Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
Washington Examiner senior political columnist Tim Carney is using the murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell to demonize an exceptionally rare type of legal abortion that is used to save the life of a mother.
Gosnell has been charged with eight counts of murder, horrific acts committed under the guise of women's health services that are detailed by a grand jury report and which an expert on reproductive health explained are not in line with legal abortion procedures.
In an April 16 Examiner column, Carney fixated on remarks made by Dr. Tracy Weitz, a reproductive health professor at the University of California, during a conference call with pro-choice group RH Reality Check. Carney highlighted her descriptions of a particular abortion procedure to imply that the only difference between Gosnell's methods and legal abortions was whether or not the procedure was performed "when the fetus is still in the uterus, not when the fetus has been delivered."
But as Dr. Weitz explained in her response to Carney, the procedures Gosnell is alleged to have done have "nothing to do with the way in which the standard of care and later abortion procedures are performed in the United States" and his actions are "nowhere in the medical literature." Similarly, Salon's Irin Carmon explained that "[n]o one who supports the provision of safe abortion care to women excuses any of what Gosnell is accused of, from willfully gruesome conditions to sadistic treatment to infanticide."
Carney's bogus analogy of legal abortion procedures to the Gosnell case further ignores the fact that legal "late-term" abortions -- which is not a medical term -- are extremely rare, making up only about 1 percent of all abortions in the United States, and are significantly restricted by law. According to research by the Guttmacher Institute, the vast majority of states prohibit abortions after fetus "viability," which occurs at approximately 20 to 24 weeks, prior to the third trimester. Some states provide an exception, allowing a medical professional to perform a late-term abortion when the life of the mother is threatened, and in even fewer states, cases of "fetal abnormality."
Furthermore, contrary to Gosnell's alleged actions, legal abortion is very safe. As Carmon reported, a medical study published in 2012 concluded that "[l]egal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion."
But these life-saving procedures are under threat as right-wing media figures such as Carney continue to demonize legal, affordable, safe, and rare abortions by implying that they are similar to Gosnell's horrors. As Salon's Carmon further noted, many women went to Gosnell "because they felt they had no alternative." The case is an indictment of the anti-choice movement, revealing the need for safe, affordable, and legal abortion services that protect the health of women.
Right-wing media are encouraging Republican senators to filibuster gun violence prevention legislation, continuing a long history of trying to influence GOP politics through recommended obstructionism.
Fox News figures claimed the U.S. should emulate the United Kingdom by slashing funding to federal disability programs and changing eligibility requirements, despite the fact that U.S. eligibility requirements are already stringent, that the new U.K. benefits tests were largely overturned on appeal, and that research shows changes to disability programs in the U.K. will force thousands of individuals with disabilities into poverty.
Under fire for a sloppy report that leaned on anecdotal evidence to make sweeping generalizations about federal disability benefits, NPR has edited portions of that report even as Ira Glass publicly defends the initial reporting.
On March 22, Media Matters highlighted several myths and errors in a report from NPR's Planet Money about Supplemental Security Insurance, a federal disability program for children. The report drew further criticism, and more than 100 organizations that advocate for and support people with disabilities have signed a letter criticizing the piece, saying it "paints a misleading and inaccurate picture of the Social Security programs that serve as a vital lifeline for millions of Americans with severe disabilities."
On March 26, This American Life host Ira Glass responded to Media Matters' criticism by claiming he stood by his program's work, saying "our report on disability programs was fact checked line by line by an outside fact checker, in addition to fact checking by the reporter and her editors" and that "We know of no factual errors. We stand by the story."
But while Glass publicly claimed to stand behind the story, Wired Business senior writer Ryan Tate has noted that the online text version of the radio program has been altered since its original posting.
NPR has since said that the changes were made "for clarity after publication."
Right-wing media are claiming that the federal government spent money on research grants and other expenses for puppets during the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, despite the fact that the grants were all paid prior to the budget cuts.
On Wednesday, Breitbart.com attacked the administration for stopping tours of the White House as a result of budget cuts in a post titled "U.S. Spends $1.18 Million On Puppets Amid Sequester," and claimed the government could "cut federal 'puppet expenditures' to keep the people's house open." The website listed spending from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among other sources, as federal spending on "puppets and puppetry-related expenses."
Fox Nation hyped the Breitbart.com post, labeling it a "report":
Fox & Friends joined in on Thursday when co-host Steve Doocy said: "1.18 million, that's how much the government has spent on puppets since 2009. That's enough to pay for more than a year's worth of White House tours."
However, the grants and contracts that Breitbart.com cited were all paid prior to 2013. A screenshot of the search terms used by Breitbart.com reveals the most recent grants were paid in fiscal year 2012, which ended on September 30, 2012. Sequestration took place on March 1, 2013, almost six months later.
Despite the claims of Fox News and Breitbart.com, these expenditures have nothing to do with the cancelation of White House tours. The spending cited by Breitbart.com did not come out of the budget of the Secret Service, which made the decision to stop providing security for the tours due to its own budget cuts under the sequester.
A misleading NPR report has become fodder for a right-wing media campaign to scapegoat federal disability benefits, despite the fact that the rise in disability claims can be attributed to the economic recession and demographic shifts, and that instances of fraud are minimal.
NPR reported that the rise in the number of federal disability beneficiaries was "startling" and claimed it was explained by unemployed workers with "squishy" claims of disability choosing to receive federal benefits rather than work. Right-wing media called the report "brilliant," and used it to further the myth that the increase in the number of individuals receiving disability benefits reveals fraud in the system.
Breitbart.com's Wynton Hall wrote that NPR's "eye-opening" piece uncovered a disability program "fraught with fraud." Fox Nation promoted the piece with the headline, "Every Month, 14 Million People Get a Disability Check from the Government..." The National Review Online's blog called the piece "brilliant," while the Washington Examiner's editorial offered it as evidence that disability benefits provide "a voluntary life sentence to idle poverty." The Drudge Report linked to the NPR story and to the Breitbart.com article:
But as Media Matters previously noted, these reports failed to include crucial facts that explain the rise in disability benefits. The recent financial crisis and the rising rate of child poverty have made more children eligible to receive benefits through the Supplemental Security program, while the growth in the number of adults receiving benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance since the 1970s is largely explained by increases in the number of women qualifying for benefits. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, as women have joined the workforce in greater numbers over the past few decades, more women are eligible for disability benefits, resulting in higher numbers of beneficiaries.
Furthermore, in a report published in March 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that improper payments of disability benefits are not a widespread problem, and accounted for less than four percent of total improper payments made by federal agencies in fiscal year 2011.
Public radio program This American Life pushed a series of myths about Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), a Social Security program that supports families that include children with disabilities. The piece ignored that the recent rise in disability benefits is tied to the recession and higher rates of poverty, that qualifying for benefits is difficult, that SSI encourages employment, and that the current program has significantly reduced poverty among children with disabilities.
Fox News lifted part of a Wall Street Journal opinion piece to attack a federal farm subsidy program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture while Fox News Latino contributor Rick Sanchez dismissed the USDA's history of discriminating against female and Hispanic farmers.
The USDA is currently allowing female and Hispanic farmers to apply for claims of up to $50,000 if they were previously unfairly treated during the federal farm subsidy loan process because of discriminatory practices at the USDA. According to the checklist included in the claim application, applicants must submit official documentation of discrimination -- such as a notarized witness statement, and in some cases a copy of their original loan application -- before their claim can be deemed eligible for review.
An op-ed published March 20 on the Journal's website by James Bovard ignored these facts to ridicule charges of USDA discrimination against female and Hispanic farmers:
Are you a woman or a Hispanic who planted a backyard garden between 1981 and 2000? Did you ever dream of asking for a loan for help growing more? If so, you might be a victim of discrimination and entitled to a $50,000 payout from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
On March 22, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy repeated this portion of the Journal op-ed almost word for word to similarly mock individuals seeking compensation from past discrimination:
DOOCY: Are you a woman or Hispanic who planted a garden between the years of 1981 and 2000? Did you dream of asking for a loan to grow your garden but you didn't get a loan to grow a garden? If so, you could be a victim of discrimination and entitled to $50,000. That sounds crazy, right? It's not. People will actually wind up with money.
During the segment, on-air text referred to the money as an "entitlement" and "reparations":
As NPR reported in November, the USDA "has a long history of discriminating against farmers who are women, Hispanic, Native American and African American," leading to lawsuits which have cost the government billions. In 2010, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged these civil rights violations at a Senate appropriations subcommittee and committed to "closing this rather sordid chapter of USDA history."
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has detailed "key steps" the USDA needs to take to ensure "fair and equitable services to all customers" following these numerous reports of discrimination. As of August 2012, the GAO determined that the USDA had fully addressed only half of the GAO's recommendations.
Doocy was not the only Fox figure to dismiss the evidence of discrimination in the program. MundoFox and Fox News Latino contributor Rick Sanchez further claimed the program was part of a government plan to make Hispanics "dependent on a nanny state," and dismissed the allegations of discrimination, saying: "It doesn't matter if you're a transvestite from Honduras or whether you're a white guy from Iowa ... [t]oday it's women and Hispanics. Tomorrow it's going to be Asians and then it's going to be this and then it's going to be that and pretty soon, look, we don't have enough money as it is."
Right-wing media previously attacked similar payments from the USDA to African American and Native American farmers as "reparations," despite a report from the Congressional Research Service which noted that a USDA review commissioned in 1994 found that in the early 1990s "minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans."
Fox & Friends attempted to recruit Dr. Ben Carson as the next Fox News candidate, after News Corp. spent weeks promoting him as a rising political star.
On March 16, Carson spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and hinted during his speech that he might be interested in running for office, telling the audience: "Let's say you magically put me in the White House."
During his appearance on Fox & Friends on Wednesday, the hosts repeatedly pressed Carson on whether he was interested in running, asking when he would decide to "get into the political fray" and whether any political strategists had spoken to him. Co-host Steve Doocy further said that while it was "a long time before the next election," Carson would be retiring soon. This prompted guest co-host Alisyn Camerota to assure Carson that they were "counting down the days" until his retirement, when he would be available to run for office:
CAMEROTA: Well Dr. Ben Carson, always great to talk to you, we're counting down the days 'till your retirement as we know you are, and it's about 130 right now. So thanks.
CARSON: How about 102?
CAMEROTA: Oh, 102? Got it, I'll change the calendar.
News Corp., which owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, has promoted Ben Carson as a potential candidate ever since Carson delivered a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in February. The Wall Street Journal published an editorial the day after the speech headlined "Ben Carson for President," that encouraged readers to watch the video of his speech and highlighted Carson's ideas on a flat tax rate and health care. Fox News also celebrated Carson throughout the month, with Doocy praising Carson as "fantastic" and Sean Hannity asking Carson in an interview "would you ever run for president, sir? ... I would vote for you in a heartbeat."
Fox News has a history of creating and promoting conservative candidates for political office. Prior to running for president, Herman Cain was a frequent guest of Fox News and was touted as a possible presidential contender on the network. During former Republican Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown's successful 2010 Senate run, the network openly helped him advocate for his candidacy, helped him fundraise, and smeared his opponent. And Fox News hosts promoted Marco Rubio's fundraising efforts during his run for Senator in Florida while the network praised him as a "political star."