Equal Pay Day, which fell on April 4, “symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year,” according to the National Committee on Pay Equity. Right-wing media outlets, which have long denied the very existence of a gender pay gap, used the annual commemoration as an excuse to attack progressives as hypocrites on the need for pay equity, airing recycled and debunked talking points previously used against President Barack Obama and former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
On April 4, the right-wing Washington Free Beacon commemorated Equal Pay Day by misleadingly claiming that the “gender pay gap” experienced by female staffers working for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is “nearly 10 percent wider than the national average,” according to its own review of Senate salary data. The article claimed that “median annual earnings” for women working in Warren’s office for the entirety of 2016 were “more than $20,000 less than the median annual earnings for men” while “average salaries rather than median” showed a roughly “31 percent” pay gap. The article slammed Warren for paying five men larger salaries than that of her highest-paid woman staffer and concluded by noting several prominent Democratic politicians who supposedly “pay women less than men,” including Clinton and Obama:
Warren is far from the only politician who pays women less than men.
Most notable on the list is failed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who paid women less than men first as a senator, then as secretary of state, and as a presidential candidate. Her campaign viewed her tendency to pay women less than men as a campaign vulnerability.
Former President Barack Obama regularly spoke out about the gender pay gap, but women working at the White House were paid less than men.
The Free Beacon’s misleading analysis of Warren was picked up by other right-wing outlets, including The Daily Caller and The Washington Times. The April 4 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight also featured the report during a segment wherein the host mocked Warren as “a fake Native American” and Townhall editor Katie Pavlich claimed the news proved Warren “is not a champion for women”:
The attacks right-wing media used against Warren rely on the exact same debunked “analysis” they have used to smear progressive elected officials on equal pay before: On February 23, 2015, the Free Beacon claimed that Hillary Clinton, as senator, paid female staffers “72 cents for each dollar paid to men” in a piece titled “Hillary Clinton’s War On Women.” Fox host Sean Hannity echoed the claim, saying the article proved Clinton “paid female staffers a lot less than men.” Fox host Greg Gutfeld hyped a similarly deceptive claim in 2012, saying that women who work in the Obama White House generally earn less than men. In reality, PolitiFact debunked the Free Beacon/Hannity claim, rating it as “Mostly False” and noting that Hannity’s analysis “ignores critical facts.” Gutfeld was proven wrong as well: American Prospect columnist Paul Waldman reported that the data on Obama staff pay indicated that “men, on average, are occupying higher-paying jobs in the White House ... not that women are being paid less for doing the same job.” (At no point in this years-long charade have right-wing media acknowledged the systemic problem of men being overrepresented in leadership roles.)
As has always been the case, Fox News and other right-wing outlets seem to care about the pay gap women face in the workplace only when it’s politically advantageous to do so. When they aren’t cherry-picking statistics to malign progressives, Fox personalities frequently dismiss pay inequality as “an absolute myth” and attribute it “to women’s choices” rather than discrimination. Yet, the real myth is that the pay gap is caused by women choosing lower-paying jobs. As CNN analyst Christine Romans explained on the April 4 edition of New Day, women face a pay gap because “even in the same job categories, men make more”:
Despite continued efforts to make pay in the United States more equitable, the gender pay gap persists. According to the Center for American Progress, women still earn only 79 cents for every dollar a man makes and the pay gap is even wider for women of color. April 4 marked the day when working women finally caught up to the earnings men accrued in 2016, but all Fox and the right-wing chorus wanted to do to commemorate the occasion was push tired and recycled myths.