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."
President Obama has nominated Thomas E. Perez as Secretary of Labor. Right-wing media used this announcement to push false attacks about Perez based on his service in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and other civil rights work and advocacy.
Fox News host Alisyn Camerota falsely claimed "your premiums are going to double" under the new health care law, when in fact potential increases would only affect a small portion of the insured population and would be partially offset by tax credits.
On Fox & Friends, Camerota cited an Associated Press report on health insurance reform and claimed it showed "your premiums are going to double and that your bills could double, this is really stunning news for lots of Americans."
But the Associated Press report found that the potential increases in health care premiums would affect "a relatively small slice of the insured population" and that the new policies are expected to reduce health care costs for many. The report also found that tax credits will offset some of the increases, particularly for young adults:
There also will be tax credits, or subsidies, given to people with incomes that fall within 400 percent of the federal poverty level. For 2013, 400 percent of the poverty level for all states except Alaska and Hawaii would be $94,200. These credits won't lower premiums, but they can ease the insurance bill depending on a person's income.
The credits should help the 20-something customers that insurers warn will see big premium hikes, said Linda Blumberg, an economist with the Health Policy Center of the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan policy research organization.
"While these folks are potentially facing some premium increases due to all these reforms, they also are the ones most likely to get the financial help from the exchanges," she said.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) bills itself as an event convened to "crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America" that will showcase "all of the leading conservative organizations and speakers." Media covering CPAC 2013 should know that the conference's speakers, from the most prominent to the lesser-known, have a history of launching smears, pushing conspiracy theories, and hyping myths about the validity of President Obama's birth certificate.
Fox News parroted the accusation that Thomas Perez, a possible Labor Secretary nominee, "worked with hardcore Islamist groups" and approved of efforts to weaken airline security measures, but that accusation is based on comments Perez made at an interfaith conference where he emphasized the need to respect civil rights when improving security protocols.
The Los Angeles Times reported on March 10 that President Obama is likely to nominate Perez for Secretary of Labor. He is currently the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, and has been repeatedly vilified by Fox News.
On Fox & Friends First, co-host Patti Ann Browne claimed Perez has a "controversial past" and was "said to have worked with hardcore Islamist groups and applauded those who lobbied against airline security measures."
Browne did not cite evidence for her claim, but her criticism echoed a Daily Caller piece from July 2012 that claimed Perez attended a meeting in D.C. in October 2011 with "hardcore Islamists" and "complimented the Islamists for lobbying against airline security measures," almost the exact words used on Fox & Friends First.
Perez's full remarks from the October 2011 meeting reveal he praised the work done by faith leaders around the country to help combat discrimination based on national origin in airport security screenings.
Perez spoke at the October 2011 Civil Rights Summit hosted by George Washington University Law School on Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian Americans experiencing discrimination and hate crimes following the September 11, 2001 attacks. The event was attended by faith leaders and advocates from many religions, including an imam and a rabbi.
While there, Perez thanked the audience for giving the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security feedback on airport safety protocols, producing more effective measures that used "a scalpel, not a meat ax" to identify threats and emphasizing the need to protect civil rights:
I talked about reflection and recalibration and let me give you two examples of the need for continuing reflection and recalibration. You may recall the Christmas Day attempted bombing on the airplane. And you will recall the aftermath of that bombing in which certain protocols were put in place that made categorical targeting, that is to say, individuals from certain countries, were categorically being asked a series of additional questions. What did we hear in the aftermath of that? We heard a lot of feedback from people in this room and leaders across the country that we could do a better job. That we should be using a scalpel, not a meat ax. And that we should reconsider what's happening.
And a few months later, as you know, and thanks to you, we did just that. And the Department of Homeland Security recalibrated what it was doing, and I think as a result, it was a more effective mechanism. Because once again, we must always remember, as Jim Cole told us this morning: Don't fall into the trap of thinking that it's either safe streets, secure borders, and secure communities or protection of civil rights and civil liberties. It will always be both.