A Wall Street Journal editorial and a Fox News show of Journal editorial members ignored a major contributor to rising college costs -- state budget cuts to higher education -- while falsely blaming federal financial aid for the cost increase.
Fox host Chris Wallace used a discussion on the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington to ask whether the time has come for the government to stop "putting a thumb on the scale" for African Americans with affirmative action policies. Wallace's question ignores the continuing problem of economic inequality between whites and African Americans.
The August 25 edition of Fox News Sunday discussed racial progress since the 1963 March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom. During the segment, Wallace raised the issue of affirmative action and asked Fox contributor Kirsten Powers, "50 years after the March on Washington, one of the questions is how long - well, how much longer the government should give special treatment to minorities." After Powers noted that historically unemployment among African Americans has been higher than among white Americans, Wallace asked contributor Scott Brown, "At what point have we gone as far as the country, as the government, needs to go in putting a thumb on the scale, if you will? You know, it is 50 years after Martin Luther King's speech. Obviously there were hundreds of years of discrimination. But at what point do we, in effect, say, 'you're on your own?'"
As Powers noted, the March on Washington was about civil rights, but it was also about economic inequality. Today, white families tend to earn twice as much income as do African-American families, while African Americans experience double the unemployment rate. There's also a racial gap when it comes to wealth. According to the New York Times, "Many experts consider the wealth gap to be more pernicious than the income gap, as it perpetuates from generation to generation and has a powerful effect on economic security and mobility." CNN reported that as of 2010, white Americans were worth as much as 22 times more than African-Americans:
One of the greatest drivers of the wealth and income gaps is the lack of higher education, according to a report from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University. The study found that "obtaining a college degree is vital to economic success and translates into substantially greater lifetime income and wealth." And in general, those with higher educational attainment are less likely to be unemployed.
Multiple studies have shown that banning affirmative action would result in lower enrollment rates among African Americans. One Princeton study declared, "Ending affirmative action would devastate most minority college enrollment."
Wallace mischaracterized affirmative action as "putting a thumb on the scale" in favor African Americans. In reality, it's about removing the thumb that was already there.
Pat Buchanan found the silver linings in segregation, claiming that segregated schools were "the transmission belts of patriotism and traditional values rooted in biblical truths" and noting that segregated schools today would be deemed unconstitutional, despite having "graduated hardworking, law-abiding and productive citizens."
From Buchanan's August 23 syndicated column:
If we go back to the end of World War II, 90 percent of black families consisted of a mother and father and children raised and disciplined by their parents. The churches to which these families went on Sundays were stronger. Black schools may have been largely segregated, but they were also the transmission belts of patriotism and traditional values rooted in biblical truths and a Christian faith.
Though such schools graduated hardworking, law-abiding and productive citizens, today they would be closed as unconstitutional.
Indeed, all of those character- and conscience-forming institutions of yesterday are in an advanced state of decline today.
Fox News falsely claimed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would force families to receive home visits from government officials to assess at-risk children, when in reality an initiative authorized by the law simply expands existing programs in states that are entirely voluntary and which research shows have improved maternal health and child development.
On the August 21 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed "a brand new federal program" would spend $224 million to send "government home inspectors to your house" to help at-risk children, and asked if this was "Obamacare trumping your right to privacy and snooping on you and your family." Fox Business' Stuart Varney agreed that it was "an intrusion directly into your home and the way you raise your children," and the two proceeded to claim that "the Obama snooper" would visit families randomly and unannounced. On-screen text described the program as "Nanny state solutions: Forced home visits for 'at-risk' kids."
But the program is voluntary. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced $224 million in grants from the ACA's Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) to support states' existing home visit programs that bring "nurses, social workers, or other health care professionals to meet with at-risk families that agree to meet with them in their homes" [emphasis added]. And in a 2010 grant announcement, the federal government defined the covered home visits "as an evidence-based program, implemented in response to findings from a needs assessment, that includes home visiting as a primary service strategy ... and is offered on a voluntary basis."
In Rhode Island, for example, families can request a home visit through community health services, or health care providers can refer families that are interested in the program. The service will then work with families to "provide them the available programs and resources they want."
The programs offer a variety of services, including educating parents about child development and supporting school readiness, linking low-income mothers to prenatal health care, ensuring children have access to health care and immunizations, helping families access supplemental food programs and financial aid, and encouraging healthy parent-child relationships to reduce incidents of child abuse. The Department of Health and Human Services conducted an extensive review of the research on several different home visit models, and found evidence that many of the programs improved maternal health, child development, reductions in child maltreatment, and family economic self-sufficiency.
Similarly, The New York Times reported that a 2007 study of high-risk families -- including parents who were under 18, unmarried, low-income, or had inadequate prenatal care -- found that infants were more than twice as likely to survive if their family had received home visits with health workers before and after birth.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Fox Business anchor Melissa Francis claimed on Fox's Your World With Neil Cavuto that federal student aid spurs universities to increase tuition and that going to a top-tier university isn't worth incurring the debt it entails.
On August 20, Cavuto asked, "The more aid you give, the more excuse [universities] can have to ratchet up the tuition, right?" Francis agreed, saying that "it just gets absorbed right into the price." Francis then said, "It's like any time you print money. It causes inflation." Later in the segment, Francis referenced a recent study by Demos to assert that student loan debt may be costlier than it seems, claiming, "Down the road that costs them $200,000 worth of wealth, because as you're paying off those loans that's money you're not investing in the market, that's a house you're not buying, that's money you're not putting in your 401k."
Cavuto and Francis cited growing federal student assistance as a reason for increasing tuition costs. The vast majority of studies, however, have held that growing federal aid is not responsible for increasing tuition rates. President Obama also recently signed a new law that lowers student loan interest rates and is embarking on a bus tour to call for more action on college affordability.
Francis also claimed that for some, vocational schools may be a better financial choice in the long run than universities, because the cost of the education is not as great. But Francis ignored the fact that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in most cases those with higher education will make more money and are less likely to be unemployed.
Similar claims about federal Pell Grants have been made by the Wall Street Journal, and Fox News has repeatedly attacked federal student aid by suggesting that enrollment in fictitious 'cheaper' colleges or forgoing college entirely are solutions for those struggling with the costs of college.
ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer stated that "the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow" to the Head Start program -- by implementing the automatic spending cuts commonly known as the sequester -- before noting that "critics say" the cuts could have been avoided. While Sawyer did note that the cuts were linked to sequestration, she framed them as an action taken by the Obama administration while failing to highlight the responsibility Republicans in Congress share or mentioning the White House's long standing offers first to avert sequestration and now to replace it.
On August 18, The Washington Post reported that as many as 57,000 children lost access to Head Start's health, nutrition, and early education programs due to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. While covering that story, Sawyer claimed on ABC World News' August 19 broadcast that "an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program head start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education."
SAWYER: And now back here at home an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program Head Start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education. Word tonight: the administration says the sequester forced cuts, but critics say there may have been another way. And tonight 57,000 children are facing the possibility they will no longer get educational support.
Sawyer appeared to lay blame squarely on the Obama administration's shoulders, or at least ignored the responsibility held by Republicans. Sawyer reported that "critics say there may have been another way," but in fact, Obama offered another way with a plan to avert sequestration. Republicans refused to budge on a deal and some even said the cuts were necessary. Once sequestration hit, Obama called on Congress to replace it with a more balanced approach. The president has also been an advocate of early childhood education and even mentioned it in his 2013 State of the Union.
ABC's coverage was brief -- a common problem in the media's sequestration reporting that Media Matters has previously noted -- but left out critical context that gave the appearance of laying the blame on Obama.
Fox News used a selectively edited video to falsely claim an Obama administration education initiative, Common Core, would reward students for getting math problems wrong.
Co-host Steve Doocy falsely claimed that the video revealed students could answer math questions incorrectly and still "get it right" under Common Core, simply if they "explained" their wrong answer to their teacher. Guest co-host Anna Kooiman furthered the attack by suggesting a student who learned math under Common Core might become "a doctor and operat[e] on the wrong knee."
But the unedited video of August's comments reveals that she very specifically stated that wrong answers would be corrected, and that the school simply wants to ensure that students understood the process behind coming to the correct answer:
AUGUST: Even if they said, '3 x 4 was 11,' if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer really in words and in oral explanations, and they showed it in the picture but they just got the final number wrong, we're really more focusing on the how.
OFF-SCREEN: You're going to be correcting them, right?
AUGUST: Absolutely, absolutely. We want our students to compute correctly. But the emphasis is really moving more towards the explanation, and the how, and the why, and 'can I really talk through the procedures that I went through to get this answer, and not just knowing that it's 12, but why is it 12? How do I know that?
While Doocy described the program as "a new national curriculum the Obama administration is imposing on schools," Common Core is not a curriculum, but a set of standards that delineates what skills students should acquire at each grade level. States have the option to decide whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards, and school districts determine their own curricula to comply. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the program. Many private and religious schools have opted-out.
Kathleen Porter-Magee of the Thomas B. Fordham institute and Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute explained in the National Review that according to Fordham Institute research, compared "with existing state standards ... for most states, Common Core is a great improvement with regard to rigor and cohesiveness."
Fox News hosts mislead viewers and each other by hyping the cost of a White House plan to fund high-speed Wi-Fi for schools while obscuring the plan's small impact on individual taxpayers.
On June 6, the White House unveiled the ConnectED initiative, a plan that would give 99 percent of American students access to "high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless" at school by 2018. The plan would be funded through a minimal tax increase on mobile phone users, which the as The Washington Post reported, "could work out to about $12 in fees for every cellphone user over three years."
Fox News similarly reported on the August 15 edition of Fox & Friends First that the initiative would only cost individual consumers about five dollars per year.
But a few hours later on Fox & Friends, the hosts and contributors seemed unable to accurately report what the predicted cost would be for individuals. Though co-host Gretchen Carlson asked Fox Business contributor Charles Payne to specify how much the initiative would "cost each of us as individuals," Payne claimed the "administration doesn't say" and instead hyped the program's net cost and unspecified higher taxes on the middle class:
PAYNE: The administration doesn't say. There's some estimates say it costs like $6 billion but you know how these estimates are when the government gets involved. We know It's going to be multibillions and billions of dollars. It's going to hit individuals, this brings us to the third point. Middle-class taxes, you know, there won't be middle-class tax hikes, but we know already there have been. These are the kinds of things that are taxes on normal, regular people. This would be a tax on every single person watching the show who didn't get a free phone from the government, they are going to have to chip in.
Later, a Fox News reporter once again explained that the increase would only be about five dollars per year, but Carlson remained confused about the ConnectED program's expected cost to individual consumers, saying in a subsequent segment: "I think it would be about $5 a year, or maybe $5 a billing cycle. I'm not exactly sure. But the entire cost is $4 to $6 billion."
Payne and Carlson both followed the media's common practice of relying on abstract and sensational raw number figures when discussing budgetary issues while either ignoring or misreporting the context that would make those figures relevant to viewers. Economists have noted that focusing on raw numbers rather than budgetary percentages or individual costs in economic reporting is often little more than a scare tactic intended to drum up fears about the economy. And Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has noted that the reliance on raw numbers also increases the likelihood that outlets will misreport information.
It's hard to do justice to the extreme views of the new chairman for Oregon's Republican party. But reports on Art Robinson often didn't even come close, merely mentioning that he is a "skeptic of human-caused global warming," while leaving out the chairman's anti-scientific statements on evolution, AIDS, and nuclear waste.
Robinson is best known for organizing a petition rejecting climate change that claims to have 31,072 American scientist signatories, with "scientist" defined as anyone who claims to have a bachelor's degree in various fields including computer science, statistics, and metallurgy. Robinson, who is a chemist but has not done any scientific research into climate change, has acknowledged that fake names such as the Spice Girl's Geri Halliwell made it onto the list. The petition says little to rebut the consensus of the vast majority of scientists, as it does not state what percentage of people responded to the survey. Robinson told the conspiracy website WND.com in 2002 that ""[t]here is absolutely not a shred of evidence that humans are causing any change in the climate by generating CO2."
Furthermore, at no point during Robinson's candidacy for GOP chairman did the two largest Oregon papers (The Oregonian and The Eugene Register-Guard)* mention that Robinson has made several other claims that run counter to scientific research:
Nor did they mention* the following extreme views and conspiratorial claims from the former Congressional candidate (in fact, The Oregonian published an op-ed suggesting that Robinson has not engaged in "offensive and bizarre comments"):
From the August 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News' Eric Bolling hosted Hotair.com's editor-at-large Mary Katharine Ham to push school choice and attack public schools, but failed to mention that school choice does little to address educational disparities and may actually disadvantage low income students.
On the August 8 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, guest host Eric Bolling criticized Matt Damon's decision to send his children to private schools despite advocating for the public school system. Ham used the story - which has received much right wing media hype - to push school choice as an alternative to investing in public schools:
HAM: I would love everybody to have that choice instead of spending all this money on schools that don't work.
BOLLING: Sure, and it really isn't that complicated. There's the charter school program, there's the voucher programs that are available, but they don't seem to want to do that. Why don't--what's the push back on those?
HAM: Well, the argument from the left, and from union leaders and frankly folks like Matt Damon is we need to invest more in public schools, it's always about more money and less accountability, is frankly what it feels like, and they're often very explicit about that. The fact is, holding schools accountable is part of making them work, and sometimes in order to do that you have to give kids a ticket elsewhere so that schools realize, hmm, maybe I should be serving this kid. And if that happens through charter schools, fine, that's a form of public schools that can be held accountable. But I do find it very interesting when the left tells the rest of us we have to invest in public schools and then they take their, perhaps their most rich investment, their own children, and they put them in private schools.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney misleadingly claimed federal student loans are subsidized "at great cost to taxpayers," ignoring the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the federal student loan program will contribute more than $50 billion in revenue to the Treasury in 2013 alone.
Varney appeared on Fox & Friends July 18 to discuss a deal reached by a bipartisan group of senators to avert a short-term hike in the interest rates students pay for federally-subsidized loans. While Varney mentioned problems with the high cost of attending college and high levels of indebtedness among college graduates, he claimed the deal doesn't solve "the underlying problem which is we're subsidizing all of these loans at great cost to the taxpayer."
While the rising cost of college and high debt levels for graduates are a serious problem, the fact is according to the CBO subsidized student loans do not cost the federal government any money. On June 16, USA Today reported that the May 2013 CBO projection about the federal student loan program showed that the government could expect "a record $50 billion profit on student loans this year." Although the estimates for future years don't take into account the rates in the new deal, on July 18 USA Today also reported that the new Senate deal is "estimated to reduce the deficit by $715 million over the next decade."
A February post at The Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog explained how the federal government makes a profit by subsidizing student loans:
One reason the government continues to make money off of the programs is that borrowers generally can't discharge student debt through bankruptcy, and the government can garnish wages, tax refunds and even Social Security payments to collect debt. That minimizes losses.
But there's another big factor: The government is borrowing at exceptionally low rates right now, while charging students higher rates to borrow.
The 10-year Treasury yield is currently hovering around 2%, up a bit from the historic lows hit in the last year. Meantime, the government is charging most student borrowers an interest rate of 6.8%, a rate set by Congress and which took effect in 2006. (Some borrowers are charged 3.4%, thanks to temporary subsidies approved by Congress in recent years.)
Thus the spread--the difference between the interest rate the government pays to borrow and what it charges to students--is unusually large right now.
The Washington Post's Wonkblog explained that some economists favor a different method of accounting that would include risk factors similar to private sector loans. Using this so-called "fair value" accounting method, the profits from the federal student loan program would vary by year with some years resulting in deficit and others in surplus. However, even according to this different analysis, in 2013 the program is still projected to result in profit.
Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have criticized the federal government for ever making a profit from indebted college graduates, arguing that the program is a public good, but that doesn't give Varney license to mislead in this debate.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh severely misrepresented several years of student loan-related legislation in an attempt to smear Democrats while pushing yet another unfounded conspiracy.
On July 1, interest rates on government-sponsored Stafford Loans automatically doubled from 3.4 to 6.8 percent. Myriad provisions to avoid the rate hike have been advocated by various caucuses in the House and Senate, as well as by the White House.
On the July 1 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh stated that "it was Democrat legislation that doubled the student loan interest rate, 3.4 to 6.8 percent." He went on to claim that, originally, "Democrats intentionally wrote law to make student loan interest rates double in an election year" so they could "blame it on the Republicans."
While Limbaugh attempted to pin the automatic rate hike solely on Democrats, the legislation in question -- the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 -- passed both houses of Congress with broad bipartisan support. On September 7, 2007, the bill passed 292-97 in the House of Representatives with 77 Republican votes before passing 79-12 in the Senate with 33 Republican votes. The legislation did not face so much as a cloture motion from the Republican minority.
Limbaugh's claim that House and Senate Democrats intentionally designed the bill to raise interest rates to previous levels during an election year to help Democrats' election prospects in 2012 is also false. The final rate expiration date specified in the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 was negotiated with Republicans to go into effect on July 1, 2012 - the original Democratic drafts had the rate cut expiring in 2013.
Last summer, near the height of the election, President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney both lobbied Congress to delay the rate hike for twelve months specifically to avoid making student loan rates an election issue, according to The Washington Post.
Finally, after falsely claiming that Democrats would use the returning issue of student loan rates as a "bludgeon" against Republicans, Limbaugh reiterated a long-debunked claim that the increased revenue from a student loan rate increase would go to fund Obamacare, claiming, "The bottom line is that the student loan rate is going to double. It's gonna go from 3.4% to 6.8%, and here's the reason why: Congress has figured out they need that additional money to spend on Obamacare. "
In the weeks leading up to an automatic doubling of federal student loan interest rates, broadcast and cable nightly and weekend news devoted little time explaining the effects of the rate hike and the expiration of other programs designed to help American students, graduates and families with increasingly high education costs.
In 2007, Congress passed a law to reduce interest rates on federal subsidized student loans, the Stafford Loan program, to 3.4 percent. The law was intended to reduce college costs and increase access to higher education. The Budget Control Act of 2011 ended several provisions of previous law; foremost setting an expiration date of July 1, 2013, for Stafford Loan interest rates. Today, those rates automatically double to their previous 6.8 percent.
Media Matters research found the looming student loan deadline has been largely ignored by major news networks in the past several weeks. Since May 23, the date the House of Representatives passed a party line student loan plan of its own, primetime and weekend television news has offered just 13 brief segments on student loan issues.
Absent from media analysis has been any real discussion of economists' recommendations for dealing with student debt. Many economists, including Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, have supported various efforts to defray college costs, expand federal funding, and provide restructuring and refinancing options for student and family borrowers.
In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report on student loan affordability. It found that expanded refinancing options for student debt could have a simulative effect on economic growth, household formation and homeownership among borrowers. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York had previously found that student debt was a driving force in decreasing home and automotive purchases among recent graduates.
The rate increase set to take effect on July 1 will directly affect millions of Americans while making college less affordable for prospective students. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the higher rate could cost average borrowers more than $1,000 to take out a subsidized federal loan. College graduates are saddled with an enormous debt burden - more than $1 trillion through 2013, according to The New York Times.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Sunday and evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from May 23 through June 30. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: student loan, college loan, student debt, college debt, student, debt, loan, and college.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Evening News (CBS), Face the Nation, Nightly News with Brian Williams, Meet the Press with David Gregory, Fox News Sunday, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs (such as Anderson Cooper 360 and Hardball with Chris Matthews), only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of increasing student debt or the July 1 interest rate deadline. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, and re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5p.m. to 11p.m. window.
Right-wing media appear stunned as Justice Anthony Kennedy refused to join his more radical conservative colleagues on the Supreme Court and strike down affirmative action in higher education, instead reaffirming modern civil rights law that holds race-conscious admissions policies remain necessary for equal opportunity in today's society.
Kennedy's 7-1 majority opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is essentially the reiteration of his controlling analysis in Parents Involved v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007), which affirmed the constitutionality and continued necessity of race-conscious programs that seek to prevent the resegregation of public education.
In lockstep with conservative activists who are using the closely split Supreme Court as an opportunity to overturn decades of civil rights law, right-wing media have been repeatedly clamoring for the opposite of what just occurred in Fisher. So far, right-wing media coverage has been muted or is incorrectly pretending Kennedy's opinion breaks significant new ground.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly on America Live - in addition to dredging up the myth that the plaintiff in question was rejected in the admissions process because of her race - was shocked at Fisher's utterly unsurprising reminder that government's use of race typically requires strict scrutiny from the courts. From University of California Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky's leading treatise, Constitutional Law, Principles and Policies, most recently updated in 2006:
It now is clearly established that strict scrutiny is used to evaluate all government affirmative action plans. In Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena (1995), the Supreme Court said: "[A]ll racial classifications, imposed by whatever federal, state, or local governmental actor, must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny." The Court reaffirmed that strict scrutiny is the test for affirmative action programs in its most recent cases, Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) and Gratz v. Bollinger (2003).
In Fisher, Kennedy wrote for a near-universal Supreme Court that has now sent a challenge to the University of Texas' affirmative action program back down to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit because it had not correctly applied the Court's precedent in this area of equal protection law. As has been the law since 1978, upheld most recently in 2003, the use of race as one factor among many in individualized and holistic considerations of applicants to institutions of higher education remains both necessary and constitutional to ensure the diversity of America's future leaders.