage Foundation for a more “compassionate” policy of work incentives and dropping recipients after a set time on the program.

    The Post’s repeated mischaracterization of SSDI follows a long history of misinformation from mainstream outlets, which often publish error-riddled stories filled with anecdotal evidence portraying disability recipients as undeserving. These pieces sound as if they come from right-wing media, which have spent years attacking the program and its recipients.

  • Wash. Post Profile Of Disability Insurance Recipients Borders On Poverty Shaming

    The Post Is Just Asking -- Are Millions Of Americans Legitimately “Disabled, Or Just Desperate” For Work?

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    A Washington Post profile of a struggling low-income family painted what the Center for American Progress called a “dystopian portrait” of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and its recipients. The negative framing of the disabled echoed misleading portrayals commonly promoted by right-wing media.

    The in-depth March 30 article used a low-income family in rural Alabama as a proxy for rural communities around the country that have become increasingly dependent on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program over the past two decades. Unfortunately, the Post’s profile of the state of disability in the United States pushed a number of misleading characterizations of SSDI and its recipients that are commonly peddled by right-wing media outlets when they target the social safety net:

    • The article stated disability usage “has surged … from 7.7 million to 13 million” since 1996, failing to provide context for how SSDI recipients compare to a population of well over 320 million while glossing over the predictable demographic trends responsible for the uptick.
    • The Post neglected to mention that only 13 million out of more than 53 million American adults living with a disability actually receive benefits from SSDI.
    • The article highlighted the raw amount of money the federal government projects to spend on SSDI this year ($192 billion) without contextualizing that sum as a proportion of overall federal spending (less than 5 percent).
    • The article manufactured a false dichotomy between “the severely disabled,” who obviously cannot work for a living, and supposedly “murkier” cases where enrolling in SSDI “is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether” by an otherwise able-bodied person.
    • The article followed a man, Desmond Spencer, who suffers from chronic pain resulting from on-the-job injuries accumulated through a career in manual labor, but it focused on the shame he feels at the thought of applying for SSDI without considering if he might actually qualify for assistance.
    • The article continually juxtaposed Spencer’s difficulty in finding gainful employment with his struggle over applying for SSDI, even though being unemployed for nonmedical reasons is not a criterion for the program.
    • The article scrupulously detailed unhealthful daily habits of several SSDI recipients -- smoking and drinking soda -- that are typical behaviors for tens of millions of Americans but often portrayed as wasteful when they are done by individuals receiving government benefits.

    Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress chided the Post for creating a “dystopian portrait where Social Security disability benefits represent out-of-control government spending riddled with rampant abuse.” Vallas wrote that qualification for the program is actually “incredibly hard” and linked to July 2014 testimony from the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, which explained that aging Baby Boomers, natural population growth, and women entering the workforce are primarily responsible for increased disability usage. Most importantly, Vallas concluded her response by noting that narratives similar to that published by the Post have been used in the past by conservative opponents of safety net programs.

    A response from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analyst Kathleen Romig hit the Post’s write-up of SSDI for focusing so intently on “an atypical case: a young applicant in a county with an unusually high share of disability beneficiaries.” Romig also noted that it’s misleading to conflate absence of local job opportunities with a spike in disability cases because applicants must “prove that they can’t earn substantial wages anywhere across the economy — regardless of whether such work exists where they live.”

    A March 31 statement from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) added even more critical context missing from the Post’s report, including statistics detailing the strict standards for SSDI, the high likelihood that recipients are dealing with a terminal illness, and the fact that the number of people receiving benefits through SSDI has “level[ed] off and is projected to decline further in the coming years.”

    The pitfalls and blind spots bedeviling the Post’s foray into disability coverage are nothing new. In 2013, NPR’s Planet Money and All Things Considered and WBEZ’s This American Life promoted an error-riddled story using anecdotal evidence to portray disability recipients as grifters gaming the system. Months later, CBS News’ 60 Minutes aired a similarly misleading report, which falsely claimed SSDI is “ravaged by waste and fraud” and promoted biased research produced by partisan opponents seeking to gut the program.

    The Post’s mischaracterization of SSDI as a seemingly simple way for low-income Americans to secure a source of income is the kind of misinformation disability advocates have come to expect from Fox News, which has spent years attacking the program and its recipients.

  • Kansas Nightly News Fails To Educate The Public About The Medicaid Expansion 

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    A Media Matters study of broadcast TV coverage in the Kansas City market found that NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox collectively spent less than eight minutes over a 43-day period covering the state legislature’s debates over the proposal to accept the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which would extend coverage to more than 150,000 Kansans. 

  • How Conservatives Smeared Obamacare And Laid The Groundwork For Trumpcare

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    For over seven years, right-wing media have launched an assault on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- a law that has yielded great gains in the economy and public health, especially for the most vulnerable -- pushing multiple myths and false claims about the law. On the law’s seventh anniversary, Republicans hoped to repeal the ACA and pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which contains a wish list of harmful conservative media-backed policies.

  • Experts And Media Observers Stunned By Trump’s Budget Proposal

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Economic policy experts, advocacy groups, and media outlets scrambled to respond to President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, which includes $54 billion in new defense spending to be offset by dramatic cuts to the entire non-defense discretionary budget. Many observers were quick to point out that the president’s so-called “America First” budget will worsen the suffering of at-risk communities, including many low-income regions that supported his election and are kept afloat economically by federal spending programs.

  • Trump Rewards O'Reilly Minion Who Previously Aired Racist And Misogynist Reports

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Fox News host Jesse Watters will interview President Donald Trump for his show Watters World. Watters, who originally appeared on Fox as a correspondent for The O’Reilly Factor, has a track record of disparaging segments about immigrants, women, Asian-Americans and African-Americans. He has also produced reports in which he shamed homeless Americans, mocked members of the LGBTQ community, and “followed, harassed, and ambushed” a journalist.

  • FCC Decision To Reduce Internet Subsidy For Low-Income Americans Comes Straight From Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Trump-appointed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has chosen to reduce participation in an Obama-era expansion of a Reagan-era telecommunications subsidy for low-income Americans. The program, known as “Lifeline,” had become a regular target of right-wing media attacks and conspiracy theories, which labeled it as “Obamaphones” that were distributed in low-income communities to buy votes.

    According to a February 3 report from The Washington Post, Pai announced that the commission was reversing a decision made last year to allow additional companies to apply a federal subsidy of $9.25 per month for qualifying households seeking assistance in acquiring internet access. From the Post:

    Regulators are telling nine companies they won't be allowed to participate in a federal program meant to help them provide affordable Internet access to low-income consumers — weeks after those companies had been given the green light.

    The move, announced Friday by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, reverses a decision by his Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler, and undercuts the companies' ability to provide low-cost Internet access to poorer Americans. In a statement, Pai called the initial decisions a form of “midnight regulation.”

    [...]

    The program, known as Lifeline, provides registered households with a $9.25-a-month credit, which can then be used to buy home Internet service. As many as 13 million Americans may be eligible for Lifeline but do not have broadband service at home, the FCC has found.

    [...]

    Until last year, Lifeline recipients could only apply their federal benefit toward landline and mobile voice service. Significant changes to the program under Wheeler let beneficiaries, for the first time, use their credits to purchase broadband. The expansion was opposed by Pai and other Republican officials, who argued that the measure did not do enough to rein in potential costs or to control waste, fraud and abuse. (Democrats claimed that recent reforms to the program had helped cut down on the latter.)

    The FCC initially announced the expansion of the subsidy program in March of last year, after then-chairman Tom Wheeler and commissioner Mignon Clyburn successfully argued that "Internet access has become a pre-requisite for full participation in our economy and our society." For their efforts to expand telecommunications access to low-income communities, the FCC was derided by Fox News, which had already spent years building a cottage industry out of bashing the subsidy program they had dishonestly dubbed “Obamaphones.”

    In 2012, Fox News began pushing the conspiracy theory that President Obama was using the Lifeline program to distribute free phones in black communities in exchange for votes based on an out-of-context video of a single overzealous Obama supporter. The so-called “Obamaphones” program became such a frequent target on Fox News that Obama brought it up in May 2015 as an example of how Fox’s fearmongering coverage of poverty stokes animosity toward the poor. During one particularly tone deaf instance, Fox contributor Charles Payne claimed the phone subsidy program was tantamount to “further enslavement of the poor” just weeks after Obama had harangued the network’s over-the-top rhetoric. When the FCC decided to further expand the program in 2016 to keep up with changing technologies -- it was established under Reagan to cover landlines, expanded by President Bush to cover cell phones, and expanded under Obama to cover internet services -- the pump had already been primed for outrage.

  • NY Times Distorts Food Stamp Data, Saying Recipients Buy Lots Of “Unhealthful Foods”

    In Fact, Report Shows SNAP Beneficiaries Have Similar Purchasing Habits To Non-SNAP Shoppers

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    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”:

    • University of Minnesota sociologist Joe Soss called the article “a political hack job on a program that helps millions of Americans” and said it  “peddled harmful myths and outright lies” in a Facebook post as well as a January 16 column for Jacobin magazine;
    • University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen analyzed the data and reported on Twitter that SNAP recipients were only slightly more likely than others to buy “sweetened beverages” but more than three times more likely to buy “baby food” because so many users have young children; and
    • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found in a June 2016 report that increasing SNAP benefits, rather than restricting their use, addresses food insecurity more broadly while also helping low-income families afford healthier (and more expensive) food items.

    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."

  • Fox Gives Jesse Watters A Weekly Show

    Fox Will Now Feature Watters' Poor-Shaming, Sexism, And Transphobia For An Hour Every Week

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Fox News has announced that news correspondent Jesse Watters' monthly special Watters' World will now be a weekly show on the network. Watters has a track record of producing segments where he shames homeless Americans and mocks members of the LGBT community. During his segment and while guest-hosting shows on Fox, Watters has also repeatedly made disparaging comments about immigrants, women, Asian-Americans and African-Americans.