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  • On Fox & Friends, the former ICE director praises Trump for “pushing for the rule of law”

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    On October 9, Fox & Friends hosted former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan to brag about President Donald Trump “pushing for the rule of law” and working to “enforce the laws on the book.” His assertion that Trump stands for law and order falls even flatter than usual given a recent New York Times investigation that revealed the Trump family’s fraudulent tax schemes.

    While Homan was touting Trump’s alleged support for the rule of law, both he and the hosts failed to mention the Times report, which detailed intricate and fraudulent tax-dodging schemes used by the Trump family to pass along undertaxed inheritance. The paper reported, “President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents.” Since the story broke, New York state and city tax authorities have opened investigations into the apparent tax evasion.

    Fox & Friends originally responded to the Times story by complaining that the paper was “bashing” Fred Trump, the president’s father. Less than a week later, the show seems to have moved on by ignoring the story altogether, instead sticking to the script that has Trump playing the law-and-order president. From the October 9 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

  • STUDY: Fox News leads networks in pushing White House's false narrative that Trump tax cuts increased wages

    Fox News’ right-wing propaganda dominated cable news coverage of Trump tax cuts 

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News has relentlessly repeated the false narrative that President Donald Trump’s tax plan, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, either increased wages for workers or was the direct cause of some major companies issuing one-time bonuses to employees. Since Trump signed the legislation into law on December 22, 2017, Fox News hosts, correspondents, and guests have made the claim 248 times. In reality, wages have been essentially stagnant since the tax bill was signed, companies poured the vast majority of their tax savings into stock buybacks, and U.S. dividends hit record highs in the months after the tax bill became law.

    What Republicans billed as a middle-class tax cut has overwhelmingly benefited the richest Americans and wealthiest corporations. Now the GOP-controlled House just passed tax cuts 2.0, which economist Jared Bernstein described as a plan that “doubles down on everything that's wrong with the plan they passed at the end of last year."

    Summary

    Background

    Findings

    Summary

    Media Matters reviewed transcripts of the three major cable networks’ evening news shows beginning at 4 p.m. for CNN and Fox News and 5 p.m. for MSNBC (4 p.m. transcripts of Deadline: White House were unavailable) through midnight each weeknight. We looked for comments on wage increases or bonuses versus comments on corporate stock or share buybacks or dividends in discussions about the tax bill since it passed on December 22, 2017.

    Fox led coverage, with comments spread over 182 segments during the nine-month study period. By contrast, CNN and MSNBC each aired only 29 segments containing comments that this study analyzed. Fox was able to set the narrative by having significantly more coverage of the topic and overwhelmingly pushing the administration’s false talking point that the tax cuts spurred wage increases or bonuses.

    Background

    Prior to passage of the Trump tax cuts, the White House Council of Economic Advisers claimed that the legislation would “increase average household income in the United States by, very conservatively, $4,000 annually.” Council Chairman Kevin Hassett clarified in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the household income increase would actually be a wage increase: “When profits go up, capital investment goes up, and wages follow. That’s the reason we estimated, based on what has happened around the world, that households will get an average $4,000 wage increase from corporate tax reform.” And the day Trump signed the tax bill, he credited it with encouraging companies to issue bonuses to their workers.

    However, real hourly earnings have been stagnant since the tax bill was signed into law, even declining slightly from August 2017 to August 2018, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report issued in September. In August, Pew Research Center released a report showing that real wages haven’t moved in decades. Instead of using their tax cuts for wage or investment growth, companies chose to pour the vast majority of their tax savings into unprecedented stock buybacks, and U.S. dividends reached a record high in the wake of the tax legislation.

    The bonuses were not all what they were promised to be, either -- few employees met the requirements necessary to qualify for the $1,000 maximum bonuses that several large companies announced. Many employees at Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s qualified for only $200-250 bonuses. And AT&T and Comcast announced bonuses to employees in 2017, which allowed them to deduct the cost at the prior 35 percent corporate tax rate rather than the new 21 percent rate of the tax bill.

    The new focus on wage increases at the likes of Walmart -- from $9 an hour to $11 an hour -- obscured the fact that the company had been raising wages for the past few years anyway: In 2015, the hourly wage rose to $9, and in 2016, it rose again to $10. At the same time as news spread of the increase to $11, the retailer announced layoffs of thousands of employees. In the past, Walmart has resisted efforts to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

    Findings

    The facts didn’t stop Fox News from tirelessly repeating the administration line that wages were up and bonuses were issued because of the tax cuts. Fox News hosts, correspondents, and guests have claimed the tax cuts led to higher wages or company-issued bonuses 248 times since December 22, 2017. Fox’s business-focused show, Your World with Neil Cavuto, led the coverage with 78 segments total, including 133 comments made about wage hikes and bonuses.

    This narrative drove the network’s coverage as evidence refuting these false claims was a much smaller fraction of the discussion. Fox commentators correctly noted that wages had remained flat over the last year or that companies had been using the vast majority of their tax savings on stock buybacks or dividends only 57 times over the same nine-month period.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On CNN and MSNBC, tax cuts, wage increases, bonuses, and stock buybacks were hardly topics of conversation. Speakers on CNN repeated the White House’s narrative almost as often as others pointed out wage stagnation or stock buybacks. The top CNN show, Erin Burnett OutFront, was emblematic of this pattern, with 14 comments about wage increases or bonuses and 12 comments about stagnant wages or stock buybacks.

    On MSNBC, the administration line on wage increases and bonuses was barely mentioned; comments on wage stagnation or stock buybacks were made three times as often. MSNBC’s top show, All In with Chris Hayes, demonstrated this trend with zero comments about wage increases or bonuses and 12 comments about stagnant wages or stock buybacks.

    Overall, discussions of the tax law on Fox vastly outnumbered discussions on CNN and MSNBC.

    More than three-quarters of Fox’s dishonest coverage occurred during the two months after Trump signed the tax bill. Between December 22, 2017, and January 22, 2018, speakers on Fox made claims that the tax legislation increased wages or caused companies to issue bonuses 99 times. In the following 30 days, the claims were repeated another 92 times.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This persistence on Fox drowned out comments on all three networks that correctly identified the country’s consistently flat wages or corporate stock buyback initiatives since the tax bill went into law -- these claims were made less than 20 times in any single 30-day period on any of the three networks.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Throughout the course of the study, Fox News completely dominated coverage on wage increases, bonuses, and the tax cuts, misleadingly connecting them over and over while failing to mention that the vast majority of corporate tax savings went into stock buybacks.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Nexis transcript database for weekday evening news shows on the three major cable news networks: CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC. Evening news includes all programs beginning at 4 p.m. and ending at midnight with the exception of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, which airs for one hour at 4 p.m., because its transcripts are unavailable in Nexis.

    We counted comments that fell into one of three categories:

    1. Comments that claimed that the tax bill had or would increase wages or cause companies to issue bonuses to employees.
    2. Comments that were critical of claims that the tax bill had or would increase wages or cause companies to issue bonuses, including comments that identified anecdotal wage increases or issued bonuses but said those increases or bonuses were a small portion of the tax savings spent by companies; or comments that identified that wages had been flat or stagnant over the last year since the signing of the tax bill.
    3. Comments that identified that stock or share buybacks or dividends were a larger portion of the tax savings spent by companies than any benefits given to workers.

    We defined a “comment” as a single block of uninterrupted speech from a single speaker in the transcript. In the case of crosstalk as identified by the transcript, we coded each speaker engaged in the crosstalk as making a single comment rather than several back-and-forth comments. We excluded comments made in video clips unless a speaker on the program used language that clearly endorsed the comment either directly before or after the clip aired. More than one category may occur in a single comment.

    We excluded comments that merely stated “paychecks would increase” or workers would have “more money in their pockets” and the like since these comments may only suggest that withholding would be less, and therefore, workers would have a higher paycheck; however, these comments do not necessarily suggest that workers’ base wages would increase.

    We designed our searches to look specifically for comments about the tax legislation that fit the above categories. For categories (1) and (2), we looked for the terms “wages,” “earnings,” “money,” or variations of “pay” within 10 words of variations of “increase,” “high,” “grow,” or “decrease” or the terms “up,” “hike,” “more,” “raise,” “rise,” “stagnant,” “flat,” or “lower” or the term “bonus” all within 50 words of the terms “tax” within 10 words of “plan,” “bill,” “reform,” “cut,” or “law” or the term “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

    For category (3), we looked for the terms “stock” or “share” within 10 words of “buyback” or the terms “dividend,” “shareholder,” “merger,” or “acquisition” all within 50 words of “tax” within 10 words of “plan,” “bill,” “reform,” “cut,” or “law” or the term “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

  • 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]