Roughly 45 minutes into Fox News' "special" investigation into the Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or "food stamps," per the outdated parlance), host Bret Baier posed a question that gets right to the heart of what Fox News specifically, and conservatives generally, are trying to accomplish with regard to public attitudes toward social welfare programs. "Shouldn't there be at least some stigma?" Baier asked, referring to people who accept SNAP benefits. Baier's just-asking-questions lament about the lack of stigmatization was all part of Fox News' slipshod and flagrant piece of agitprop intended to shame the needy and promote public resentment of the government safety net.
Everything about Baier's special, "The Great Food Stamp Binge" -- from the title to its absurd focus on a thoroughly unlikable miscreant named Jason Greenslate who proudly abuses SNAP benefits -- was designed to provoke hostility to the idea of nutritional assistance programs. Greenslate, a California musician who refuses to work and spends his monthly SNAP benefits on sushi and lobsters, is an anomaly in a program that has proven to be both efficient and effective. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "fewer than 2 percent of SNAP benefits are issued to households that do not meet all of the program's eligibility requirements." The USDA estimates that just one cent of every dollar of SNAP benefits is lost to "trafficking," a type of fraud. "About three out of four SNAP households included a child, a person age 60 or older, or a disabled person," per the Congressional Budget Office.
Greenslate, who is in no way representative of the typical SNAP recipient, was the subject of two separate segments, totaling nearly nine minutes, of Fox News' hour-long special. Baier proclaimed him "the new face of food stamps."
Greenslate is "the new face of food stamps" for no other reason than Fox News wants him to be. Baier offered no data to back up this assertion, and no fact-driven justification for even including Greenslate in the report. But this freeloading oaf is an easy-to-hate villain, someone the viewer can immediately dislike and a convenient punching bag for small-government agitators. Near the program's close, Fox News reporter John Roberts, interviewing Greenslate, attempted to shame him -- and every other recipient of SNAP benefits. "It used to be that, you know, that if somebody was on food stamps it's like 'hey, they're on food stamps, you know... loser,'" said Roberts.
Fox News promised to continue highlighting segments from its report, "The Great Food Stamp Binge," an hour-long attempt to characterize SNAP recipients as freeloaders. One participant in the report, an advocate against hunger, described it a "tour de force of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies."
On the August 12 edition of Special Report, guest host Shannon Bream played an excerpt of Bret Baier's report on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (commonly referred to as food stamps) and promised to continue highlighting parts of the report throughout the week:
Later that evening, Fox's Bill O'Reilly also pushed the report, contending that SNAP shows that the Obama administration "encourag[es] parasites to come out and take as much as they can with no remorse."
Media Matters has noted that the report is a wild misrepresentation of SNAP recipients. One advocate featured in the report, Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, called it a "tour de force of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies" that "could win the Pulitzer Prize ... for fiction." From Berg's statement:
Once again, Fox News is blaming the victim, claiming that low-income families - who are victims of the continued collapse in the U.S economy and the failure of the U.S. political system to fix it - are somehow to blame because they need temporary help from SNAP benefits to feed their families. That's like blaming those who drowned on the Titanic for the ship's faulty design and reckless piloting. Ignoring the fact that most SNAP participants are working, or are senior citizens, children, people with disabilities, and veterans, the show repeatedly gives the false impression that the program encourages laziness instead of work. Even though there are 47 million Americans now receiving SNAP benefits, the show focuses on one individual - yes, one - who abuses the system.
[T]he Fox show is a tour de force of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies. In fact, were it not for the half-truths, the report would have no truths at all.
This post has been updated.
From the August 12 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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In an attempt to make a surfing freeloader the face of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, a Fox News special profiled Jason Greenslate, "a blissfully jobless California surfer" who has taken advantage of SNAP benefits. In reality, Greenslate bears no resemblance to the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients, many of whom are elderly, children, or rely on the program for a short time while looking for work.
Prior to its August 9 airing, Fox News hyped the special, "The Great Food Stamp Binge," on Fox News Insider, FoxNews.com, and several of its daytime shows. Each preview focused on Jason Greenslate, a freeloading surfer who Fox correspondent John Roberts interviewed in Southern California. FoxNews.com described Greenslate at length in an article that teased the "new documentary":
The Fox News Reporting documentary profiles, among others, a California surfer and aspiring musician named Jason Greenslate. Greenslate shows how he supports his beach-bum lifestyle with food stamps, while dismissing the idea of holding down a regular, steady job.
"It's not that I don't want a job, I don't want a boss. I don't want someone telling me what to do. I'm gonna live my own life," Greenslate tells Fox News' John Roberts. "This is the way I want to live. And I don't really see anything changing. I got the card. It's $200. That's it."
As promised, "The Great Food Stamp Binge" labeled Greenslate "the new face of food stamps," devoting two full segments to his lifestyle in a shameless attempt to characterize SNAP recipients as freeloaders.
Fox News will air an hour-long special on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, on August 9 and 11. If history is any indication, Fox's special will be rife with factual inaccuracies and baseless smears intended to demonize a program that provides necessary food assistance to millions of Americans.
After dedicating his opening segment to attacking the alleged dependency culture of younger generations, Fox News' Eric Bolling waded into an error-filled tirade against food assistance.
On the August 8 edition of Fox News' Your World, Bolling, who was filling in for host Neil Cavuto, was joined for a panel discussion of "food stamps" (officially known as the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). Fox contributors Jedediah Bila and Julie Roginsky debated the merits of the food assistance program, with Bila often making wildly inaccurate claims in her attempt to smear recipients and chastise alleged waste.
Bolling and Bila parroted numerous demonstrably false claims over the course of just a few minutes. First, Bolling falsely claimed that the budget for food assistance is $80-100 billion. In fact, the SNAP budget for fiscal year 2012 was $74.6 billion.
The cost of the program has increased significantly since the onset of a catastrophic recession in December 2007, but official data from the Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service reveal that the growth is due to increased participation driven by economic factors. From the Department of Agriculture:
SNAP participants declined steadily through 2000 but began to rise in 2001 and increased each year through 2011, except for a slight dip in 2007. The increase was substantial from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2011. Average monthly participation increased from 17.2 million individuals in fiscal year 2000 to 40.3 million in fiscal year 2010, and to 44.7 million in fiscal year 2011. Fluctuations in the number of SNAP participants in the last 16 years have broadly tracked major economic indicators
When challenged to do as others have and take the SNAP Challenge for a week, Bolling deflected the subject. Previously, Fox News' Andrea Tantaros referred to the prospect of living on just over $130 each month as a diet plan.
It is not out of the ordinary for right-wing media figures to bemoan the growth of SNAP registers as some form of vote buying, dependency culture, or expansionist nanny state. Food assistance is a common and easy target for the right-wing media, which need not provide evidence to support baseless claims. Bolling in particular is not shy about attacking those in dire need of adequate nutrition.
However, the Fox host leapt into "trutherism" territory during the following exchange:
BILA: We wasted $2.2 billion just in waste, in fraud
ROGINSKY: According to their auditor, 1 percent fraud.
BOLLING: One percent? Julie, you and I go way back, we're very good friends, right? Where in the world is there 1 percent waste and fraud?
When challenged to provide a statistic to back up his claim that food stamps are wrought with corruption and waste, with recipients using assistance to buy alcohol and drugs, Bolling contended the following:
BOLLING: I'm going to have to push back on your "one percent".... I'll throw something out there. I'll bet you it's closer to 50 percent than 1 percent.
According to the Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, the fraud and waste rate is roughly 1 percent. Bolling's claim is not just wrong, it is wrong by a factor of 50, or nearly 5,000 percent.
Fox News' Stuart Varney renewed his attacks on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, to hype an upcoming special on that government assistance program and to promote a new Fox News poll that paints SNAP in a negative light. Fox has repeatedly shamed, mocked, and decried the lack of stigma directed at those on government assistance programs, and Varney's segment continued that campaign.
On the August 8 edition of America's Newsroom, Fox Business Network's Stuart Varney discussed a new opinion poll Fox conducted regarding SNAP benefits. During the segment, host Bill Hemmer lamented that we are "a nation on the dole" while Varney complained that SNAP benefits are too easily accessible and criticized efforts to raise awareness of SNAP in underserved communities They ignored the fact that SNAP spending and enrollment is projected to decline as the economy continues to recover. This segment was offered as a preview of an upcoming Fox report titled "The Great Food Stamp Binge."
Varney, who once said that many low-income Americans "have things -- what they lack is the richness of spirit," is commonly the spokesperson for Fox's campaign to 'mock the poor,' and he merely continued Fox's ongoing campaign against government assistance programs and on the recipients of those programs themselves -- a campaign that has even gained influence in Congress. Varney is infamous for his repeated efforts to dismiss and demonize those people who require government assistance. As Varney himself has admitted, "I am being mean to poor people. Frankly, I am."
Fox Business' Stuart Varney flirted with the idea of denying food stamps to undocumented or legal immigrants and their children, asking whether they had "a right" to access those benefits, and even suggested that immigrants were taking advantage of the benefit by falsely claiming they were starving.
During a segment discussing a recent letter from Republican donors urging House Republicans to support and pass comprehensive immigration reform, Varney veered the discussion to benefits by saying, "I'm interested in the idea that they cannot be refused any or all government services. They can't." When Fox News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano explained that the Supreme Court has ruled that noncitizens should be provided the same basic social services as citizens, Varney went on to suggest that immigrants should be left to starve rather than receive the same food stamps benefits as citizens:
VARNEY: OK. So they must be served in an emergency room. Must have health services. OK, got that.
VARNEY: Must be educated. Their children must go to public school.
VARNEY: They've got every right to do that.
NAPOLITANO: Yes. Yes.
VARNEY: Food stamps. They got a right to that?
NAPOLITANO: Well, the case does not subsume -- the case does not address food stamps. But if a person were below the poverty level and starving, the federal government would have the obligation to alleviate that starvation.
VARNEY: So all you've got to do is, "I'm starving, boys. Feed me."
Varney then brought up the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refundable tax credit for working individuals and families with children, asking whether immigrants who pay taxes also had a right to receive it.
In fact, undocumented immigrants are ineligible to apply for public benefits, which include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Legal residents are also ineligible for the program unless they meet certain requirements, including living in the country for at least five years or being a refugee.
Fox News continued its campaign to demonize programs that provide necessary food assistance to millions of Americans by attacking the AARP's effort to enroll eligible seniors in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, baselessly claiming the program was an effort to buy their vote and change "what America really is" and dismissing the fact that many eligible seniors find it difficult to enroll in the food assistance program they need.
A July 27 Tribune-Democrat article reported that the Pennsylvania chapter of the AARP "has launched an effort to use the organization's volunteers to encourage seniors to apply for food stamps." According to the AARP, nearly 350,000 Pennsylvania seniors "do not always have enough money to buy food."
On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy asked why the AARP would want to enroll eligible seniors in the program and "encourage a welfare state." Fox Business host Stuart Varney responded by dismissing the need to feed seniors -- even those in extreme poverty -- and claiming that the effort in Pennsylvania was about buying votes. He expanded:
VARNEY: Now the AARP, huge supporters of President Obama politically and financially. Big supporters of Obamacare. And now they're out there signing people up for food stamps. This is part of the buy the vote campaign. They're really shifting America, changing what America really is.
Outside of the 350,000 Pennsylvania seniors who lack food security, millions of seniors nationwide are food insecure and do not know how to access programs to assuage their food security concerns. According to Feeding America, a domestic hunger relief charity, "In 2011, 4.8 million Americans over the age of 60 were food insecure. This constitutes 8.4% of all seniors." Additionally, only 35 percent of eligible seniors are enrolled in SNAP. The Food Research and Action Center noted that the low enrollment rate can be attributed to things like a lack of mobility and technology allowing for seniors to enroll in the program.
Fox has previously demonized government SNAP outreach efforts and the program itself. On the March 15 edition Fox & Friends, Stuart Varney attacked SNAP, calling it a "feel good" program that creates "an entitlement nation," and added that SNAP outreach was an effort to secure votes for Obama during the 2012 presidential election. Varney has not limited his attacks to food security for the elderly. On July 9, Varney attacked the government for feeding children through initiatives like the free school lunch program, suggesting that food assistance programs that keep millions out of poverty were a sign of economic failure.
From the July 27 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
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In the wake of President Obama's economic policy speech, conservative media have refocused their attention to an outlandish comparison of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation and job creation during the Obama administration, ignoring the fact that most SNAP participants are either children or are employed and that the program is considered an effective form of economic stimulus that can help create jobs and alleviate poverty.
Fox News continued its smear campaign against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, by hyping an evidence-free claim that recipients are using the program to send food overseas.
A July 21 New York Post story claimed that low-income New Yorkers were using SNAP funds to purchase food to send overseas. The Post based its claims on anecdotes from unnamed sources at two New York supermarkets that "confirmed the practice," but failed to include specifics. The anonymous woman that the Post provided as its sole example of the practice was not a SNAP beneficiary:
Last week, a woman stuffed dozens of boxes of macaroni and evaporated milk into a barrel headed for her family in Kingston, Jamaica. She said she didn't have welfare benefits and bought the food herself.
"This is all worth more than $2,000," she said. "I've been shopping since last December. You can help somebody else, someone who doesn't live in this country."
A man helping her pack the barrel said: "We're poor here, and they're poor. But what we can get here is like luxury to them."
You're paying for food stamps for foreigners? The New York Post reports that welfare recipients in New York City are buying groceries and sending them in giant barrels to relatives in Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The Agriculture Department won't investigate. That will be up to individual states. Thanks.
Fox News reported on House Republicans' removal of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) from an agriculture bill by parroting Republican falsehoods about the program. The report hyped Republicans' false accusations that SNAP, commonly known as food stamps, is rife with fraud and has no vetting process without challenging the claims. The segment also ignored what others in the media have reported -- that separating SNAP funding from the farm bill could lead to major cuts in the program.
Last week, House Republicans passed an agriculture bill, commonly known as the farm bill, without including funding for the SNAP program. The move stripped SNAP from the farm bill, where it has been since 1973, according to the New York Times.
During the July 15 edition of Fox News' America Live, correspondent Shannon Bream reported on the removal of SNAP, claiming the vote would not end SNAP and that no one would be cut off due to the House-version of the farm bill. Bream highlighted Republicans' purported opinions on the program: "Republicans say the system is filled with fraud and that claims made by applicants aren't vetted or verified in any way."
In fact, SNAP has a very low instance of fraud. The trafficking rate, when a SNAP benefit is exchanged for cash, is only one cent per dollar, and that's down from 1993 when it was four cents. The chief economist of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Chad Stone, wrote:
[SNAP] has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program. SNAP error rates (benefit overpayments and underpayments) are at an all-time low; just 3 percent of benefits went to ineligible households or exceeded the allowable benefit for eligible households. Moreover, honest mistakes by recipients, eligibility workers, data entry clerks or computer programmers - not fraud - account for an overwhelming majority of such overpayments.
Rules for SNAP eligibility vary by state, but applicants must verify household income is below a certain standard and that assets do not exceed a given amount.
Ironically, according to the Times, non-SNAP programs contained the farm bill suffer higher fraud and abuse rates than SNAP.
While Bream's claim that the House-passed farm bill does not cut SNAP is technically correct, she ignored what many others in the media have acknowledged -- that, as the Washington Post wrote, "The vote made clear that Republicans intend to make significant reductions in food stamp money." Fox's Trace Gallagher even introduced the segment by referring to a "food fight ... where lawmakers are taking aim at the exploding cost of food stamps."
From the July 12 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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House Republicans reportedly plan to remove food stamp funding from the federal farm bill, a move that stands to further jeopardize the survival of the critical anti-poverty program. This move comes after years of right-wing media figures demonizing food stamp recipients as lazy or dependent, with Rush Limbaugh going so far as to propose dumpster diving as an alternative.
Here's a look back at some of the most egregious right-wing attacks on food stamps: