Right-wing media have repeatedly used dishonest and misleading charts from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to decry spending on nutrition assistance and other programs for needy Americans.
Fox News, Fox Nation, and The Weekly Standard have, over the course of many months, taken charts from Sessions' staff depicting spending on food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and other spending on low-income Americans in grossly misleading ways with out-of-context numbers. On June 12, Fox & Friends First cited Sessions when airing a graphic showing spending on SNAP being more than five times greater than spending on veterans job training and education programs:
Similar charts appeared on Fox Nation and The Weekly Standard. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projection that is cited on the graph does not list any spending on veterans job training and education, so that number cannot be verified. But the White House projects that spending on this program will increase over the next five years, after it already grew dramatically after 2009 -- while spending on SNAP is projected to decrease over the same five-year period.
But it is ridiculous to compare a veterans education program -- which is limited to only military veterans and thus a very small segment of the population -- to SNAP, which is an income security program (indeed, it is listed as such in the CBO document) and is open to every American that meets eligibility requirements. And many veterans and their families are eligible for SNAP and active-duty service members and their families use the benefits. But if one was to look at income security spending for veterans, CBO projections show that more is actually spent on veterans -- a total of $801 billion on income security for veterans over 10 years, and a much larger amount than the veterans program highlighted by Sessions and the right-wing media.
During the segment, Fox Business' Diane Macedo noted that "the USDA also provides bonuses totaling about $50 million per year to states that meet high enrollment targets." These awards, which Sessions brought up on Fox News in June 2012, date back to the Bush administration, and have their origin in the 2002 farm bill.
While the five largest network and cable Sunday shows underreported economic developments in the past month, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry provided ample discussion of the economy.
A Media Matters analysis of Sunday show coverage from May 12 to June 9 found that ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC devoted less than 36 total minutes to the economy. This lapse in coverage occurred despite multiple economic developments emerging over that period.
Of the Sunday shows analyzed, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry stood out for its economic coverage. In five weeks, the show dedicated almost three hours to discussion on the economy -- by far the most coverage of the seven shows Media Matters analyzed. Melissa Harris-Perry was almost five times more likely to discuss the economy than CNN and network Sunday shows combined.
The show's discussion of the economy was diverse, touching on a range of topics including poverty in America, food insecurity, student loan reform, and the recent rebound of the housing market.
The show's ample and diverse economic coverage comes at a critical time -- according to a May 7 Gallup poll, a majority of Americans view an array of economic issues as high priorities.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren lamented that "we do nothing about the poor," but has repeatedly hosted guests who have attacked the federal food stamp program, which helps keep millions out of poverty and limits the effects of poverty and unemployment.
On the June 9 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren decried a lack of attention to impoverished Americans, saying, "The thing that disturbs me is that the economy I see is a three legged stool: the rich, the middle class, and the poor. And all three have to be winning and surviving, and we do nothing about the poor. You know, we play with all these numbers and look at all the unemployment but we still aren't digging into the inner city and going into the poverty, the huge poverty at the bottom in this city."
But Van Susteren's concern for the poor is inconsistent with attacks by guests on her show on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program that is designed to keep people out of poverty.
From the April 29 edition of Fox News Channel's Hannity:
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From the April 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News accused President Obama of promoting dependency and illegal immigration with a food stamp program that started under the Bush administration.
On the April 26 edition of Your World, Cavuto attacked a partnership that educates Spanish-speaking populations about Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility. Wright claimed that "the Obama administration wants to encourage government dependency and, it looks like, illegal immigration" with the program. Cavuto agreed with Wright and added "it looks like we are doing a beeline to help folks who should not be here in the first place."
But the partnership was created under President George W. Bush in 2004. Salon reported that it "doesn't actually provide food stamps to immigrants," only information on benefits that are already available to those who had been in the country legally for five years:
Indeed, official USDA guidance notes, "SNAP eligibility has never been extended to undocumented non-citizens." An immigrant hoping to take advantage of American food stamps would have to get a green card, move here, wait five years, and then cash in. It's not exactly a get-rich-quick scheme.
There are some exceptions for children and the infirm, but fewer than 4 percent of food stamp users are non-citizen legal immigrants.
Why would the U.S. want to educate Mexican-Americans about nutrition assistance? Because Latinos have disproportionately high hunger rates.
Fox Business commentator Charles Payne criticized programs providing food and other assistance to low-income families, bizarrely claiming the social safety net keeps people mired in poverty despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In an America's Newsroom segment, guest host Alisyn Camerota said that enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program, has increased 70 percent since 2008 and asked Payne, her guest, "Is this all just a by-product of this slow recovery?"
Payne agreed that the slow recovery is "a large part" of the cause, but went on to claim that food stamps, as well as other public benefits, actually prevent poor and middle-class Americans from improving their economic status:
PAYNE: For instance, if you're making, in California, $44,000 a year and your boss offers you a raise to 50,000, you would probably say, "No thanks. Cause I don't want to lose out on things like food stamp benefits, local benefits, my child care tax credit, my earned income tax credit."
In other words, you know, we're a very generous society. But what we've actually ended up doing is creating a wall, a giant barrier for people to move out of poverty into the middle class because that initial transition, they actually lose money and lose benefits.
Payne is wrong (even setting aside the fact that a Californian family earning $44,000 would almost never qualify for food stamps). Social safety net programs are not "a giant barrier" for people seeking to escape poverty: they keep millions of Americans out of poverty every year.
From the March 28 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has a long and documented history of pushing economic misinformation on his program, reinforced recently by economist Richard Wolff who said O'Reilly's claims about the economy are false.
On the March 25 edition of the independently syndicated Democracy Now!, former University of Massachusetts, Amherst economics professor Richard Wolff responded to O'Reilly's claim that European countries are going bankrupt because they are "nanny states," stating:
WOLFF: You know, he gets away with saying things which no undergraduate in the United States with a responsible economics professor could ever get away with. If you want to refer to things as "nanny states" then the place you go in Europe is not the southern tier -- Portugal, Spain, and Italy -- the place you go are Germany and Scandinavia because they provide more social services to their people than anybody else. And guess what? Not only are they not in trouble economically, they are the winners of the current situation.
[O'Reilly's] just making it up as he goes along to conform to an ideological position that is harder and harder for folks like him to sustain, so he has to reach further and further into fantasy.
O'Reilly's misinformation on economic issues, however, is not just contained to commenting on the European experience. Here are 10 other examples of O'Reilly's failure to accurately understand economics:
10. O'Reilly Falsely Compared The U.S. Debt Situation With That Of Greece. In an effort to force Congress to enact deep spending cuts, O'Reilly claimed that "like Greece, Ireland, and Spain...the USA has bankrupted itself." However, economists agree that the U.S.-Greece comparison is misguided and ignores the structure of the countries' economies.
9. O'Reilly Dismissed The Recession's Effect On Gas Prices. O'Reilly expressed doubt over the economic downturn's effect on gas prices, claiming that President Obama's explanation for low gas prices was "totally bogus." In reality, gas prices dropped precipitously during the recession, a fact that many news outlets -- including Fox -- reported at the time.
8. O'Reilly Claimed That Food Stamps Have No Economic Value. In a discussion about President Obama's stimulus bill, O'Reilly claimed that increasing spending on food stamps has "nothing to do with stimulating the economy." However, economists largely disagree, and studies have indicated that food stamps are among the most stimulative of government programs.
7. O'Reilly Suggested Bush Tax Cuts Increased Revenue. In an interview with former President Clinton, O'Reilly claimed that because of "the tax cuts under Bush, more money flowed into the federal government." However, when tax revenues are expressed as a share of the economy, the Bush tax cuts resulted in the lowest level in any decade since the 1950s, a fact noted by many economists.
6. O'Reilly Dismissed The Causes Of Income Inequality. In a discussion with Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers, O'Reilly brushed aside income inequality, claiming, "Income inequality is bull. Nobody gives you anything, you earn it." However, O'Reilly's statements ignored the fact that, at the time he said them, taxes on top income earners are at historic lows, and that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "typical middle-class households face higher rates than some high-income households."
5. O'Reilly Blamed Undocumented Immigrants For California's Budget Problems. In a segment on California's budgetary problems, O'Reilly claimed that an "enormous amount of money" was being spent on the "illegal alien problem." However, O'Reilly ignored that fact that a majority of undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and that granting them legal status could have a positive impact on the economy.
4. O'Reilly Repeatedly Suggested That "Irresponsible Behavior And Laziness" Cause Poverty. O'Reilly has consistently characterized the poor as "lazy" and "irresponsible," ignoring the consequences of the recent economic downturn and the rise in income inequality in recent decades.
3. O'Reilly Claimed That The Economy "Would Be Fine" If We Cut Spending To 2008 Levels. In a segment discussing sequestration, O'Reilly called for a rollback in spending to 2008 levels, claiming that the economy "would be fine" if spending was cut to that level. However, this proposal that has been repeatedly criticized by economists as economically dangerous, costing as many as 590,000 jobs.
2. O'Reilly Claimed That The Stimulus Was A Failure. O'Reilly has repeatedly stated that President Obama's stimulus package was a failure, ignoring the fact that, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, it increased employment by over 1 million jobs and raised GDP by between 0.8 and 2.5 percent.
1. O'Reilly Repeatedly Claimed That Economy Is Worse Off Than It Was When Obama First Took Office. O'Reilly has consistently stated that the Obama administration's policies are hurting the economy, even going so far as to claim that it is worse off than it was prior to Obama's first inauguration. However, by almost every measure of economic health, including unemployment, net job creation, and GDP, the economy has improved greatly since 2009.
Fox News hosts absurdly claimed that the opportunity to register to vote while applying for food stamps entrenches voters in a "cycle of dependency." But most food stamp participants remain on the program for limited periods of time, and the voter registration inclusion is a national policy that has been in place for decades.
On March 22, Fox hosts Stuart Varney and Steve Doocy used a discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, to forward the Republican myth that the program generates a culture of dependency that locks liberal governments into positions of power. Discussing the use of SNAP benefits in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, both hosts mocked the voter registration option on SNAP applications, ignoring the fact that it has been national policy since 1993 to allow the opportunity to register to vote at state offices that handle public benefits.
DOOCY: Extraordinarily, a third of the people in that entire city, a third, are on food stamps. And what's happened now, the cycle of dependency, first the people were relying on the food stamps and now the businesses rely on the people with the food stamps. So without the food stamps, the businesses would go belly up.
DOOCY: And Stuart, Rhode Island is a very liberal state. We know that, we've talked about that before. [...] You were telling me about when you apply for a SNAP card, what do they do?
VARNEY: Well, the mayor of Woonsocket, this Leo Fontaine, his honor, he held up the food stamp application forms and he went through it, he showed them it; this is what you get when you apply for food stamps. And then he turned to the back of the package of papers, there is a voter registration form.
DOOCY: Of course!
VARNEY: So you sign up to vote at the same time you sign up for food stamps.
VARNEY: And you are encouraged thereby, I believe, to go out and vote for the party, vote for the politician that continues the food stamp program.
DOOCY: Complete circle.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, the SNAP program has proven successful at stabilizing families during tough times, and helps facilitate the transition to self-sufficiency. The USDA also reported that half of all new participants leave the program in under nine months.
Additionally, the USDA has reported that "41 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings," and "for most of these households, earnings were the primary source of income." According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CPBB), in 2010, more than three times as many SNAP households worked as relied solely on federal benefits for their income. The share of SNAP families with children and an earned income has remained stable during the recession, and the program's number of participants is projected to decline in the coming decade. The SNAP program also includes a special work requirement for adults who are able to work and are without dependents.
Fox News ignored the facts on food stamps to praise Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) proposed budget for supposedly returning work requirements and time limits to the program, and for adding measures aimed at reducing food stamp enrollment. In reality, the food stamp program already requires work and has time limits for benefits, and enrollment in the program is projected to decline as the economy improves.
On March 12, Ryan released a budget proposal that called for giving states block grants of funds for food stamps -- known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and for "time limits and work requirements" for SNAP participants to be implemented over time.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney praised the Ryan budget's changes to SNAP, particularly for resolving problems Varney mistakenly thought existed with the program, including the lack of a work requirement and time limits for benefits and keeping people in poverty. Varney made the following claims on Fox & Friends the day after Ryan released his budget:
VARNEY: Here's what Paul Ryan wants to do. Number one, he wants to return the work requirement and the time limit. In other words, you can't just sit back take the food forever. Can't do that. Got to get out there and work for it. Number two, he would give block grants to the States. And say here, you run the food stamp program. Here's how much money you're going to get and here's what -- do with it what you like. I think, number three, most important, he would return morality to the food stamp program because he would use it as a way to get people out of poverty as opposed to locking them in. I think that's a very moral position to take.
Contrary to Varney's claims, SNAP already has a work requirement and a time limit. The United States Department of Agriculture's website explained that those who are:
[B]etween 18 and 50 who do not have any dependent children can get SNAP benefits only for 3 months in a 36-month period if they do not work or participate in a workfare or employment and training program other than job search. This requirement is waived in some locations.
With some exceptions, able-bodied adults between 16 and 60 must register for work, accept suitable employment, and take part in an employment and training program to which they are referred by the SNAP office. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in disqualification from the Program.
SNAP also contains measures to incentivize work and seek higher incomes. A recent Center on Budget Policy and Priorities (CBPP) report explained that:
For every additional dollar a SNAP recipient earns, her benefits decline by only 24 to 36 cents -- much less than in most other programs. Families that receive SNAP thus have a strong incentive to work longer hours or to search for better-paying employment.
Furthermore, an April 2012 Congressional Budget Office report found that SNAP participation will decline in the next decade as the economy improves:
SNAP participants are mostly low-income workers, children, and seniors. According to the CBPP report, the majority of non-disabled adult participants have a job. The CBPP added that nearly "70 percent of SNAP participants are not expected to work, primarily because they are children, elderly, or disabled."
Finally, SNAP helps keep people out of poverty. The CBPP found that the program "kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, including 2.1 million children" and that it "lifted 1.5 million children above 50 percent of the poverty line in 2011, more than any other benefit program."
From the January 18 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Fox Business figures complained that an increased number of children receiving food assistance is evidence that they are part of an "entitlement culture" and attacked President Obama for allowing the food stamp program to expand in order to accommodate more children.
Fox Business' Varney & Co. devoted several segments to reports that one-quarter of children are now enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Fox Business anchor Nicole Petallides claimed that while children should receive meals at public school, "we are raising a group of entitlement nation children. I know as a parent, I go out of my way to teach our children how they have to earn each dollar." Fox News anchor John Stossell agreed, saying that expanding SNAP "encourage[s] the handouts" because "once you give away free stuff, people always want more."
In a later segment, Fox Business contributor Jedediah Bila claimed more children on SNAP is an indication that America "is becoming an entitlement culture" and warned that children receiving food assistance are "going to be entering a job market and in their mind are going to have this sense of entitlement coming along with them." Fox Business contributor Charles Payne agreed, saying people could "grow up and never even tap some of the potential that they have" because "if you make poverty too comfortable, people can't escape it."
From the January 3 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Fox News' Special Report falsely suggested that the recent growth of the food stamp program was due to President Obama's 2009 economic stimulus, asserting that the bill "eviscerated" work requirements for food stamps. In fact, most of the growth in the program was due to economic factors, primarily the recession, and 46 states had received work requirement waivers before Obama took office.