Following a months-long campaign from Fox News to demonize food stamp recipients, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut $39 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The cuts would result in nearly 4 million Americans -- mostly elderly, children, and the disabled -- losing or seeing a reduction in their benefits.
While Fox News has denigrated SNAP recipients for years, its campaign came to a head in August when the network aired a misleading special titled, "The Great Food Stamp Binge." Their shoddy report focused on a clownish man named Jason Greenslate, "a blissfully jobless California surfer" who has taken advantage of SNAP benefits.
The special labeled Greenslate "the new face of food stamps," devoting two full segments to the unlikable freeloader while following him along in his day to day activities. But labeling Greenslate a representative of SNAP recipients flies in the face of readily available data, which shows that the fraud and waste rate in the SNAP program is less than 1 percent and that 41 percent of food stamp recipients live "in a household with earnings."
In early September, Politico reported that Fox distributed copies of the special to members of the House in anticipation of the upcoming vote:
[O]ver the August recess, Fox News aired a sympathetic report entitled "The Great Food Stamp Binge" -- videos of which are now being distributed by Fox staff to House members.
POLITICO inquiries to Fox News regarding the videos have gone unanswered since Saturday. But both Republican and Democratic offices confirmed that copies have been dropped off unsolicited in recent days, and the broadcast has already provided colorful fodder in promoting the Cantor package.
In remarks on the House floor, Congressman David Price (D-NC) said that "Fox News is trying to help the Republicans pushing this mean-spirited legislation by focusing on a California surfer who abuses the SNAP system." A September 16 article from Roll Call also detailed Greenslate's role in a memo distributed by House Republican leadership that outlined SNAP talking points:
The surfer, unnamed in a memo Cantor circulated to GOP lawmakers earlier this month, is Jason Greenslate, 29. A Fox News report in August highlighted Greenslate, an unemployed musician perpetually in a cap and sunglasses, buying lobster rolls with $200-a-month benefits and laughing at the idea of a 9-to-5 job.
Conservative bloggers quickly cited Greenslate as a prime example of a flawed government program. But Democrats will counter that Greenslate is atypical of SNAP recipients, and they are expected to highlight more sympathetic beneficiaries.
Fox's effort may well have influenced the House Republicans' vote to cut $40 billion from the SNAP program. As USA Today reported:The bill would cause 3 million people to lose benefits while another 850,000 would see their benefits cut, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
President Obama has promised to veto the bill if it passes the U.S. Senate.