Right-wing media recently pushed the discredited attack that President Obama called Americans “lazy.” But right-wing media figures themselves have a history of suggesting that Americans -- particularly the poor, the unemployed, and union workers, among others -- are lazy or lack work ethic.
Right-Wing Media Claimed Obama Called Americans “Lazy”
Fox's Todd Starnes: Obama “Took The Nation To Task ... For Being Lazy.” In a blog post that was posted on Fox Nation, Todd Starnes wrote:
President Obama took the nation to task today for being lazy.
The comments came during a meeting between the president and CEOs attending the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings. The United States is hosting this year's gathering in Hawaii.
It's not the first time the president has accused Americans of being lazy. [Fox News Radio via Fox Nation, 11/14/11, via Media Matters]
Fox's Kilmeade Suggests Comment Shows Obama Is “Determined To Bring Us Down.” While co-hosting Fox News' The Five, Brian Kilmeade said: “I will say this. The fact that the president of the United States has called us soft, we've lost our competitive edge, and now we're called lazy. ... He's trying desperately to flatten out our country, and defuse us, and get us off our high horse. Why is he so determined to bring us down?” [Fox News, The Five, 11/14/11, via Media Matters]
Hannity: “This Is Not The First Time” Obama Has “Kind Of Attacked The American People.” During an interview on his Fox News program with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sean Hannity asked:
HANNITY: What do you make of the President? This is not the first time that he's kind of attacked the American people, that you know, the people are a little bit lazy, he spoken a while back about them getting soft, we lost our ambition, our imagination. What do you make of that? Are the American people not smart enough to accept his goodness and greatness? [Fox News, Hannity, 11/15/11, via Nexis]
For more right-wing media claims that Obama called Americans “lazy,” SEE HERE.
In Fact, Obama Didn't Call Americans Lazy ...
AP: Ad Saying Obama “Thinks” That “Americans Are Lazy” Actually “Takes Obama's Comment Out Of Context.” Beth Fouhy, political reporter for The Associated Press, reported that a campaign ad by Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry that uses Obama's comments takes them “out of context” :
Republican presidential hopeful Perry takes Obama's comment out of context.
Obama was speaking to a group of CEOs about the challenges of attracting foreign investment in the U.S., not about individuals or their economic challenges.
Perry is using the comment to portray Obama as out of touch, even contemptuous, of ordinary Americans. [The Associated Press, 11/16/11]
ABC's Devin Dwyer: Attacks On Obama “Distort” His Comments. ABC News White House producer Devin Dwyer wrote that the ad by Perry featuring Obama's comments “distorts” what Obama said:
“Can you believe that? That's what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That's pathetic,” Perry says in the spot that's airing in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The only problem: the full context of Obama's remarks made Saturday during a meeting of CEOs in Honolulu indicates he wasn't suggesting that at all.
Boeing CEO James McNerney asked Obama about his thinking on the perception by some countries of “impediments to investment” in the U.S.
Obama replied that “we've been a little bit lazy” about actively trying to attract private foreign investors to U.S. soil -- referring broadly to American government and business sectors, not the American people themselves. [ABCNews.com, Political Punch, 11/16/11]
Wash. Post Fact Checker: It Is “Clear From The Context Of Obama's Remarks That He Is Not Saying Americans Are Lazy.” In a November 21 Fact Checker post, The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler wrote that it is “clear from the context of Obama's remarks that he is not saying Americans are lazy” :
In other words, Obama is highlighting a serious problem. Perhaps the phrase “lazy” is a bit overheated, but it clear from the context of Obama's remarks that he is not saying Americans are lazy. He's talking about a trend over a two-decade period that indicates a certain complacency in trying to win business and investment. [The Washington Post, 11/21/11]
... But Right-Wing Media Routinely Attack Americans As “Lazy” Or “Having Poor Work Habits”
Limbaugh: “Do You Know Any Low-Income People Who Want To Get A Better Job? ... Do They Even Want To Work?” On the April 21 edition of his radio show, host Rush Limbaugh said, “Do you know any low-income people who want to get a better job? ... Do they even want to work?” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 4/21/11, via Media Matters]
Fox Business Scolded Poor People For Not Being Ashamed Of Their Poverty. During the May 19 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney attacked anti-poverty programs as evidence that the U.S. now has an “entitlement mentality.” Fox commentator Charles Payne then scolded people in poverty for not being “embarrassed” about needing public assistance:
PAYNE: Krystal [Ball], there's no doubt that these are good programs. I think the real narrative here, though, is that people aren't embarrassed by it. People aren't ashamed by it. In other words, the there was a time when people were embarrassed to be on food stamps; there was a time when people were embarrassed to be on unemployment for six months, let alone demanding to be on it for more than two years. I think that's what Stu is trying to say, is that, when the president says Wall Street is at fault, so, you are entitled to get anything that you want from the government, because it's not really your fault. No longer is the man being told to look in the mirror and cast down a judgment on himself; it's someone else's fault. So food stamps, unemployment, all of this stuff, is something that they probably earned in some indirect way. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 5/19/11, via Media Matters]
Fox's Stuart Varney On Low-Income Americans: “Many Of Them Have Things -- What They Lack Is The Richness Of Spirit.” During the August 25 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co. at Night, host Stuart Varney hyped a Heritage Foundation study showing that many Americans in poverty own appliances, saying: “The image we have of poor people as starving and living in squalor really is not accurate. Many of them have things -- what they lack is the richness of spirit. That's my opinion.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co. at Night, 8/25/11, via Media Matters]
Fox Business Pitted The “Takers” Of “Government Handouts” Against The “Makers.” After a National Bureau of Economic Research study concluded that social safety net programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, were highly effective at keeping people out of poverty, Fox Business launched a week-long series pitting the “takers” of “government handouts” against the “makers” in the economy. [Media Matters, 5/24/11]
Kilmeade: “Maybe The Unemployment Benefits [Expiration] Will Get People To Sober Up” And Take A Job. On the July 15, 2010, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said that "[m]aybe the [expiration of] unemployment benefits will get people to sober up" and take a job. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/15/10, via Media Matters]
Ben Stein Attacked Unemployed Americans As Having “Poor Work Habits.” In a July 19, 2010, post at The American Spectator, conservative pundit and frequent Fox News guest Ben Stein wrote:
The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say “generally” because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day's work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job.
In an August 27, 2010, American Spectator post, Stein repeated his attack, writing: "[A]s I noted before, in my small circle of friends, anyone who has good work skills and a decent personality can get a job. I am not talking about the national scene. Just my little world. The chronic complainers and the malcontents and the unrealistic are the ones who cannot find work they want. The people who really want to work can get work. It might not be great work, but it's work." [The American Spectator, 7/19/10, 8/27/10, via Media Matters]
Stein Claimed That “A Lot Of” Unemployed People “Would Not Prefer To Go To Work.” On the April 30, 2011, broadcast of Fox News' Cavuto on Business, Stein said that “a lot of” unemployed Americans “would not prefer to go to work.” [Fox Business, Cavuto on Business, 4/30/11, via Media Matters]
Limbaugh Attacked Union Workers As “Freeloaders” As Compared To “Real Working Non-Unionized People.” On the February 17 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh called union workers “freeloaders” and contrasted them with “real working non-unionized people.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/17/11, via Media Matters]
Limbaugh: Union Protests In WI Were Due To Union Members Not Wanting To “Pay A Dime Towards Their Own Health Care Or Retirement.” On the August 18 broadcast of his show, Limbaugh said that the protests in Wisconsin took place because public union members didn't want to “pay a dime towards their own health care or retirement.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/18/11, via Media Matters]
Coulter: Teamsters President Hoffa Represents “Useless” Workers Like “Kindergarten Teachers” Instead Of “Men Who Have Actual Jobs.” During the September 7 edition of Fox & Friends, conservative pundit Ann Coulter said that Teamsters president James Hoffa represented “useless” workers like “kindergarten teachers” instead of “men who have actual jobs.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/7/11, via Media Matters]
OCCUPY WALL STREET PROTESTERS
Limbaugh: Occupy Wall Street Protesters Are “Perpetually Lazy, Spoiled Rotten, 99 Percent White Kids.” During the October 6 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh attacked Occupy Wall Street protesters as “perpetually lazy, spoiled rotten, 99 percent white kids.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 10/6/11, via Media Matters]
Fox Nation And Wash. Times On Occupy Wall Street And Its Demands: “Don't Feed The Lazy.” A November 18 op-ed in The Washington Times, titled, “Don't feed the lazy,” claimed that “Occupy Wall Street's demands undermine real compassion.” The op-ed stated:
It is interesting to note that according to the Bible, one of the criteria for receiving aid was a willingness to work. Entitlement was not an option. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Paul is not being cruel or heartless in this passage. He is expressing a truth that those who are able but unwilling to work should be disqualified from receiving charitable help, thereby allowing their natural need for food to drive their effort to work. This is a profound and often overlooked financial principle.
Attitudes toward poverty, debt and entitlement make reaching common ground with those in the Occupy Wall Street movement difficult. Compared to many around the world, they live in relative comfort, with access to food, shelter and liberty. But rather than embracing equal opportunity, they seem to clamor for equal outcomes.
Perhaps it is time for the Occupy Wall Street movement to reflect on the words of Paul: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION EMPLOYEES
Limbaugh: Employees At Nonprofit Organizations Are “Lazy Idiots” And “Rapists In Terms Of Finance And Economy.” During the August 12, 2010, edition of his radio show, Limbaugh attacked the employees of nonprofit organizations as “lazy idiots” and went on to say that they are “rapists in terms of finance and economy.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 8/12/10, via Media Matters]
* This item has been updated from its original version.