National disability organizations have criticized a misleading CBS News 60 Minutes report on Social Security disability which relied on anecdotal evidence to deceptively portray the vital program as wasteful and unsustainable, despite the fact that award rates fell during the recession and that fraud is less than one percent of the program.
On October 6, 60 Minutes stoked fears that the Social Security Disability Insurance program is "ravaged by waste and fraud," relying on Senator Tom Coburn's (R-OK) bipartisan* investigation and anecdotal evidence to hype growth in the program while misleadingly claiming that it "could become the first government benefits program to run out of money."
In response, organizations that advocate for and support people with disabilities nationwide have criticized the report. Rebecca Vallas, co-chair of the Social Security Task Force at the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities -- a coalition of approximately 100 national disability organizations -- told Media Matters the coverage was "sensational" and did a "tremendous disservice" to people with disabilities:
The recent 60 Minutes broadcast is just the latest in an array of sensational and misleading media reports that have perpetuated myths and stereotypes about the Social Security disability programs and the people they help. These media reports do a tremendous disservice to viewers as well as to people with disabilities. Any misuse of these vital programs is unacceptable; however it is unfortunate and disappointing when media reports mislead their viewers by painting entire programs with the brush of one or a few bad apples, without putting them in the context of the millions of individuals who receive benefits appropriately, and for whom they are a vital lifeline -- as well as the many disability advocates around the country who work hard to protect the rights of individuals with significant disabilities and serious illnesses who have been wrongly denied Social Security disability benefits.
Lisa Ekman, Director of Federal Policy at Health & Disability Advocates, said the organization was "extremely disappointed that 60 Minutes chose to air such a one-sided story based on anecdote and supposition ... Misleading media reports like the one on 60 Minutes distract from focusing on the real issue of helping American workers with and without disabilities achieve economic security."
The myths pushed by 60 Minutes have been repeatedly debunked by experts. The report admitted that the vast majority of people applying for benefits are denied, but ignored the fact that the majority of appeals are also denied, and that award rates have actually fallen during the economic recession. In April, the Wall Street Journal called the claim that federal disability benefits were to blame for people leaving the labor force "exaggerated," explaining that disability was in fact the least common reason individuals left the workforce.
As the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Dean Baker noted, the report also "completely ignored all the comments from experts in the field ... pointing out that fraud is in fact not rampant in the disability program." Indeed, the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly found that fraud accounts for approximately one percent of all disability payments.
Fox News cherry-picked enrollment data in the new health care exchanges to suggest the Affordable Care Act was a failure, ignoring the fact that thousands of people successfully enrolled in health insurance plans the first day.
On October 3, the hosts of Fox & Friends criticized media for accurately reporting thousands of people attempted to access the online health care exchanges on October 1, suggesting that because Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana got "zero enrollees" the first day the exchanges were open, the law was a failure. Co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that due to technical glitches on the enrollment sites caused by the heavy traffic, "no one can get in and they're frustrated and not getting involved and worried about their personal information leaking."
But thousands of people in other parts of the country have successfully signed up for health coverage through the online marketplaces, and many more have successfully created accounts with which they can enroll at later dates. The Huffington Post reported:
Kentucky's health insurance exchange, Kynect, enrolled almost 3,000 households into health coverage by 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time Wednesday, and nearly 110,000 people viewed more than 1.6 million pages on the website, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) announced in a press release. Kynect had started almost 10,800 applications and completed more than 6,900 of them, according to the press release.
Rhode Island's Health Source RI already has signed up some consumers, Kaiser Health News reported Wednesday, and Connecticut's Access Health CT reported enrollments Tuesday.
Colorado postponed online sign-up for the first weeks of enrollment, but about 6,900 people created accounts on Connect for Health Colorado and the website saw 104,000 unique visitors as of 3:15 p.m. Mountain Time on Wednesday, the exchange announced on Twitter.
More than 18,000 people created accounts on Nevada Health Link and more than 63,000 people visited the site by 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time, according to a statement on Twitter. More than 120,000 people went to Covered Oregon, which is not yet accepting online enrollment, by 8:00 a.m. PDT Tuesday, according to a statement on its website, as officials asked consumers for patience, the Oregonian reported.
Louisiana's The Times-Picayune reported that Blue Cross Blue Shield had no enrollees the first day, but that other companies offering insurance in Louisiana through the online marketplace had not yet received the data to determine their level of enrollment.
The Department of Health and Human Services said the main website for the exchanges, HealthCare.gov, had successfully enrolled customers into health insurance on October 1, but according to a spokeswoman the department is unlikely to be able to exactly determine how many have enrolled until November.
Right-wing media have frantically attempted to spin the success of the health care exchanges into failure since day one of open enrollment.
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol dismissed the devastating effects of the government shutdown claiming, "no one no one is going to starve in Arkansas," ignoring that thousands of people across the country already face the loss of vital food nutrition programs.
On the October 2 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Kristol claimed that the shutdown wasn't a "disaster," and dismissed The Huffington Post's Sam Stein's argument that the shutdown was forcing 85,000 people to lose nutritional assistance in Arkansas alone. Kristol responded that Congress should move to fund anything that was a genuine emergency, but that "a one or two week shutdown is not going to be the end of the world":
[I]t's not going to be the end of the world honestly even if you're on nutritional assistance from the federal government. The state of Arkansas can help out, localities can help out, churches can help out, I believe that no one is going to starve in Arkansas because of the shutdown.
Starvation is an extreme measure by which to judge the damage of the shutdown. Though no one may have died yet, people around the country are facing the loss of essential food services, including in Arkansas.
The Associated Press reported on September 30 that Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe felt the state was "not in a position to" fund services typically from the federal government, and that "that more than 85,000 meals for Arkansas children would not be provided and 2,000 newborn babies would not receive infant formula through the Department of Health's WIC program."
Right-wing media falsely claimed a finalized rule shows that taxpayer money will fund abortion coverage for members of Congress under the new health care law, when the ruling clearly states individuals will have to pay for any abortion coverage with their own money and no federal funds will cover the procedure.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) ruled that members of Congress and their staffers purchasing health insurance coverage on the new health insurance exchanges, which opened for enrollment October 1, would be able to purchase a plan that includes abortion coverage but only with their own personal contribution to premium costs. Right-wing media instead falsely claimed taxpayer subsidies for the new health insurance plans would fund the medical procedures. A Drudge Report headline "Feds approve taxpayer subsidies for abortion coverage" linked to a Washington Times article that further pushed the false claim that the new ruling broke federal law on abortion funding.
Mark Levin similarly got the ruling wrong on his September 30 radio show, reading the Drudge Report headline and falsely claiming that President Obama had lied when he promised no government funds would pay for abortions.
But the OPM clearly stated September 30 that no federal funds "will be used to cover abortions or to administer plans that cover abortions," and that the ruling is legal because the OPM will ensure any plan that administers the procedures will be paid for by the individual and not a government contribution:
Coverage of Abortion Services
Under OPM's final rule, no Federal funds, including administrative funds, will be used to cover abortions or administer plans that cover abortions. Unlike the health plans for which OPM contracts pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 8902, 8903 and 8903a, OPM does not administer the terms of the health benefits plans offered on an Exchange. Consequently, while plans with such coverage may be offered on an Exchange, OPM can and will take appropriate administrative steps to ensure that the cost of any such coverage purchased by a Member of Congress or a congressional staffer from a designed SHOP is accounted for and paid by the individual rather than from a government contribution, consistent with the general prohibition on Federal funds being used for this purpose.
The lie that the Affordable Care Act will provide federal funds for abortion has been promoted by right-wing media for years, despite the lack of any evidence. The administration has made clear that even federal grants to health care providers cannot be used to fund abortion services.
Fox & Friends hosted Amy Frederick of the anti-Obamacare group 60+ Association to push a series of debunked falsehoods about how health care reform will affect seniors' insurance coverage. Contrary to Fox's claims, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides more health benefits to seniors, will strengthen Medicare, does not tax medical devices such as hearing aids and wheelchairs, and does not interfere with medical decisions seniors make with their doctors.
Fox News' Steve Doocy falsely claimed the federal budget deficit had increased by 137 percent under President Obama, when in fact the deficit as a percentage of the total economy has fallen to its lowest level since 2008.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi argued on the September 22 edition of CNN's State of the Union that Republicans who insisted on further cuts to government spending during budget negotiations were harming the economy, noting that spending has already been significantly reduced and that "President Obama, when he became president, he said I'm going to cut the deficit in half in four years. He did it in four years and three months."
On Fox & Friends the following morning, co-host Steve Doocy mocked Pelosi's math, claiming that Pelosi "says the president has cut the deficit by half" when "according to the CBO, it's gone up 137 percent."
This is false. The Congressional Budget Office reported September 17 that the annual federal budget deficit had fallen this year to "its smallest size since 2008: roughly 4 percent of GDP [gross domestic product], compared with a peak of almost 10 percent in 2009":
The economy's gradual recovery from the 2007-2009 recession, the waning budgetary effects of policies enacted in response to the weak economy, and other changes to tax and spending policies have caused the deficit to shrink this year to its smallest size since 2008: roughly 4 percent of GDP, compared with a peak of almost 10 percent in 2009. If current laws governing taxes and spending were generally unchanged -- an assumption that underlies CBO's 10-year baseline budget projections -- the deficit would continue to drop over the next few years, falling to 2 percent of GDP by 2015. As a result, by 2018, federal debt held by the public would decline to 68 percent of GDP.
A CBO chart further showed how the revised May 2013 projection of the federal deficit revealed the deficit had fallen dramatically since 2011 and would continue dropping through 2015 under current laws:
Fox News' Gregg Jarrett repeatedly pressed Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) to declare that the Obama administration has been engaged in a "cover up" of the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
On the September 21 edition of America's News Headquarters, co-host Jarrett demanded to know why a reluctant Meehan would not describe the administration's response to Benghazi as a "cover up," asking the congressman several times why he wouldn't use the phrase. Watch:
JARRETT: Is this a cover up, and is it blatant?
MEEHAN: Well, it is certainly not a thorough investigation in the way that it was advertised. And that's the key. They've been relying on this as if it was a dispassionate--
JARRETT: You don't want to call it a cover up.
MEEHAN: -- and thorough investigation, and it's not.
JARRETT: How come you don't want to call it a cover up?
MEEHAN: Well, you know, you can call it a cover up. I think they asked the right questions --
JARRETT: No, why don't you call it a cover up? That's what I'm asking.
MEEHAN: Because I think -- I want to see accountability. I think that they're asking questions, but they're failing to ask the right people the questions, all the way to the top.
JARRETT: Well and it's been a year, which is ridiculous.
During his interview of Meehan, Jarrett continued his trend of pushing a number of debunked falsehoods about Benghazi, including falsely claiming that President Obama was sleeping the night of the attacks and that no rescue effort was sent to Benghazi. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has stated that Obama was "well-informed" during the attack, and a photo of Obama meeting in the Oval Office with his National Security advisors the night of the attacks has been available on the White House Flickr page since October 2012. Furthermore, as experts have repeatedly made clear, help was sent to Benghazi, and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called out those who claimed more could have been done to rescue those in Benghazi for having a "cartoonish impression of the military."
Jarrett's desperate attempt to get Rep. Meehan to use the label is not the first time Fox News has suggested there is a Benghazi "cover up," and continues the network's repeated creation and promotion of lies, smears, and conspiracies related to the attacks.
Watch the full segment:
Fox News' Martha MacCallum scapegoated individuals with mental health conditions by suggesting that increased institutionalization is a solution to mass shootings, ignoring the dangers that poses to individuals with these conditions and the need for greater gun safety.
On the September 19 America's Newsroom, MacCallum suggested that Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooting suspect, should have been institutionalized for a mental health condition, asking if we have "become so PC that we do not understand" the need to institutionalize some "categories of people." She also criticized the medical system for only institutionalizing people who have previously been convicted of a crime:
Have we not become so PC that we do not understand that there are categories of people -- many people who do not deserve to be institutionalized, but some do. And if this man had been institutionalized, something that we, you know, seem to never do any more in this country -- in fact, Adam Lanza's mother, according to the reports after Newtown, wanted to institutionalize her son. She was worried that he would do something. But unless you have been convicted, you cannot be institutionalized. So what do we do about this?
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Alexis never reported that he was depressed or that he was considering harming himself or others prior to the shooting. He sought treatment solely for insomnia. Doctors said he was "alert and oriented" and never asked for an appointment with VA mental health specialists.
MacCallum's solution raises as many questions as it answers, most critically who gets institutionalized and when.
Institutions, or psychiatric hospitals, can play a role in treatment for people with severe mental health conditions, but they are not the most effective solution in every case.
Fox News falsely claimed the Obama administration had done little to address issues of mental health following recent mass shootings, hiding the fact that gun violence prevention legislation backed by President Obama included mental health provisions and that the president has signed multiple measures aimed at increasing Americans' access to mental health services.
On September 17, President Obama called on Congress to strengthen background checks for gun purchases following the mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard by a former Navy reservist who had clearance to access the base as a civilian contractor and who had passed a background check to purchase the gun he brought with him.
On September 18, Fox & Friends criticized the call for stronger gun laws following the tragedy, with co-host Brian Kilmeade saying "the focus really should be on mental illness" and accusing doctors of letting dangerous individuals out "wild in society." Co-host Steve Doocy then criticized President Obama over the tragedy, saying that "[a]fter the Newtown massacre, what did the President of the United States say? He said his administration, quote, 'would bring mental illness out of the shadows.' What have they done so far? They've had a conference in June. Nothing has happened."
Doocy and Kilmeade's fixation on mental health as the solution to gun violence is misplaced, as studies have shown that people with mental health conditions are more often the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. In fact, 96 percent of violent crimes "are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all."
But Doocy was also wrong: Obama and Senate Democrats have supported gun violence prevention legislation which addressed mental health issues, and Obama has signed multiple measures to increase access to mental health services for those who need them.
The Wall Street Journal promoted Republican revisionist history portraying previous debt ceiling negotiations as bipartisan, ignoring the Republican obstructionism that led to the 2011 debt ceiling crisis.
If Congress is unable to raise the U.S. debt ceiling -- which allows Congress to pay for past spending -- much of the government will shut down by October 1, and by mid-October, the Treasury Department will lose the ability to pay its debts, thereby hurting the economy. Divisions among House Republicans have stalled efforts to pass the necessary legislation, with many insisting on significant cuts to government spending and delaying President Obama's health care law.
On September 12, the Journal reported Speaker of the House John Boehner's response to the administration's refusal to negotiate on these "nonstarter" proposals, claiming it was a departure from "decades" of previous negotiations that found "bipartisan solutions":
Congress faces a deadline in mid-October to pass legislation that would raise the debt limit. Mr. Obama has said he would refuse to negotiate with Republicans on terms for raising the borrowing limit and that Congress must allow the Treasury to pay for spending already approved by lawmakers.
But Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio) told reporters Thursday that stance was a departure from numerous precedents, in which the White House and Congress agreed to budget changes in exchange for a debt-limit increase.
"For decades, the White House, the Congress have used the debt limit to find bipartisan solutions on the deficit and the debt," Mr. Boehner said, alluding to deficit-reduction deals passed under former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, among others. "So, President Obama is going to have to deal with this, as well."
The Journal failed to note that Boehner's rosy painting of history hid the unprecedented crisis of August 2011 caused by Republican obstructionism. Raising the debt ceiling had been a routine procedure until then, when Republicans held the economy hostage by threatening not to support any increase without equal amounts of spending cuts. Economists at the time cautioned that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic for the U.S. and world economies, and a June 2011 letter to congressional leaders signed by 235 prominent economists warned:
Failure to increase the debt limit sufficiently to accommodate existing U.S. laws and obligations also could undermine trust in the full faith and credit of the United States government, with potentially grave long-term consequences. This loss of trust could translate into higher interest rates not only for the federal government, but also for U.S. businesses and consumers, causing all to pay higher prices for credit. Economic growth and jobs would suffer as a result.
Obama ultimately signed a bill that averted the crisis, ending the "bitter partisan stalemate that had threatened to plunge the nation into default and destabilize the world economy."