Fox News is convinced that the recent increase in federal disability benefits must be suspicious -- but they're ignoring the historic rise of disabling conditions, which results in 1 in 5 Americans with disabilities.
During a January 3 Fox & Friends segment about "Who's Ruining the Economy," co-host Steve Doocy asked why more Americans were receiving Social Security disability benefits, wondering "are there simply more people who are becoming disabled, or are more people just simply becoming desperate?"
Guest and Fox Business host Stuart Varney replied, "I think it's the latter. A lot of people are taking the disability option," suggesting that millions of Americans were faking their disabilities in order to receive benefits while unemployed.
Varney is simply wrong. As medical advancements allow us to live longer lives, they are also making us more likely to live with disabilities. The Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, produced over five years by hundreds of researchers around the world, revealed that on average the world population lives longer and is more likely to survive lethal diseases than ever before. As The Washington Post reported, this means that "people are living with conditions that don't kill them but that affect their health":
"These are things like mental disorders, substance abuse, musculoskeletal pain, vision loss, hearing loss . . . that cause a huge amount of disability but not a whole lot of death," said Murray, who heads the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
People are living longer lives, but the time they are gaining isn't entirely time with good health. For every year of life expectancy added since 1990, about 91 / 2 months is time in good health. The rest is time in a diminished state -- in pain, immobility, mental incapacity or medical support such as dialysis. For people who survive to age 50, the added time is "discounted" even further. For every added year they get, only seven months are healthy.
"Progress in reducing disability just hasn't kept pace with progress in reducing mortality," said Joshua A. Salomon of the Harvard School of Public Health, one of the project leaders.
Only about 1 in 25 Americans receive disability benefits, but nearly 1 in 5 Americans have a disability. That's about 56.7 million people. The Social Security administration further estimates that a 20-year-old worker today has a 1 in 4 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement.
Furthermore, as Media Matters has repeatedly and extensively documented, despite Fox's never-ending campaign to demonize Social Security disability, it is not an "option" that out-of-work individuals can rely on if they do not have severe disabilities. The eligibility criteria are stringent, with waiting periods that are typically months long, and more than half of all applicants are denied. There is also no evidence that people receiving disability benefits are hurting the economy.
The rise of disabling medical conditions is a serious issue for millions of Americans, and the ability of the federal disability programs to help some of those individuals survive when they are unable to work could be at risk if Congress fails to reallocate the necessary funds for the programs, which they have routinely done before. But Fox would rather push baseless and deceptive fears about these necessary federal programs than accurately report on the medical conditions millions of Americans live with every day.
Men are under threat. Despite the fact that women still make less than men do, are hugely underrepresented in media, and face so much sexism on a daily basis that Republicans actually have to undergo training to learn how to talk to women in non-offensive ways, conservative media would like you to know that it's really men who have it tough.
The "War on Men" is waged on multiple fronts, from elementary school classrooms to the workplace to men's own marriages. Nowhere is safe. So to help the besieged men out there, here is a list of all the things conservative media said were examples of the "War on Men" in 2013.
1. Kids Don't Play "Tag" Anymore.
In September, National Review Online hosted a debate which asked "Is there a war on women? Or is it a war on men?" An example of the suffering of men, according to the panel, was that "schools are replacing boys' favorite game, 'tag,' with a more female-friendly alternative called 'circle of friends.'" As Alice Munro noted in the New Republic, this isn't true.
2. "Female Sexual Freedom."
The "War on Men" really began with contemporary feminism in the 1960s, according to Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto, when women dared "to be equal to men" and wanted "sexual freedom":
MARY KISSEL: [W]hen did this war on men begin? Can you pinpoint a starting point?
TARANTO: Well, it all goes back to the beginning of contemporary feminism in the early '60s. You know, women wanted to be equal to men, they wanted to be able to do all the sort of professional things including the military that men could do, and --
KISSEL: Was there anything wrong with that, though, James? I mean, that sounds --
TARANTO: Well, that's too long to go into now, the question of what's wrong with that, but in addition they wanted sexual freedom. Well what is female sexual freedom? It means, for this woman, that she had the freedom to get drunk, and to get in the backseat of the car with this guy. There was another woman who accused him, he was acquitted in this case, of sexual assault. This so-called assault happened in his bedroom, to which she voluntarily accompanied him, even the jury said that was consensual.
According to conservative media, the Affordable Care Act's mandate that insurance companies can no longer discriminate is the same as "sticking it to men" and waging a "war on bros." In reality, the law makes sure insurance companies can't force women to pay more for health care just because they are women.
4. "Feminized" Schools Have Rules, Standards.
The "War on Men" starts "as a war on boys," according to NRO's Helen Smith, which manifests when schools "take away recess" and adopt "a feminized approach to schools to the point where it is mainly for those who conform, sit still, and like to follow rules."
5. Sometimes, Men Are Accused Of Sexual Harassment.
Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto fights the "War on Men" on a regular basis. In June, he dismissed the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, claiming that efforts to address the enormous problem contributed to the "war on men" and were an "effort to criminalize male sexuality." Taranto conveniently ignored the fact that many victims of sexual assault in the military are also male, and that most men probably don't agree that "male sexuality" necessarily includes having sex with drunken women in cars.
6. Commercials And Sitcoms Make Men Look Stupid.
In 2012, FoxNews.com columnist Suzanne Venker claimed that a factor in the "War on Men" was that "Women aren't women anymore," because now they have college degrees and have sex outside of marriage. In 2013, she took this probing analysis further, saying that men -- who are "second class citizens" -- are under threat because Title IX forbids discrimination in college sports and because of "sit-coms and commercials that portray dad as an idiot."
7. Women Work Full-Time Jobs.
In December, Venker uncovered yet another layer in the war on men: women these days are "financially independent," and despite the "simply irrefutable" fact that they "prefer part-time work," many continue to insist on working full-time jobs, harming men's ability to fulfil their natural inclination to be primary breadwinner.
8. Women Would Like To Make The Same Amount Of Money Men Do.
At FoxNews.com, Carrie Lukas argued that President Obama's nominee to the Office of Personnel Management was the new "general" in the "war on men's pay," because she was tasked with attempting to close the gender wage gap in government salaries. Lukas baselessly claimed that this would result in men being paid less money in order to make up the difference -- literally the opposite of what was intended, which was to pay women more.
9. "Obama's America."
Finally, WSJ editor James Taranto blamed "Obama's America" for waging the "War on Men" with the sexual harassment regulations under Title IX, which he claimed unfairly police men's sexuality.
Fox News hosts used meaningless hand gestures to mock the interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service who reportedly did not use standard sign language, even after another news organization apologized for a similar sight gag.
As NPR reported, there is "outrage among many in the deaf community" after it was revealed that the interpreter who was assigned to translate speeches for the hearing impaired during the December 10 ceremony did not use standard American or South African sign language. Wilma Newhoudt, a Deaf member of South Africa's parliament and vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf, tweeted that the interpreter was using meaningless hand gestures and suggested he be removed from the stage. The interpreter defended his work before claiming that suffered a "schizophrenic episode" during the memorial. An investigation is pending.
Fox News reported the story with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade making meaningless hand gestures and waving his arms around while his co-hosts laughed.
Later in the show, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum meaninglessly moved her hands around while attempting to sign "I love you."
NBC's Today show apologized for similarly mocking the incident on December 11, after a producer mimed fake sign language during the broadcast. Minutes after the gag aired, a representative for the show tweeted "We aired a joke in our 9:00 hour that was offensive. We apologize to our viewers."
FoxNews.com reported on the Today show segment, noting that many in the Deaf community were offended.
Right-wing media launched a series of sexist attacks on Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt after she took a photo with President Obama during the Nelson Mandela memorial service, calling her "Denmark Babe," "Danish Pastry," and referring to her as a sexual object.
In their evening coverage of the December 10 Nelson Mandela memorial service, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC focused a majority of segments on President Obama's handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro and on a "selfie" Obama took with world leaders during the event rather than on the service itself or Mandela's legacy.
A New York Post editorial dismissed the decrepit and dangerous condition of homeless shelters in New York City, claiming a New York Times exposé of the realities of poverty for homeless children demonstrated how "generous" the city had been.
On December 8, the New York Times published the first in a five-part series on poverty in the city titled "Invisible Child," which featured the story of one of the city's 22,000 homeless children whose family currently resides at the Auburn Family Residence, a homeless shelter. The Times described the shelter as "a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers."
The Post editorial board responded to the story on December 9 by dismissing the family's problems, claiming that because they lived in a 540 square ft. shelter, they "aren't really homeless at all," and concluded that the city of New York had been "too generous" to provide the family with any shelter, even one that featured "mice and reports of sexual assaults and other crimes":
Begin with the family at the center of this story. The mother, father and eight kids aren't really homeless at all. True, they live in housing meant for "homeless families." But their 540-square-foot unit gives them a solid roof over their heads, in addition to city-provided meals and services.
Yes, the family's housing has problems, including mice and reports of sexual assaults and other crimes. But the Times and Elliott, like much of the liberal establishment, seem to think it's the city's job to provide comfortable lives to outrageously irresponsible parents. In this case, that's a couple with a long history of drug problems and difficulty holding jobs.
Something's wrong with that picture.
If the city is at fault here, it might well be for having been too generous -- providing so much that neither the father nor mother seems much inclined to provide for their kids. That would be a story worth reading.
Politico turned to the American Enterprise's Institute's Danielle Pletka, a former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) with a history of smearing Democratic appointees, as one of the "smart foreign policy thinkers in both parties" cited to judge Hillary Clinton's diplomatic legacy as Secretary of State.
Politico Magazine's December 8 profile, which is now making the rounds of the pundit class, claimed that Republicans can easily dismiss Clinton's foreign policy achievements -- and question her viability as a candidate for President -- by following Pletka's lead and attempting to smear her with the deaths of four Americans during the 2012 attacks in Benghazi:
What does that Republican take look like? For sure, there will be a focus on Benghazi, where the GOP has questioned whether Clinton and other administration officials were activist enough--and truthful enough--about responding to the attack in Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, that led to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other American personnel; a case summed up by the American Enterprise's Institute's Danielle Pletka as "unwillingness to take risks, unwillingness to lead, willingness to stab a lot of people in the back. And dead people." Pletka's broader view of Clinton's record is a harsher version of what I hear from many Democrats: "the Washington consensus," Pletka says, "is that she was enormously ineffective ... [though] no one was quite sure whether she was ineffective because she wanted to avoid controversy or because she wasn't trusted by the president to do anything."
Pletka has a long history as an ideological partisan dating back to her time as an aide to Helms' Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1992 to 2001. Despite his history of racism and extreme conservatism, Pletka defended his "conviction" and "old fashioned" values following his death in 2008.
As vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka is a top advocate for neoconservative policies. She has backed military strikes in Iran while dismissing the news that the U.S. reached a historic deal with Iran over their nuclear program in exchange for reducing the sanctions. Military experts have warned that such an action could have dire consequences. Pletka has also defended torture, saying that while she's "not a big fan," she still thinks it's necessary in wartime.
Pletka was also part of the conservative campaign to smear Chuck Hagel as an anti-Semite prior to his nomination as Secretary of Defense, despite the fact that Hagel's positions were mainstream and in no way anti-Israel. Pletka devoted a USA Today opinion piece and an AEI blog headlined "Chuck Hagel, anti-Semite?" to the subject and concluded that while she couldn't tell one way or the other, there were still "reasonable questions" to be asked about Hagel's "view of the Jews."
Pletka's baseless insinuation that Benghazi somehow undermined Hillary Clinton's work as Secretary of State builds on a year-long campaign by conservative activists and politicians to try to use the tragic attacks to disqualify her from a future presidential run. Such attacks are based on a multitude of myths and falsehoods.
Pletka's criticism as channeled by Politico that Clinton had few accomplishments as Secretary also ignores a significant portion of Clinton's work at State -- including opening up Myanmar by becoming the first secretary of state in 50 years to make an official visit to the nation; negotiating a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in late 2012, which many credit for averting an all-out war; building an international consensus to remove Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from power; and tightening sanctions to the highest level ever on Iran.
Image via colgateuniversity
GOP candidates are training to better talk about women and women's issues following the disastrous 2012 elections -- but this new rebranding effort will be difficult, given conservative media's toxic rhetoric on women.
Politico reported on December 5 that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is meeting with congressional Republicans and their aides to "teach them what to say -- or not to say -- on the trail, especially when their boss is running against a woman":
While GOP party leaders have talked repeatedly of trying to "rebrand" the party after the 2012 election losses, the latest effort shows they're not entirely confident the job is done.
So they're getting out in front of the next campaign season, heading off gaffes before they're ever uttered and risk repeating the 2012 season, when a handful of comments let Democrats paint the entire Republican Party as anti-woman.
Akin dropped the phrase "legitimate rape" during the 2012 Missouri Senate race, costing himself a good shot at winning his own race and touching off Democratic charges of a GOP "War on Women" that dogged Republicans in campaigns across the country.
This new phase in the GOP's attempt to rebrand the party comes months after the Republican National Committee's (RNC) March 18 post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned the party was "increasingly marginalizing itself" by alienating women, Hispanics, African Americans, and younger voters.
As Media Matters noted at the time, the rebranding effort always faced a significant obstacle: conservative media. Right-wing talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh played a significant role in popularizing the very brand of Republican politics the party leadership now understands is toxic -- and they are unlikely to change their rhetoric on women just because the RNC and NRCC suggest it.
After all, Limbaugh is the man who launched 46 personal attacks on Sandra Fluke in 2012, including calling her a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying in favor of affordable contraception, and little has changed since then. Just in the month of November, Limbaugh compared filibuster reform in the Senate to "allow[ing] women to be raped"; suggested that women in the military synchronize their menstrual cycles so they'd be "ready to be banshees"; read from a misogynistic parody site mocking marital rape; claimed ads promoting Obamacare's coverage of birth control told young women "if you like being a prostitute, then have at it"; and claimed Democrats are turning women "into nothing but abortion machines."
Limbaugh is not alone. Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto has mocked efforts to combat the immense problem of sexual assault in the military, and claimed "female sexual freedom" led to a "war on men." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly attempted to tie the "War on Christmas" to "unfettered abortion." Conservative blogger and Fox contributor Erick Erickson has called Texas Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis "abortion Barbie" and attempted to smear her campaign by suggesting she was mentally unfit for office. And a Fox Business host recently asked if there is "something about the female brain that is a deterrent" to women working as tech executives.
That's just a few of the most recent examples. The list goes on.
If the NRCC is concerned about Republicans being labeled "anti-women," Todd Akin and his "legitimate rape" comments are perhaps the least of their concerns. Conservative media's daily drumbeat of demeaning attacks on women could do more damage to the party's efforts than any single gaffe.
After all, the GOP rebranding effort also included a call for greater Latino outreach, to which conservative media responded with increased anti-immigrant demagoguery and a full-throated effort to destroy immigration reform. At the moment, it seems the conservative media is successfully thwarting the Republican "rebrand" -- leaving the GOP right back where they were in November 2012.
New tax filings acquired by Mother Jones reveal that the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity received 80 percent of its grant money from the Donors Trust, dubbed the "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement."
As Media Matters has previously documented, Donors Trust and its affiliated organization, Donors Capital Fund, provide individuals and organizations a way to hide their donations or "pass-through" money to various right-leaning causes and media outlets. They are the primary financial backer for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which, according to the tax documents obtained by Mother Jones, received $9.2 million from the fund, accounting for "nearly $8 of every $10 in grant money received by the Franklin Center in 2012."
The Center, which Media Matters highlighted in a lengthy July 2012 report, has launched more than 50 news sites covering state government in 39 states since it began in 2009 and claims to provide "10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide." Nearly all of their 2011 funding also came from Donors Trust, according to a report from the Center for Public Integrity. Steven Greenhut, formerly the vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center, previously criticized Media Matters for reporting on the group's deep right-wing ties and funding.
Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund have raised more than $500 million since their creation in 1999 and poured the money into various conservative groups and causes -- including bankrolling a campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change; funding an effort to flood American classrooms with packaged libertarian lessons featuring Fox News' John Stossel; and fully-funding the Project on Fair Representation, which successfully challenged portions of the Voting Rights Act. Major Donors Trust contributors include the Charles Koch-controlled Knowledge and Progress Fund.
2012 was a record-breaking year for Donors Trust, with $96 million funneled to right-wing groups. From Mother Jones:
Last year, DonorsTrust (and its sister group, Donors Capital Fund) doled out a record $96 million, making it one of the largest honeypots for right-leaning groups. That's an increase from $85 million in 2011 and $78 million in 2010. DonorsTrust CEO Whitney Ball, who cofounded the group in 1999 and sometimes appears at the Koch brothers' donor summits, says the increased giving stems from her organization's growing profile and also conservative donors' anger at the Obama administration. And despite worries about donor burnout within the conservative ranks, Ball says DonorsTrust is on track for another great year in 2013.
One of the biggest winners to emerge from the hundreds of pages of DonorsTrust tax documents is the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a Virginia-based nonprofit that trains conservative and libertarian think tanks to do investigative journalism, funds right-leaning news outlets, and hires reporters for those outlets. The Franklin Center received $9.2 million from DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, which accounted for nearly $8 of every $10 in grant money received by the Franklin Center in 2012.
Other major recipients of DonorsTrust money include the Mercatus Center ($3.9 million), a libertarian think tank housed at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Mercatus has long-standing ties to the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, who sits on the group's board; Koch's top political adviser, Richard Fink, founded Mercatus and is also a member of the think tank's board. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a leading denier of man-made climate change that publishes the skeptic site ClimateDepot.com, pocketed more than $3.34 million. And the Hudson Institute, a 52-year-old Washington-based think tank, nabbed a $4 million donation from DonorsTrust. Other big-name recipients of DonorsTrust money include the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative "bill mill"; the State Policy Network, which oversees state-level conservative think tanks in all 50 states; and the charitable arm of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity advocacy group. DonorsTrust does not fund so-called 501(c)(4) groups, the kind of politically active nonprofits that played an outsize role in the 2012 elections.
Fox News host Martha MacCallum hid the radical implications of a Supreme Court case which could allow for-profit corporations to use religion to discriminate against women and deny employees basic health care coverage, claiming the corporations were merely asking "for some tolerance of their religious belief."
On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in two cases in which business owners -- Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties -- argue they should be exempt from an Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement which mandates that large, for-profit corporations must offer employees health plans that cover contraceptives at no additional cost.
On December 2, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum supported the corporations' arguments, claiming that allowing employers to pick and choose what to cover under their health plans based on their religious beliefs was simply an issue of "tolerance" and that the health care law was asking employers to "violate their conscience" by offering contraceptive care:
It seems to me, I mean all they're asking is for an exemption, and for some tolerance of their religious belief, so if a company is owned by someone who doesn't believe that that is ethical, that they should be able to offer a plan that is accepted under Obamacare but that is exempted, that exempts contraception.
I don't understand what the issue would be, with offering a separate version that that employer feels doesn't violate their conscience? How can you ask someone to violate their conscience in the plan that they choose to offer to their employees?
What MacCallum ignores is that religious organizations and certain religiously affiliated nonprofits are already provided exemptions from the contraception mandate. The question posed by these cases to the Supreme Court is whether or not these exemptions should be extended to for-profit, secular companies. If the court rules in favor of the corporations, it would be an unprecedented extension of religious freedom rights and could have radical legal implications, going against the basic tenets of corporate law.
It could also set a dangerous precedent, allowing employers to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against women, and potentially deny all Americans benefits for a wide range of basic medical needs.
Requiring businesses to provide health care plans that cover contraception at no additional cost "was put into place in order to eliminate gender inequality in healthcare," Gretchen Borchelt, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, explained. As Micah Schwartzman and Nelson Tebbe noted in Slate, exempting for-profit corporations would reinstate that inequality, undermining a purpose of health care reform:
[E]xempting large, for-profit corporations from the contraception mandate would significantly burden female employees, along with all the wives and daughters covered by the policies of male employees. Thousands of women would lose all insurance coverage for contraception. That loss would be very real, and it would frustrate a central objective of Obamacare: namely to ensure that women have equal access to critical preventative care.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the corporations, it will not just put women's basic health care in jeopardy. As MSNBC's Irin Carmon and Slate's Dahlia Lithwick have pointed out, corporations could potentially be allowed to opt out of covering anything that is religiously contested, including things like vaccinations, psychiatric care, and AIDS medications. What if your employer is an Orthodox Jew who wants to refuse coverage for any medication that comes in a gelatin capsule? What if she is a Christian Scientist who doesn't believe in visiting doctors?
Requiring for-profit companies to offer health plans which cover birth control is not an attack on religious liberties. It ensures that everyone, regardless of their personal religious belief, has access to basic health coverage which they can then choose to use or ignore.