In the second half of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable evening news discussed Social Security in a largely negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
Fox News' Neil Cavuto continued to ignore the desperate need for infrastructure investment in the United States, repeatedly arguing instead that the government is stealing or misappropriating existing resources.
On the January 13 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Cavuto invited former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to discuss proposals to raise the federal gas tax to fund construction, repair, and renovation of America's crumbling transportation infrastructure. Rather than acknowledging the need to raise revenue to fund necessary projects, Cavuto made the unsubstantiated claim that federal, state, and local funds for infrastructure investment are being stolen or abused:
The paranoid and unsupported claims made by Cavuto during the segment echo his comments from a contentious December 3 interview with Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). On both occasions, Cavuto claimed without evidence that "someone" in the government had "stolen," "abscond[ed]," or "[run] off with" billions of dollars earmarked for vital improvements to roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure systems.
Once again, the only proof that Cavuto provided to support his claims is the fact that American infrastructure is in a state of disrepair. As Media Matters has shown in the past, the dilapidated condition of America's infrastructure is entirely the result of insufficient funding, not the alleged fraud, theft, or misappropriation suggested by the Fox host.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the public infrastructure of the United States earned a D+ grade in 2013 and is in need of $3.6 trillion worth of investments and upgrades by 2020. The ASCE estimates the cost of modernizing only America's bridges to be $121 billion, roughly equivalent to all of the revenue streams cited by Cavuto as excessive and wasteful during his tirade against the gas tax.
The reason that former Secretary LaHood, Representative Blumenauer, and others advocate raising the gas tax is precisely because the amount currently raised and spent by the federal government on infrastructure investments is too small. The federal tax, which has not be raised in 20 years, is one of many proposals to close this funding gap.
Instead of engaging in a substantive and important policy discussion, Fox News would rather promote its own narrative that all federal spending is riddled with fraud and abuse.
Right-wing media have spent the last few years baselessly dismissing the decades-long push to alleviate poverty as not worth the fight, despite evidence showing that government efforts to reduce poverty have been successful.
On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson used his State of the Union address to enumerate proposals that would come to be known as the War on Poverty. Many of the proposals and policy prescriptions outlined in the president's speech were eventually signed into law.
Recent research from the Columbia Population Research Center at Columbia University reveals the extent to which anti-poverty programs since the 1960s have alleviated poverty for millions of Americans. The study, titled "Trends in Poverty with an Anchored Supplemental Poverty Measure," uses a uniform measure of poverty (supplemental poverty measure or SPM) to show a dramatic drop-off in poverty rates from 1967 to 2011. From the study (emphasis added):
The OPM shows the overall poverty rates to be nearly the same in 1967 and 2011 -- at 14% and 15% respectively. But our counterfactual estimates using the anchored SPM show that without taxes and other government programs, poverty would have been roughly flat at 27-29%, while with government benefits poverty has fallen from 26% to 16% -- a 40% reduction. Government programs today are cutting poverty nearly in half (from 29% to 16%) while in 1967 they only cut poverty by about one percentage point.
Today, despite mounting evidence of their success, the corresponding anti-poverty programs created during the War on Poverty face incessant and withering criticism from conservative politicians and their right-wing media allies. Conservative media voices regularly repeat the claim that anti-poverty programs are useless, or that after 50 years they are no longer working. In fact, as recently as January 7, Fox News host Martha MacCallum cast doubt on whether or not lowering the poverty rate over the past five decades was worth the effort, but the following graph from The New York Times' Economix blog shows just how effective these programs have been:
Source: The New York Times, Economix Blog, "The War On Poverty at 50"
In addition to questioning the general efficacy of anti-poverty relief efforts, right-wing media voices have targeted specific Johnson-era programs and initiatives like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, expanded food stamps and welfare, and an increased minimum wage in their coordinated attempt to undermine the social safety net, effectively stymying the purpose of the War on Poverty.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the fourth quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
Right-wing media voices have coalesced around the myth that unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed do not need to be extended because the economy is improving and benefits have existed for too long. These arguments, however, ignore key realities about long-term unemployment, namely that it remains elevated despite an improving economy.
The past 12 months witnessed innumerable attacks on social safety net programs in the United States. These attacks on American social insurance programs were hardly limited to Social Security -- all forms of social insurance, including unemployment benefits, food stamps, and disability, came under fire from mainstream and conservative media alike, regardless of the programs' social or economic benefits. Media Matters compiled a list of the six types of attacks on the social safety net in 2013.
For more than three years, an influential study by two Harvard economists -- Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff -- provided a plausible foundation for attacks on spending of all types. The study fostered debt-paranoia among pundits otherwise interested in austere fiscal policies.
An April study by economists at the University of Massachusetts, however, concluded that the Reinhart-Rogoff data was error-filled in a way that selectively biased the results. A further review of the corrected data by economists at the University of Michigan found that the study should have been deemed inconclusive.
Despite losing its intellectual foundation in April, the deficit reduction talking point maintained a prominent position in fiscal policy discussion throughout the year.
Media calls for deficit reduction in the past year also regularly relied on budget reporting that lacked adequate context that federal budget deficits have declined precipitously from their 2009 peak. A Media Matters review of budget reporting done by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post revealed that a sizeable majority of articles provided budget items and program spending figures out of context. Further analysis concluded this misrepresentative reporting to be little more than a scare tactic, which bolstered calls for deeper cuts to the safety net for the sake of alleged fiscal responsibility.
This lack of context in media, and the effect it had in shifting the policy debate, eventually encouraged Times public editor Margaret Sullivan to issue a statement promising to correct problematic reporting standards going forward, but other outlets have yet to follow suit.
Fox News fabricated a connection between the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) and a recent consumer survey to conclude that the law is hurting the economy in time for the holiday shopping season.
On the December 16 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, guest host Stuart Varney and Fox Business contributor Elizabeth MacDonald claimed that the ACA is depressing holiday spending. Their claims, based on a consumer survey released by Bankrate.com, showed that 38 percent of respondents plan to spend less during the holidays this year than the previous year.
Varney and MacDonald surmised that the health reform law is driving more Americans into less lucrative part-time work and, in turn, dragging down workers' ability to engage in commerce. MacDonald added "there is concern on the part of businesses over health reform," citing information from the Federal Reserve:
Varney and MacDonald's claims are unfounded.
The survey, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, makes zero mentions of the ACA or health reform and trends for most surveyed indicators -- from holiday spending and job security to personal savings and financial security -- are largely flat from year-to-year.
Furthermore, MacDonald's claim that the Federal Reserve Beige Book indicates a sense of unease in the business community regarding the ACA is a significant exaggeration. The Fed's most-recent official statement recognizes "concern about future cost increases attributable to the Affordable Care Act and other types of federal regulation," but lists no examples of those costs or any other negative consequences currently assigned to the law.
The "Obamacare Part-Time Jobs Myth" has also been easily dispelled by actual economists, including some of the same outlets that initially pushed the claims. Fox News has spent years blaming the Affordable Care Act for every hiccup in the economy including the unfounded claim that Obamacare forces employees into part-time work, or destroys jobs altogether.
Following Texas State Senator Wendy Davis' June 25, 2013, filibuster of extreme restrictions on reproductive health clinics in Texas, national evening broadcast and cable news programs have provided extensive coverage of issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights. The vast majority of segments, however, failed to identify or discuss the key economic benefits of access to reproductive health care, including its role in reducing economic insecurity.
Fox News' Neil Cavuto refused to hear arguments in favor of expanded infrastructure investments, instead claiming that revenue for necessary improvements will be lost to fraud or waste. Cavuto has repeatedly argued against and downplayed the necessity of infrastructure spending, revealing his misunderstanding of the the federal budgeting process and the current state of American infrastructure.
On the December 3 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Cavuto engaged in a contentious interview with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) regarding the congressman's proposal to increase the federal gas tax as a means of financing necessary investments in roads, bridges, and other forms of public infrastructure around the country.
On the December 4 edition of Your World, Cavuto returned to the previous night's argument in his opening segment. He was joined in his heated criticism of infrastructure investments by libertarian pundit Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of Reason magazine. Both Cavuto and Welch continually claimed that they do not know where all of the infrastructure and transportation revenue has gone; maintaining only that it must not be going to the places where it is needed:
CAVUTO: To make the point here, that we're not following the moneys we're already spending that, I think, are not exactly in a 'lock box' just meant for this sort of thing.
WELCH: Yeah, I mean if you look at people who advocate for big government, they actually don't spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of big government, because that is an awkward conversation and because it requires them to do what you were asking earlier, is just document what you've already spent.
WELCH: Spending money on the federal level is an inefficient way to deal with local, and state, and city roads.
CAVUTO: If you were to add it all up. Let's say now -- being devil's advocate here -- let's take the stimulus money, the shovel-ready projects a lot of them were infrastructure-targeted, at around $800 billion and average it out over the last five years and throw in the $60 billion or so you're supposed to get from the oil companies, a lot of taxes, and they were going to tap that for infrastructure. You're looking at $250-300 billion a year that would be presumably allocated to just this sort of thing. We're asking for more?
Cavuto's central argument is that the federal government must not be spending money on infrastructure if our infrastructure is in a state of disrepair. Cavuto repeated a popular Fox News thesis, claiming that the government is wasting, misallocating or stealing tax dollars instead of putting them to good use.
In fact, the government's infrastructure budget is simply woefully underfunded.
As the Detroit bankruptcy moves forward, Fox News personalities have been quick to blame worker unions and political corruption for the city's unfunded pension liabilities. This discourse ignores the forces actually undermining Detroit's financial solvency: the dramatic reduction of the city's population and taxbase since its post-war peak.