On the October 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that childhood hunger in the United States is "a total lie" and blamed purportedly "derelict" parents for allowing their families to live in poverty, which he implied was a form of child abuse. When guest Kirsten Powers pushed back on O'Reilly's poor-shaming narrative, he challenged her to "produce one" example of a poor family struggling with hunger in the United States today, shouting "you can't." On October 8, TalkPoverty.org interviewed four mothers whose life stories fly in the face of O'Reilly's denial:
As Bill O'Reilly apparently does not know a single family straining to make ends meet, we did his homework for him and asked four mothers who have experienced hunger to tell us what they think about his comments:
Bill O'Reilly said show me hunger and I say, "Here I am." My children have lived through a lot of adverse situations; we have been homeless and have relied on shelters. Without food stamps, my children would starve. When is it okay for children to starve in this country? When is it okay to actively ignore starving children in your country? -- Asia Thompson, Pennsylvania
He hasn't experienced poverty but Bill O'Reilly should know that poverty can happen to anyone. When my twin sons were 9 months old, my husband lost his job and we had to go on WIC to feed our children. This program provided support and the food was one less thing we had to worry about. And as a Head Start teacher, I see firsthand how kids can't focus in school because they're so hungry. - Mary Janet Bryant, Kentucky
I used all of these programs for my children, and I am a success story like thousands of other parents. My oldest daughter is in her fourth year of college studying stem cell biology on her way to a PhD. I beg to differ with Bill O'Reilly's opinion, as he doesn't have firsthand experience with hunger and poverty. - Vivian Thorpe, California
I think it's easy to miss the signs of child poverty and hunger in our society because people often look better than they feel. I was less hungry as a kid because my family benefited from WIC, SNAP, and school lunch. I also graduated from high school, college, and graduate school. I have worked hard for 25 years in the TV business and I am the social safety net for my family now. To my way of thinking, Bill O'Reilly is seeing the emperor in a fine new suit of gold-threaded clothes but that emperor is naked. - Sherry Brennan, California
From the October 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently claimed that Democrats use the promise of "free stuff" to court black voters, echoing years of dubious claims by conservative media that government assistance programs exist to "buy votes."
From the September 28 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News tried to blame First Lady Michelle Obama's healthy school lunch program for reports of financial woes and layoffs at school districts, but it failed to disclose that the study it cited comes from a group supported in part by food industry companies that sell their product to schools, including PepsiCo, General Mills, and Domino's.
On the August 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier highlighted the findings of a new study from the School Nutrition Association (SNA) that claims implementation of the National School Lunch Program's healthier nutritional standards has led to school district worker layoffs and financial struggles. The standards were established after Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010, the centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative.
Baier told viewers, "School is back, or soon will be, and healthy school lunches are resulting in unhealthy school finances." He went on to cite the SNA study's claim that "56 percent of districts have lost lunch participants because of the new healthy standards championed by the first lady" and that "seven of 10 [school districts that responded] say the standards have hurt the financial situation of the local meals programs, with almost half choosing to reduce staffing."
But Baier failed to disclose that the School Nutrition Association, which describes itself as "a national, nonprofit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country," has deep ties to the industry that sells food products to school districts. As Media Matters has previously written, the SNA lists Schwan's Food Service, a company that specializes in providing pizza to schools and restaurants, as a "major" donor. The association has also accepted funding from PepsiCo, General Mills, ConAgra, and Domino's Pizza. Schwan and PepsiCo also hold seats on the SNA's board of directors.
Schwan, ConAgra, and General Mills were also among major members of the food industry behind successful lobbying efforts to preserve pizza's classification as a vegetable for the purpose of school nutritional standards in 2011.
A Fox News report on the so-called "unintended consequences" of Seattle, Washington's municipal minimum wage increase included the unsubstantiated claim that better pay is encouraging workers to work less so that they stay in poverty and continue receiving government benefits. This report fits the network's anti-minimum wage, poor-shaming narrative, but ignores the many benefits of increasing the minimum wage.
In June 2014, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved legislation increasing the city's minimum wage to $11 per hour for most employees on April 1, 2015 and to $15 per hour over the course of a 3-to-7-year phase-in period. The decision was praised by many groups like the National Employment Law Project (NELP) as a necessary step toward alleviating inequality and lifting low-wage workers out of poverty.
On the July 22 editions of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Happening Now, and Special Report, correspondent Dan Springer reported that Seattle is facing the "unintended consequences" of increasing its minimum wage. The worst of these consequences, he claims, is that some employees "make too much money to stay on certain welfare programs" and are requesting fewer hours because "the raises [are] pushing them over the income threshold and out of welfare programs like subsidized food, child care, and rent." In all three segments, Springer's evidence for this alleged poverty trap was an interview with Seattle-based radio host Jason Rantz, not with actual recipients who rely on government assistance.
Other so-called "consequences" of the increased minimum wage included restaurants raising prices and requesting patrons not to tip their wait staff. Springer also cited a comic book store in San Francisco (not Seattle) which blames that city's increased minimum wage for its lack of profitability:
The core of Fox's claim that many low-income Americans would rather stay on anti-poverty relief programs than work fits the network's long-standing campaign to attack and shame low-income workers. It is also a variation of the discredited "Welfare Cliff" argument frequently pushed by the network.
In addition, the claim that increased wages are boosting restaurant prices, and thereby hurting tipped workers, is blatantly misleading and plays into Fox's misinformation campaign against the minimum wage. For example, Ivar's Salmon House, a Seattle icon, increased its menu prices and no longer accepts tips. But, according to NPR, the restaurant decided to institute the full $15 minimum wage three years ahead of schedule for its employees and now automatically prices gratuity into the bill, which thus far has not hurt sales or workers. Several restaurants, including one in the District of Columbia, have responded to calls for an increased minimum wage by unilaterally raising their own pay and informing customers that it is no longer necessary to tip wait staff.
Conservative media have claimed for more than a year that Seattle's minimum wage would hurt the city's restaurants and small businesses, but a March 17 report by The Seattle Times revealed little anxiety about the pay increase. In fact, according to data from the Seattle Office of Economic and Financial Analysis, the city witnessed a small spike in restaurant permit requests in the month before wage increases were set to go into effect but otherwise requests have remained relatively flat. Finally, according to a June 4 report by Common Dreams, several of the most outspoken local opponents of Seattle's minimum wage increase have actually opened new restaurants and increased staff hiring since the ordinance went into effect.
From the May 21 edition of MSNBC's Politics Nation:
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Fox News failed to mention that 2,700 children will be booted off Arizona's welfare program in the wake of extreme restrictions pushed through by Republicans in the state.
Arizona legislators voted on May 18 to drastically restrict the state's welfare program, capping the lifetime limit for recipients to one year. As the AP reported, the new rule would be "the shortest window" of benefits in the nation, and "As a result, the Arizona Department of Economic Security will drop at least 1,600 families - including more than 2,700 children - from the state's federally funded welfare program on July 1, 2016."
Yet no mention of the thousands of children and families that stand to lose access to the program was made during a May 20 segment on the vote during Fox News' Fox & Friends. During an interview with Arizona state Senator Kelli Ward (R), co-host Steve Doocy instead focused on state budgetary problems, asking "why was this bill important?" Going on to suggest that the bill was produced to address the frustrations about "the way welfare works in the country," Doocy gave an uncritical platform for Sen. Ward to claim that the measures were simply "necessary" despite the consequences:
But the measure will not only hurt those who need such programs most, it may also increase costs to the state in the long run. As Liz Schott, a welfare policy analyst, explained to the AP: "Long-term welfare recipients are often the most vulnerable, suffering from mental and physical disabilities, poor job histories and little education ... But without welfare, they'll likely show up in other ways that will cost taxpayers, from emergency rooms to shelters to the criminal justice system."
Right-wing media have a plan to solve the national crisis of poverty in America -- and it's all about "personal responsibility."
Roughly 45 million Americans live in poverty, 1 in 7 received food stamps just last year, and 20 percent of children under the age of 18 were impoverished in 2013. Politicians and media figures have offered many possible solutions to help low-income Americans break free from this systemic cycle of inequality, including expanding the social safety net and educational opportunities for all.
But over the years, conservative media have offered their own strategies. Watch as Media Matters looks back at the five easy steps they've proposed to help Americans living paycheck to paycheck find that "richness of spirit":
Major newspapers in Wisconsin have omitted key facts from their coverage of proposed state legislation to drug test people who receive certain government benefits -- including that such testing is extremely costly and that studies have found that people on assistance programs use drugs at lower rates than the general population.
Lawmakers in the Wisconsin State Assembly approved legislation on May 13 that would require drug screening for people who collect welfare checks and restrict what items food stamps can be spent on. The measures include three bills: one to drug tes tapplicants for unemployment benefits, another to drug test recipients of income support and food assistance, and a third to restrict Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) purchases to "healthy foods" -- determined by the government -- and ban users from buying "crab, lobster, shrimp or any other shellfish." According to the Huffington Post, the legislation is similar to a proposal Gov. Scott Walker included in his state budget.
In their coverage of the proposed legislation, The Wisconsin State Journal, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Green Bay Press Gazette all omitted key context about how similar drug testing requirements enacted in other states turned out to be expensive and were strongly opposed by experts in the scientific, medical, and substance abuse fields.
According to a February 26 report from ThinkProgress that analyzed seven states with similar programs, states that have implemented such measures "are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users." Although states have "collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort," the report found that the tests have turned up relatively littleevidence of substance abuse: "The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent."
And according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), "science and medical experts overwhelming oppose the drug testing of welfare recipients." Pointing to a statement from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, the ACLU explained that laws requiring drug testing for welfare recipients only serve to reinforce the stigma around needing such benefits. The list of organizations opposed is long, and includes the following:
American Public Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, Inc., National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, National Health Law Project, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc., National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Black Women's Health Project, Legal Action Center, National Welfare Rights Union, Youth Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
Fox News' campaign of misinformation surrounding food assistance programs may be continuing to influence GOP legislation, as lawmakers in both Missouri and Kansas consider measures addressing "fake problems" within their state's benefit programs.
Republican lawmakers in Kansas recently introduced legislation restricting where recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly known as "welfare") can spend their money and what they can buy. The bill would limit the daily spending allowance to $25 and ban recipients from using benefits at psychics and tattoo parlors. Another measure, introduced by the House GOP in Missouri, will similarly limit how recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly knowns as "food stamps") can use their benefits, prohibiting them from buying "steak, seafood, soda, cookies, chip[s], and energy drinks."
As Dana Milbank explained in an April 8 op-ed for The Washington Post, legislation of this nature is "about demeaning public-benefit recipients" and has little to do with public policy. "Few can afford filet mignon on a less-than-$7/day food-stamp allotment" wrote Milbank, "they're more likely to be buying chuck steak or canned tuna."
Fox News has spent years denigrating food assistance programs and recipients, with its campaign coming to a head in August 2013 when the network aired a misleading special titled, "The Great Food Stamp Binge." Their shoddy report focused on Jason Greenslate, "a blissfully jobless California surfer" who had allegedly taken advantage of food stamps to purchase lobster and other luxury foods while refusing to work for a living. Labeling Greenslate as "the new face of food stamps," the network used the man as an example of fraud and waste within food assistance programs, despite the rate of trafficking in the program being just over 1 percent.
Fox's influence over Republican policymaking has previously been felt in legislation about food assistance programs. In the months after their special aired, the network distributed copies of it to members of the U.S. House of Representatives in anticipation of an upcoming vote to cut up to $40 billion of SNAP funding over ten years. The proposal would have threatened nearly 4 million Americans with greater food insecurity.
Now, Fox's misinformation is again threatening to create real hardships for those who depend on food assistance programs to make ends meet. In an April 7 article for the Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift wrote that the only evidence to back up claims of fraud used to justify food stamp and welfare restrictions in Kansas and Missouri is the "widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance."
The Washington Post's Roberto Ferdman also traced the Missouri bill back to its roots in Fox's campaign to demonize recipients of food assistance. In an April 3 post for Wonkblog, Ferdman wrote that the measures "fit a longtime conservative suspicion that poor people use food stamps to purchase luxury items" but that the myths perpetuated by Fox News "should be viewed as distortions of reality."
From the March 25 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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Fox News championed a campaign to encourage healthy school nutrition in an interview with New York Giants player Victor Cruz, sharply contrasting with the network's long history of attacking similar efforts as government fiat.
On the March 4 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Victor Cruz promoted Fuel Up to Play 60, the "nation's largest in-school wellness program." The initiative, a partnership between the National Football League and the National Dairy Council, aims to encourage support for school nutrition by creating "a system for increasing breakfast participation by delivering reimbursable meals to classrooms for student consumption before or during class," pointing to research that suggests offering "breakfast free to all children improve[s] student achievement, diets and behavior."
Cruz's campaign received a warm welcome by the Fox & Friends co-hosts who donned Cruz jerseys while interviewing him during National School Breakfast Week. Co-host Steve Doocy lauded Cruz for working to ensure "every kid in America is eating a healthy breakfast." Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck praised Cruz's campaign, saying, "I know how important you understand nutrition is for kids. You do so much for kids, and this Play 60 campaign that you're running with here is so important. Tell us about why breakfast really counts for kids":
From the February 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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Fox News pushed three food stamp myths in under five minutes, while hyping new statistics showing that 46.5 million Americans now receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) -- or food stamp -- benefits. Fox ignored the fact that raising the minimum wage would reduce the number of SNAP recipients, that experts agree marriage would not solve problems of poverty, that increasing numbers of college students are food insecure and need this government aid, and that undocumented immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits.