Weekday broadcast and cable evening news coverage of the economy during the past three months focused heavily on policies aimed at spurring job creation and economic growth despite the general lack of input from actual economists. A Media Matters analysis reveals that several topics -- taxes, spending cuts, deficit reduction, economic inequality, minimum wage -- have become highly polarized among major networks.
Fox News hosts read directly from Walmart's official corporate script to defend the company against a critical New York Times op-ed that indicated the retailer's role in perpetuating the need for government assistance programs.
On June 19, The New York Times published an op-ed calling Walmart "a big part of the problem" of rising economic inequality in the United States. Citing data from multiple sources, opinion columnist Timothy Egan noted that the average "associate" at Walmart makes between $8.81 and $11 per hour, frequently relying on government anti-poverty relief to fill income gaps. Egan noted that Walmart claims its average employee makes "at least $12 per hour," but that "these numbers are skewed by higher pay for management." Egan cited a recent exposé by Fortune senior editor Stephen Gandel detailing how the company could easily give a 50 percent raise to more than one million employees without hurting its stock value or profitability:
No matter the exact figure, there's no dispute that Walmart's business model forces thousands of hard-working people to look for outside help just to get by.
And under that model, Walmart has made a fortune -- $17 billion in profits last year, executive compensation for one man at the top in excess of $20 million a year, and a windfall making the six heirs of the founding Walton family worth at least $150 billion.
Walmart could make life easier for its 1.4 million workers, without diminishing its stock value. Writing in Fortune.com, Stephen Gandel concluded that Walmart could give workers a 50 percent raise without hurting shareholder value.
On the June 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney dedicated a segment to supposedly fact-checking the Times, pulling pushback directly from Walmart's officially sanctioned corporate response.
Varney called the Times op-ed "utter nonsense," and an attempt to "demonize Walmart." Ignoring that Egan acknowledged the dispute over Walmart's average hourly wage in the op-ed, Varney stated that the author "got it wrong" as he recited Walmart's more palatable average wage claim. Doocy and Varney uncritically agreed that the data supplied by Walmart was "all true" before pivoting to place blame for economic inequality at the feet of the Obama administration:
Despite Fox's unabashed foray into corporate public relations, Timothy Egan's statement holds true: "No matter the exact figure, there's no dispute that Walmart's business model forces thousands of hard-working people to look for outside help just to get by."
Fox News exploited the violent turmoil in Iraq to baselessly lay blame for increasing gasoline and oil prices at the feet of President Obama. Fox hosts cited Obama's alleged "policy mistakes" in Iraq as the impetus for the rising cost of petroleum products, continuing a long pattern of attacking Obama over the price of gasoline while ignoring the fact that global market trends are largely out of the president's control.
On the June 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade and Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney discussed the impact of the recent turmoil in Iraq on the global oil market. Varney used the opportunity to attack President Obama for the withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq from 2009 through 2011:
VARNEY: Let me make this very clear, we are all paying for the president's policy mistakes. The retreat in Iraq, the chaos in Iraq, will be paid for by us at the pump.
The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq was completed on December 18, 2011. According to data from the United States Energy Information Agency (EIA), the market prices of crude oil and refined gasoline have fluctuated since that time, but the withdrawal itself spurred no appreciable price corrections. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, overlaying the prices for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil with inflation adjusted prices for gasoline, confirm that the withdrawal had no lasting impact on market prices:
Reputable market analysts agree that the outbreak of violence in Iraq -- the world's eighth largest oil producer -- is driving market speculation and investment in petroleum futures. This in turn has resulted in a slight, but noticeable increase in global crude oil market prices during the past several days. Varney is correct in noting that instability in Iraq is impacting global oil prices, but his analysis veered into well-worn Fox News paranoia when he used that fact to pin the blame for rising prices on President Obama.
Fox has a storied history of blaming this president for rising oil and gasoline prices.
A Wall Street Journal editorial dismissed the student loan relief plan outlined by President Obama as a distraction from the so-called Bowe Bergdahl "scandal," even though conservative media had previously declared Bergdahl's release a distraction from other alleged "scandals."
In a June 9 editorial, the Journal's editorial board attacked Obama's plan to extend income-contingent loan repayment options to all recipients of federal student loans. The Journal chided Obama's decision to extend through executive action reduced payment options to 5 million previously unqualified borrowers who had taken out loans before October 2007. The Journal also invoked myths that college loans are driving up attendance costs and represent taxpayer handouts to college graduates.
The Journal concluded its anti-loan relief tirade by claiming that the president's announcement, along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) proposal to lower student loan interest rates, amount to little more than "attempts to change the subject" from alleged "scandals" and "government failures." From the editorial:
The Warren bill has no chance to pass the House, as Democrats know. The Warren bill and the Obama debt-forgiveness-by-fiat are attempts to change the subject from the cascading examples of government failure -- the VA scandal (see nearby), the Taliban prisoner swap, the rising cost of health insurance under ObamaCare. In the Obama era, government failure is never a failure. It's another political opportunity to call for more of the same.
The Journal's claim that proposals to relieve millions of student loan borrowers buried under more than $1 trillion in outstanding debt are a distraction from "the Taliban prisoner swap" is just the latest in a series of right-wing media outlets obsessing over the notion that each policy proposal or news development from the White House is a "distraction" from something else:
The Journal's decision to force the "distraction" talking point into the student loan debate proves that no news item is safe from being uncritically dismissed by right-wing media outlets bent on turning every issue into a political scandal.
Fox News accused jobseekers of "laziness," hyping a survey showing more unemployed American workers becoming detached from the labor force while complaining that unemployment insurance has removed the motivation to take low-paying jobs.
On the May 22 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, co-host Sandra Smith claimed that "part of the problem" with lingering unemployment in the United States is "laziness" on the part of unemployed workers. Smith claimed that choosing to collect unemployment insurance was evidence that potential jobseekers are "not incentivized" to accept positions that might they might refuse otherwise:
Smith used a survey from Express Employment Professionals as evidence of her claim that unemployment benefits breed "laziness," but her statements distort the actual survey findings. While 47 percent of respondents did agree with the statement "I've completely given up on looking for a job," they often cited the lack of available work as the reason for giving up hope. According to the survey results, "46 percent say there are no available jobs," and one respondent even stated, "After searching for four years and being unsuccessful, I am tired of trying."
Fox News' attempt to connect former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the brutality of extremist group Boko Haram was demolished by former United States Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell, an appointee of President George W. Bush.
On the May 11 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace highlighted Fox's latest anti-Clinton smear, attacking the former Secretary of State for not officially designating the Nigerian group Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
This claim has already been thoroughly debunked. As Media Matters has explained, the State Department's initial decision not to issue an official FTO designation stemmed from a reluctance to elevate Boko Haram's profile among militant organizations, which experts say can embolden such groups. Under Clinton, State instead chose to put Boko Haram's top leaders on the terrorist list, offering a $7 million bounty for the organization's leader.
Responding to Wallace, Campbell further demolished the claim:
WALLACE: Secretary Clinton has come under fire this week, because of the fact that back in 2011 she rejected calls by the FBI and the intelligence community to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. As a Bush-appointee to be ambassador, do you think that's fair, the criticism of Secretary Clinton?
CAMPBELL: No I don't think that's fair, and along with a good many other Nigerian experts, at the time, we all opposed designation.
Fox News latched onto a study of the first full year of budget sequestration, claiming that the report undermines warnings that across-the-board cuts would cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs. In fact, the federal workforce has been significantly reduced since sequestration went into effect and fiscal austerity continues to drag down job creation and economic growth in the private sector.
The Wall Street Journal published an error-riddled piece claiming that increasing the federal minimum wage would force more Americans to rely on social safety-net programs when in fact the exact opposite is true.
In a May 5 opinion piece, New York lawyer John H. Heyer argued the minimum wage is a "scam." He then claimed increasing wages will force businesses to lay off employees and, in turn, swell the ranks of federal social safety-net programs, which Heyer refers to as the government "dole." From the Journal:
So the minimum wage, like so many government programs, is really a scam that never gets busted. Isn't that how these programs grow? There are always a few vocal supporters of any program and a lot of silent victims who mostly don't even know what effect the programs have on the public at large and the economy as a whole.
Minimum-wage laws raise business costs and increase unemployment. But they also require bureaucrats--who make a lot more than minimum wage--to administer the dole and regulate wages. So what's not for politicians to like?
Opponents of livable wages frequently claim that the minimum wage drives up unemployment, often citing the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) most recent report on proposals to increase the federal minimum wage. The CBO report does project that total employment could decrease by between "very slight[ly]" and 1 million by the end of 2016, but that conclusion flies in the face of the overwhelming majority of economic evidence.
A February 2013 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) reviewed nearly a decade of research on the minimum wage and concluded that "the minimum wage has little or no discernible effect on the employment prospects of low-wage workers." The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) similarly reviewed the available literature on the minimum wage and concluded that "raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 will not lead to job loss." Conservative media jumped on a March 2014 survey by Express Employment Professionals claiming that businesses would cut jobs due to an increased wage, but even that survey found that 62 percent of minimum wage employers and 81 percent of all employers would not lay off workers as a result of increased wages.
Heyer's claim that increasing the minimum wage hurts the job market is arguable, but the claim that higher wages drive up reliance on federal safety-net programs is demonstrably false. The same CBO report that estimated 500,000 lost jobs from a $10.10 minimum wage also concluded that such a wage would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty while boosting incomes for Americans living in poverty by $5 billion annually.
Increasing the minimum wage would definitively decrease America's reliance on the so-called government "dole." According to a March 2014 study by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a $10.10 minimum wage would decrease food stamp participation by up to $4.6 billion annually. An October 2013 study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center concluded that low wages in the fast food industry alone -- whose media wage is substantially lower than $10.10 -- cost taxpayers nearly $7 billion annually.
Contrary to Heyer' s allegation, increasing the minimum wage would significantly decrease reliance on "the dole," and significantly decrease the cost to taxpayers who subsidize the poverty wages paid by thousands of businesses around the country. A Media Matters analysis of broadcast evening news found that programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS largely ignored the high cost of low wages. The latest screed in The Wall Street Journal is not just ignoring the high cost of low wages; it is distorting the relationship entirely.
As the United States Senate voted on a bill that would increase the federal minimum wage, Fox News dedicated 15 times more coverage to the latest "developments" in its on-going campaign to create a political scandal from the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Fox News often promotes myths about student loan debt in the United States, misinforming about everything from the lack of protections borrowers receive, to the unsubtantiated claim that student loans drive up college costs, to the myth that struggling borrowers are taking a government handout. As the two-year anniversary of student debt surpassing $1 trillion takes place this week, here is a sample of the network's past student loan misinformation.