Journalist Sarah Posner: Alliance Defending Freedom is advancing an anti-LGBTQ agenda in courts, and its alumni are infiltrating agencies and the judiciary
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"Mean-spirited" and "cartoonish" depictions of Social Security Disability Insurance are a disservice to millions of Americans
Disability advocates hammered The Washington Post for its second misleading portrayal of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, saying it was a “mean-spirited” and “cartoonish” illustration of the struggles of those living with poverty in rural America. The second feature-length profile published by the Post has drawn consternation for its poverty-shaming, while also generating fears that these misleading depictions from mainstream news outlets could set the pretext for draconian budget cuts to programs that provide basic economic security to millions of Americans.
The Post’s previous foray into coverage of SSDI recipients did not end well; Media Matters joined disability advocates in criticizing the paper’s “dystopian portrait” of the program and its enrollees and was later found to be replete with critical data errors. The piece promoted the same misleading talking points about the program that are commonly touted by right-wing media. Despite these concerns, the Post’s editorial board used the deeply flawed article as its proof for justifying unnecessary cuts to the SSDI program.
The paper’s June 2 article in its series on disability coverage is just as misleading and problematic as the first. The article, titled “Generations, disabled,” attempts to chronicle the trials of a low-income Missouri family that relies on meager SSDI benefits. The article relied almost exclusively on anecdotal evidence drawn from the Tidwell family to buttress characterizations of SSDI and its recipients as succumbing to multi-generational dependence on federal assistance.
The article earnestly focused on the fact that one or more members of four generations of Tidwells have received federal assistance and detailed their daily routines in a way that political scientist Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress (CAP) likened to the depictions of poverty and disability in Of Mice and Men. As CAP’s Rebecca Vallas pointed out in her damning review, “the article’s text makes no mention” of the fact “that disability often runs in families” and neglects to mention that disability benefits are “incredibly hard to get.”
The Post seemed to depict generational disability as a cultural problem, but as Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic pointed out, the article never provided any data to prove this or demonstrate that multiple generations of a family receiving SSDI is evidence of them being undeserving. Vox correspondent Matthew Yglesias voiced even stronger criticism, labeling the article as “incredibly mean-spirited” and “smack[ing] of the worst kind of moral panic.”
Issues with the Post’s story didn’t end there. In a June 5 column published by The Poynter Institute, journalist S.I. Rosenbaum added that the article misled readers by claiming to describe a family “on disability” without ever verifying that the Tidwell family are indeed all receiving benefits from SSDI, rather than other anti-poverty programs.
The generally exploitative tone of the piece was not the primary problem with the Post’s return to the topic of disability. The biggest problem created by the piece is how it could be used by political interests seeking to implement deep cuts to the American social safety net.
As Vallas pointed out in her response, by “pushing the nastiest of myths about Social Security disability benefits and the people who rely on them,” the Post set the pretext for budget cuts that will restrict access to the program. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities voiced the same concern, arguing that “reporting by anecdote runs the risk of fostering harmful policy changes” such as those already proposed by the Trump administration. Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) came to a similar conclusion, mocking the Post’s “poetic description” of farming jobs available in rural Missouri, which suggested that disability recipients simply refuse to work those jobs. Baker added that the United States actually has one of the least generous disability programs in the world, but countries with more generous programs are not suffering labor shortages:
The obvious next segment in this series would have a Post reporter going to Germany or the Netherlands or some of the other countries that manages to have a larger percentage of their population working even though they have considerably more generous disability systems. The article can tell readers how they manage to structure their programs so that everyone doesn't quit their jobs and fake disability so that they can live off the government. For some reason, I don't think this is where the Post series is going.
We have already seen a Post report on SSDI result in the paper’s editorial board calling for unnecessary cuts to the program in a way eerily reminiscent to Fox News’ campaign against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which immediately resulted in Republican-authored legislation in Congress slashing the program and eventually trickled down to GOP-led state houses. The Trump administration is already targeting Social Security’s disability program for budget cuts next year and media outlets have largely failed to hold the president accountable for an obviously broken campaign promise to safeguard Social Security. The American people would be well-served if, rather than publishing more dehumanizing portrayals of disability recipients, the Post and other news outlets contextualize the hardship millions of Americans would face if SSDI and other vital programs are subjected to new cuts and restrictions.
Research Shows Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts Would Undermine Successful Manufacturing Jobs Programs
In the weeks after Election Day, media outlets tirelessly amplified President Donald Trump’s misleading claim that he personally saved hundreds of jobs at a facility operated by Indiana-based appliance manufacturer Carrier. Will those outlets devote the same zeal to covering widespread program cuts outlined in Trump’s budget proposal that would undermine a public-private partnership supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the United States?
Mainstream and conservative media outlets alike heaped praise on Trump for his supposed role in brokering a deal to keep Carrier jobs in the U.S., and national news spent months hyping Trump’s mythical dealmaking skills after he claimed credit for other companies investing in the American economy. In fact, a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable news coverage of the economy found that Trump’s misleading boasts about brokering deals to create a handful of American jobs dominated economic news coverage in the last three months of 2016.
On March 16, the Trump administration produced a budget outline for the 2018 fiscal year that attempts to offset an unnecessary $54 billion increase in military spending by drastically reducing all remaining nondefense discretionary expenditures.
Among the programs set to lose funding is the Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) -- a public-private program dedicated to improving manufacturing efficiency. Washington Post reporter Danielle Paquette described the MEP as “a modest operation that exists solely to help small and medium-size companies create and maintain good-paying American manufacturing jobs” and noted that it has “long enjoyed bipartisan support.” And recent analyses of the program from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and the Center for American Progress (CAP) unveiled the extent to which cutting the MEP could imperil American workers.
According to a March 3 report from Upjohn, the MEP directly supports about 86,000 jobs nationwide, including 2,100 in Indiana. The total jobs number stretches to roughly 142,000 if you account for positions indirectly supported by MEP grants. Most importantly, more than 27,000 of the jobs directly and indirectly supported by the MEP are in the manufacturing sector -- an industry Trump has claimed his policies would help revitalize.
A March 27 analysis of the Upjohn report by CAP's associate director for economic policy, Brendan Duke, revealed that roughly half of the more than 80,000 jobs directly supported by the MEP could be in jeopardy if companies lose access to federal grant money in the wake of Trump’s budget cuts.** More than 11,000 of those jobs would be lost in Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- manufacturing-heavy swing states that went for Trump in 2016:
As CAP demonstrates, the number of jobs that could be lost thanks to Trump is many times more than the 800 he “saved” in the vaunted Carrier deal last December. Following the logic in CAP’s analysis, the loss of MEP funding could cost the state of Indiana roughly 1,000 jobs -- meaning the federal budget cut would cost the state at least as many jobs as it saved through a generous taxpayer-funded kickback to the appliance manufacturer:
Professional economists from across the political spectrum have slammed Trump’s economic policy vision for months and warned that his policies are more likely to harm the job market than revitalize it. Some outlets seem to have caught on to the fact that the president’s boasts about his role in making deals and creating jobs cannot be taken seriously. But their willingness to tackle the disastrous consequences of the Trump administration’s policy priorities is still developing.
**The Center for American Progress' analysis focuses only on the jobs directly supported by the MEP, according to the Upjohn Institute report, and does not include 4,161 jobs affected by MEP grants in Puerto Rico.
Frank Gaffney, the head of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), is reportedly a member of GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) national security advisory team. The Southern Poverty Law Center has termed CSP an anti-Muslim hate group, and Gaffney has a history of pushing bigoted anti-Muslim smears and conspiracy theories.
Media figures have credited House Speaker Paul Ryan with thrusting the supposedly "forgotten" issue of poverty into the 2016 Republican presidential race following his participation in the January 9 presidential forum on poverty, but failed to mention that despite his new rhetoric, Ryan has a long history of promoting harmful policies that would "exacerbate poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation."
MSNBC's Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski squandered the opportunity to ask GOP presidential candidates and House Speaker Paul Ryan any questions related to their plans to eliminate poverty and raise wages during a series of interviews at a GOP anti-poverty summit. Instead of discussing topics relevant to the anti-poverty forum, the co-hosts questioned the GOP candidates and Speaker about election polling, campaign strategy, and Donald Trump, among other unrelated issues.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump cited a misleading poll from Washington Times columnist Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy to justify a call he issued "for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Gaffney has been described as "one of America's most notorious Islamophobes" and experts dismiss the poll's methodology as questionable.
As CNBC prepares to host the third Republican presidential debate on October 28 -- which will focus on the economy and is being billed as "Your Money, Your Vote" -- moderators Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick, and John Harwood should be prepared to contest and correct several right-wing myths about the economic costs of immigration that are all but certain to come up.
Mainstream media outlets should be aware of damaging economic attacks leveled by anti-immigrant groups in an attempt to derail comprehensive immigration reform. In reality, research indicates that comprehensive immigration reform would improve the U.S. economy, create jobs and boost American wages. Moreover, new findings show that immigrants are less likely to rely on public benefits than native-born Americans.
As companies cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) following a campaign led by ColorOfChange, Fox News has defended the conservative legislation organization, accusing ColorOfChange of using "fascist tactics" and inviting ALEC supporters and officials on to defend their actions. ALEC, an organization that drafts model bills for conservative state lawmakers, has pushed for controversial "Stand Your Ground" and voter ID laws across the country.