Fox Distorts Debate Over Defense Budget

Fox News ran with misleading figures and false comparisons after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel outlined a five-year Pentagon budget to stoke fears that the budget will harm the military.

Fox Claims Budget Will Shrink Military To Pre-World War II Levels

Tantaros:  Pentagon “Wants To Shrink Our Army Down To Its Smallest Size Since World War II.” On the February 25 edition of The Five, co-host Andrea Tantaros said, “The Pentagon announced yesterday it wants to shrink our army down to its smallest size since World War II as part of an effort to cut costs.” [Fox News, The Five2/25/14]

Hannity: Hagel Proposal “Would Shrink The Army To Pre-World War II Levels.”  On the February 24 edition of his show, Sean Hannity claimed that Secretary of Defense Hagel's proposal to reduce troop numbers “would shrink the army to pre-World War II levels.” [Fox News, Hannity2/24/14]

Karl Rove: Because of Troop Reductions, US Will Have The “Smallest Army Since The Eve Of World War II.” Karl Rove appeared on the February 26 edition of Fox & Friends to discuss the Pentagon's proposed military budget, saying, “We are cutting the muscle of our military ... we'll have the smallest military -- smallest Army since the eve of World War II.”[Fox News, Fox & Friends2/26/14]

But The Claim Of A Pre-WWII-Sized Army Is Misleading

The Atlantic: Reports That Military Is Shrinking To Pre-WWII Levels Are “Misleading.” In a post in The Atlantic, national affairs writer Conor Friedersdorf explained that the suggestion that our military will be as strong as the pre-WWII army after the cuts is misleading and ignores the many ways the current military is different from the early 1940s (emphasis added):

Also, if the Army is indeed cut to between 440,000 and 450,000 personnel, as the Obama Administration has proposed, the Army could be characterized as operating with the smallest force “since just before the U.S. entered World War II,” but it would also be accurate to say that the Army of 2014 will have 170,977 more people than the Army of 1940. And again, whereas the Army of 1940 encompassed the fighter pilots and bombers of that era, today we've got a whole separate Air Force composed of several hundred thousand uniformed men and women, plus a modern Navy and Marine Corps with significantly more personnel.


Of course, military strength isn't only about personnel. Circa 1940, the U.S. had a grand total of zero nuclear weapons. Today the U.S. has 5,113 nuclear warheads. An already-dated in 2011 Wired article noted that the U.S. had 7,494 drones, including 161 Predators, which are used for targeted killing. The U.S. also has 10 aircraft carriers. How many carriers does our closest military rival have?

One. [The Atlantic, 2/25/14]

Foreign Policy: Headlines Claiming Military Is Shrinking To Pre-WWII Levels Are “Simply Not True.” In Foreign Policy magazine, American University international relations professor Gordon Adams explained that headlines claiming the military is shrinking to pre-WWII levels are “simply not true,” pointing out that “the Army, in fact, would be larger. [Foreign Policy, 2/27/14]

Military Budget Cuts Will Not Make America Less Safe

Hagel: Troop Reductions Necessary “To Sustain Our Readiness and Technological Superiority.” Stars and Stripes report on the proposed Pentagon budget included Hagel's explanation for the troop reductions:

The military will have to get smaller in order to make the necessary investments in modernization, Hagel said.

“We chose further reductions in troop strength and force structure in every military service, active and reserve, in order to sustain our readiness and technological superiority, and to protect critical capabilities.” [Stars and Stripes2/24/14]

Adams: Military Will Remain “Larger Than That Of Almost Any Nation The United States Might Fight.” Adams also pointed out that even after the budget cuts, the military will be larger than “almost any nation the United States might fight ... and the only one that can be deployed around the globe”:

[W]e don't live in Hitler's world -- there is no major enemy ground force surging into other countries that the United States needs to confront. Moreover, this ain't the conscript Army of yesteryear -- it is a well-armed, superior force any way you look at it, larger than that of almost any nation the United States might fight (except that of China, which it wouldn't fight on the ground) and the only one that can be deployed around the globe.

The Army needs to shrink, to reflect the end of the wars and the reality that the Pentagon's own strategy rules out large, long-term stability operations, like Iraq and Afghanistan. And, unlike the 1930s, there are now more than 500,000 U.S. Army guardsmen and reservists to call up in a time of need, if it ever arises. It is a better Guard and Reserve than ever, courtesy of the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan -- quality force, for sure. [Foreign Policy, 2/27/14

NYT: “Even With A Smaller Army, America's Defenses Will Remain The World's Most Formidable.” A February 26 New York Times editorial explained that the “reduction should not alarm anyone” because “the United States cannot afford the larger force indefinitely, and it doesn't need it”:

The headlines have focused on Mr. Hagel's plans to shrink the Army by 2019 to its smallest level since before World War II, which is to say somewhere between 440,000 and 450,000 troops, from a post-9/11 peak of 570,000. (Many experts say the number could go to 420,000.) But this reduction should not alarm anyone.

The truth is that the United States cannot afford the larger force indefinitely, and it doesn't need it. The country is tired of large-scale foreign occupations and, in any case, Pentagon planners do not expect they will be necessary in the foreseeable future. Even with a smaller Army, America's defenses will remain the world's most formidable, especially given Mr. Hagel's proposed increase in investment in special operations, cyberwarfare and rebalancing the American presence in Asia. [New York Times2/26/14]

CAP: Budget Puts Defense Department On “A Sound Path To Responsibly Meet The Risks And Challenges Of The Current National Security Environment.” A Center for American Progress analysis of the proposed defense budget found that “defense spending--excluding the separate overseas contingency operations accounts that fund the war in Afghanistan and are exempt from budget caps--remains high in historical terms” and that the budget would “maintain U.S. military capabilities and the All-Volunteer Force while helping return the country to a peacetime footing”:

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel yesterday outlined the broad strokes of the Department of Defense's fiscal year 2015 budget request. The budget puts the Department of Defense on a sound path to responsibly meet the risks and challenges of the current national security environment. The plan also proposes a number of smart, targeted reductions to defense spending that will maintain U.S. military capabilities and the All-Volunteer Force while helping return the country to a peacetime footing. Nonetheless, the Pentagon's planning process demonstrates that it is still operating under the assumption that near-record-high funding levels will return--that if the Department of Defense can just weather this short-term budgetary storm, it can avoid adjusting its long-term plans to reflect existing fiscal realities.


This historical context is important, as defense spending--excluding the separate overseas contingency operations accounts that fund the war in Afghanistan and are exempt from budget caps--remains high in historical terms. Additionally, while the United States and its allies face a deeply uncertain international environment with numerous challenges, the country does not face an immediate or existential threat from a large foreign power, as it did during the Cold War. [Center for American Progress, 2/25/14]

Fox Attacks Obama With False Comparison Between Defense Budget And Entitlement Programs 

Fox & Friends Hosts: Defense Budget Shrinking While Entitlement Spending “Higher Than Ever.” On the February 27 edition of Fox & Friends, co-hosts Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Clayton Morris called the cuts “balancing the books on the backs of our heroes” before comparing entitlement spending with defense spending:

HASSELBECK: The Pentagon's latest proposal coming under heavy criticism. Opponents say it's balancing the books on the backs of our heroes, meantime, the amount of money we're spending on entitlements -- higher than ever.


MORRIS: I want to put up some of the cuts here on the screen ... shrink the size of the overall army, one-year freeze on raises for top military brass, it places limits on pay raises for the troops, he's going to limit the troops' housing allowances. All of this while we're seeing increases to entitlement spending. [Fox News, Fox & Friends2/27/14]

Fox's Bolling: Administration Wants To “Make A Massive Cut To The Defense Budget” While Entitlement Spending Goes “Up And Up And Up.”  On the February 26 edition of Fox & Friends, guest co-host Eric Bolling said of the proposed defense budget, “The numbers are staggering. They want to make a massive cut to the defense budget, meanwhile, the entitlements numbers? Up and up and up, year after year.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends2/26/14]

Fox's Tantaros: Obama's “Goal Is To Shrink Down Our Defense And Expand The Welfare State.” On the February 25 edition of Fox News' The Five, Tantaros asked “Does the commander in chief care more about entitlements than our military? ... a long term goal is to shrink down our defense and expand the welfare state. Here's my question: What do you think the American people care about most, the military or the welfare state?” [Fox News, The Five2/25/14]

Fox & Friends Features Graph Making Flawed Comparison Between Defense Spending And Entitlement Spending.  On February 25, the co-hosts of Fox & Friends featured a graph comparing defense spending with entitlement spending. Co-host Brian Kilmeade explained, “Let's just look -- give everyone a proportion of what we're spending in terms of entitlements ... look at the disparity in 2010, even a greater disparity in 2012, and then here we are in 2014, what's proposed.”

[Fox News, Fox & Friends2/25/14]

Fox Misses Key Context About Entitlement Spending

CBO: Entitlement Spending Is Mandatory -- Cuts Must Be Authorized By Congress, Not President Obama. The Congressional Budget Office explained that entitlement programs are included in mandatory spending and that Congress authorizes any changes, not the President: “For mandatory spending programs, funding levels are generally determined not by annual appropriations but by eligibility rules, benefit formulas, and other parameters set by Congress in authorizing legislation.” [Congressional Budget Office, 3/10/11

Economist Jared Bernstein: “With More Seniors, We're Going To Spend More On Retirement And Health Benefits.” Jared Bernstein, former Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Biden, explained on his blog a key reason entitlement spending is increasing: “With more seniors, we're going to spend more on retirement and health benefits, even holding policy constant ... it's important to recognize what part of increased entitlement spending is due to demographic change and what part is due to policy decisions.” [Jared Bernstein, On The Economy, 2/12/12]