Fox News has downright ignored the billions lost in productivity as a result of the government shutdown, which stands in stark contrast to the network's years-long attack on minimal waste and abuse in food assistance programs.
On October 16, the financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's released its estimate of the economic cost of the 16-day long shutdown of the federal government, concluding that it cost the American economy $24 billion in lost productivity. The agency also cut its forecast for economic growth in the upcoming fiscal quarter by at least 0.6 percentage points.
Since the shutdown was lifted on October 16, Fox News personalities have expended considerable effort downplaying the effect the shutdown had on the economy.
On October 16, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs cited a slight uptick on the Dow Jones industrial average throughout the shutdown as evidence that the nationwide closure of federal lands and agencies had a negligible economic effect. Fox Business' Melissa Francis made a similar argument, claiming that the shutdown had shown Americans they could live with "a lot smaller government." On the October 17 edition of The Five, Fox News host Eric Bolling questioned the validity of S&P, and other agencies, that report economic losses from the shutdown, baselessly suggesting that their reports are influenced by political factors.
Fox's continued denial of the ruinous economic effect of the government shutdown reveals the network's hypocritical and overzealous reporting on waste and abuse in federal anti-poverty programs.
In August, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), updated its figures for "trafficking," or when SNAP recipients sell their benefits for cash, in the program. Its data reveal a slight increase in trafficking rates from 1.0 percent in 2006-2008 to 1.3 percent in 2009-2011. The total value of trafficked benefits during the last three year period is estimated to be $858 million annually.
Rather than acknowledging that SNAP trafficking rates were still near historic lows, Fox misleadingly highlighted what it called a "30 percent" increase in abuse. Days previously, Fox dedicated another segment to attacking food assistance that included host Eric Bolling overestimating SNAP fraud and abuse rates by 5,000 percent.
The amount of yearly trafficking abuse in SNAP amounts to less than four percent of the wasted economic output caused by the government shutdown. In other words, the cost of the 16-day shutdown is nearly 28 times larger than a full year of food assistance abuse. While Fox has repeatedly claimed that waste in SNAP cannot be tolerated, the network has yet to acknowledge that waste from the shutdown even exists.
Of course, this should come as no surprise given the network's efforts to encourage the shutdown and resulting economic fallout. Fox News played a prominent role in encouraging and facilitating a partial government shutdown that cost the economy billions of dollars in lost productivity while producing zero policy gains for the Republican Party or its right-wing media champions. Fox has tried repeatedly to find scapegoats in the administration to shift blame away from allies in the House GOP caucus.
According to the USDA, "fluctuations in the number of SNAP participants in the last 16 years have broadly tracked major economic indicators." With the Republican-led shutdown effectively draining tens of billions of dollars out of the economy, SNAP registries are likely to increase in the near-term as the shutdown and lingering fiscal austerity drag down recovery.
If that happens, recipients of federal anti-poverty assistance can expect a resurgence of Fox attacks.
From the October 4 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player reg...
Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program is "not doing anybody any good," despite considerable evidence to the contrary.
On the October 4 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh smeared the WIC program as useless as the government shutdown halted funding toward WIC benefits. Limbaugh alleged that the program is "not doing anybody any good" because "by definition, we talking about single mothers here" who "don't know what to do if a government program runs dry." Limbaugh added, "I don't think this is helping anybody. ... This is no way to live, and it isn't necessary in this country."
According to Forbes, about 9 million mothers and children under the age of 5 receive nutritional benefits through the program. These benefits include "healthy food, breastfeeding support, infant formula and other necessities dispensed at clinics nationwide," Forbes reported:
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol dismissed the devastating effects of the government shutdown claiming, "no one no one is going to starve in Arkansas," ignoring that thousands of people across the country already face the loss of vital food nutrition programs.
On the October 2 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Kristol claimed that the shutdown wasn't a "disaster," and dismissed The Huffington Post's Sam Stein's argument that the shutdown was forcing 85,000 people to lose nutritional assistance in Arkansas alone. Kristol responded that Congress should move to fund anything that was a genuine emergency, but that "a one or two week shutdown is not going to be the end of the world":
[I]t's not going to be the end of the world honestly even if you're on nutritional assistance from the federal government. The state of Arkansas can help out, localities can help out, churches can help out, I believe that no one is going to starve in Arkansas because of the shutdown.
Starvation is an extreme measure by which to judge the damage of the shutdown. Though no one may have died yet, people around the country are facing the loss of essential food services, including in Arkansas.
The Associated Press reported on September 30 that Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe felt the state was "not in a position to" fund services typically from the federal government, and that "that more than 85,000 meals for Arkansas children would not be provided and 2,000 newborn babies would not receive infant formula through the Department of Health's WIC program."
Radio host Rush Limbaugh quipped that Democrats would try to scare people about a government shutdown by claiming it would harm food programs for children -- something a lengthy government shutdown would, in fact, do.
On the September 30 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh claimed that Democrats were exaggerating the effects of a shutdown, citing a Washington Post article reporting that a government shutdown would result in disconnection of a video feed for the baby panda exhibit at the National Zoo. Limbaugh added that "next we'll hear that the school lunch program is being cut -- shut down because of this."
But according to a Contingency and Reconstitution Plan issued September 27 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service, states would have to decide whether to continue food assistance programs "at their own risk with the understanding that Federal funds may not be forthcoming." The plan highlighted the specific program impacts for several programs that provide food assistance for needy children [emphasis added]:
From the September 21 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
Loading the player reg...
Fox News rushed to defend a GOP plan to cut $39 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), misportraying the program as riddled with fraud and abuse and downplaying the effects those cuts would have on families with children. In reality, fraud amounts to less than 1 percent of the total program, and the cuts would take benefits away from 3.8 million people*.
On Fox News, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore defended the GOP plan to cut billions from the food stamp program by falsely claiming the cuts wouldn't hurt children, that the program suffers from "immense" fraud, and that millionaires could qualify for benefits. But studies show fraud is extremely rare and millions of families will be negatively affected by the cuts.
On the September 20 edition of Fox's America's Newsroom, Moore downplayed the proposed $40 billion cuts to the program, claiming the benefits weren't "slashed" but "trimmed" and justified the move by saying there is an "immense amount of fraud" in the program that "you could live in a million-dollar mansion and still get food stamps," and that "families with children would not be affected by any of this":
Contrary to Moore's claim that children would not be impacted by the cuts, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the proposal would leave 3.8 million people without benefits, many of whom are in low-income families. The bill would also limit schools meals for hundreds of thousands of children:
- 1.7 million unemployed, childless adults in 2014 who live in areas of high unemployment -- a group that has average income of only 22 percent of the poverty line (about $2,500 a year for a single individual) and for whom SNAP is, in most cases, the only government assistance they receive (this number will average 1 million a year over the coming decade);
- 2.1 million people in 2014, mostly low-income working families and low-income seniors, who have gross incomes or assets modestly above the federal SNAP limits but disposable income -- the income that a family actually has available to spend on food and other needs -- below the poverty line in most cases often because of high rent or child care costs. (This number will average 1.8 million a year over the coming decade.) In addition, 210,000 children in these families would also lose free school meals;
- Other poor, unemployed parents who want to work but cannot find a job or an opening in a training program -- along with their children, other than infants.
CBPP included a table explaining how American households would be hurt by the cuts:
Following a months-long campaign from Fox News to demonize food stamp recipients, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut $39 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The cuts would result in nearly 4 million Americans -- mostly elderly, children, and the disabled -- losing or seeing a reduction in their benefits.
While Fox News has denigrated SNAP recipients for years, its campaign came to a head in August when the network aired a misleading special titled, "The Great Food Stamp Binge." Their shoddy report focused on a clownish man named Jason Greenslate, "a blissfully jobless California surfer" who has taken advantage of SNAP benefits.
The special labeled Greenslate "the new face of food stamps," devoting two full segments to the unlikable freeloader while following him along in his day to day activities. But labeling Greenslate a representative of SNAP recipients flies in the face of readily available data, which shows that the fraud and waste rate in the SNAP program is less than 1 percent and that 41 percent of food stamp recipients live "in a household with earnings."
In early September, Politico reported that Fox distributed copies of the special to members of the House in anticipation of the upcoming vote:
[O]ver the August recess, Fox News aired a sympathetic report entitled "The Great Food Stamp Binge" -- videos of which are now being distributed by Fox staff to House members.
POLITICO inquiries to Fox News regarding the videos have gone unanswered since Saturday. But both Republican and Democratic offices confirmed that copies have been dropped off unsolicited in recent days, and the broadcast has already provided colorful fodder in promoting the Cantor package.
In remarks on the House floor, Congressman David Price (D-NC) said that "Fox News is trying to help the Republicans pushing this mean-spirited legislation by focusing on a California surfer who abuses the SNAP system." A September 16 article from Roll Call also detailed Greenslate's role in a memo distributed by House Republican leadership that outlined SNAP talking points:
The surfer, unnamed in a memo Cantor circulated to GOP lawmakers earlier this month, is Jason Greenslate, 29. A Fox News report in August highlighted Greenslate, an unemployed musician perpetually in a cap and sunglasses, buying lobster rolls with $200-a-month benefits and laughing at the idea of a 9-to-5 job.
Conservative bloggers quickly cited Greenslate as a prime example of a flawed government program. But Democrats will counter that Greenslate is atypical of SNAP recipients, and they are expected to highlight more sympathetic beneficiaries.
Fox's effort may well have influenced the House Republicans' vote to cut $40 billion from the SNAP program. As USA Today reported:The bill would cause 3 million people to lose benefits while another 850,000 would see their benefits cut, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
President Obama has promised to veto the bill if it passes the U.S. Senate.
Fox News promoted various falsehoods about poverty and anti-poverty programs, erroneously claiming that government programs cannot and have not reduced poverty levels.
On the September 19 edition of Fox News' America Live, guest host Alisyn Camerota hosted a panel discussion over House Republicans' plan to reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly known as food stamps -- by nearly $40 billion over 10 years.
Camerota introduced the discussion by noting that the Census Bureau recently reported that the national poverty rate in 2012 remained at 15 percent. She then claimed that poverty in America is a problem "that growing government assistance programs cannot fix." Fox Business' anti-food stamp crusader Charles Payne then claimed that poverty rates have remained unchanged since the 1960s, casting doubt over the efficacy of anti-poverty programs. Payne later claimed that people living in poverty have a strong disincentive to work because of government programs.
Virtually every statement made by Camerota, Payne, and subsequently by Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel about anti-poverty programs is false.
First, Camerota's claim about government assistance not lifting Americans out of poverty is directly contradicted by the very census report she cites. While it is true that 15 percent of Americans remain in poverty -- unchanged from 2011 -- the fact is that absent government anti-poverty programs, the number of Americans living in poverty would be millions greater. From the annual census report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage:
- If unemployment insurance benefits were excluded from money income, 1.7 million more people would be counted as in poverty in 2012.
- If SNAP benefits were counted as income, 4 million fewer people would be categorized as in poverty in 2012.
- Taking account of the value of the federal earned income tax credit would reduce the number of children classified as in poverty in 2011 by 3.1 million.
Payne's claim that the rate has remained unchanged since the 1960s despite anti-poverty programs also doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Previewing the release of the annual census report, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) anticipated such falsehoods, pointing out that they are "simply not valid or accurate." According to CBPP:
Comparing today's official poverty rate with those of the 1960s yields highly distorted results because the official poverty measure captures so little of the poverty relief that today's safety net now provides.
CBPP also included a chart showing just how effective anti-poverty programs have been at reducing poverty, and how rates would be reduced even further if the census accounted for noncash transfers.
Payne's statement about government assistance discouraging people from working is also dubious, given that he ostensibly cited the findings of a misleading report from the Cato institute that has been thoroughly debunked by economists as overstating benefits from welfare programs.
Fox has ramped up its misleading coverage of anti-poverty programs in recent weeks, going so far as to distribute its incredibly inaccurate special report on SNAP to members of Congress to assist efforts to reduce funding for the program.
Congressman David Price (D-NC) took to the House floor today to criticize Fox News for "trying to help" Republicans gut nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with misleading reporting.
In August, Fox News aired a special called "The Great Food Stamp Binge," which dishonestly featured Jason Greenslate, an obnoxious California surfer who brags about abusing his SNAP benefits. Fox labeled Greenslate "the new face of food stamps" (in reality, someone like Greenslate is anything but the typical SNAP recipient).
Still, the damage was done. Politico reported that copies of the Fox special were "distributed by Fox staff to House members" prior to the start of the SNAP debate. The Fox special has reportedly been part of Republican messaging about SNAP and been cited by Republican leaders like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.
During his House speech today, Price said that "Fox News is trying to help the Republicans pushing this mean-spirited legislation by focusing on a California surfer who abuses the SNAP system. Well, it's time for a reality check. This isn't about surfer dudes." Price explained that cutting SNAP would affect numerous low-income Americans such as veterans who rely on the program for food assistance.
Watch Price's remarks below:
PRICE: Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to this rule and to the underlying bill. You may have noticed Fox News is trying to help the Republicans pushing this mean-spirited legislation by focusing on a California surfer who abuses the SNAP system. Well, it's time for a reality check. This isn't about surfer dudes.
But I tell you one group it is about: our nation's veterans. 50,000 of them to be exact. Let me clarify. These veterans, with an average income of $2,500, would lose benefits immediately. And as the bill's other provisions kick in, as many as 170,000 veterans could lose their SNAP assistance. In Cumberland County, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg and of thousands of veterans, our unemployment rate is nearly 11 percent. This bill requires states to terminate the already minimal food aid available to able-bodied but unemployed individuals living in such high unemployment areas. And by the way, Republicans would also subject these veterans to the added indignity of a drug test. I urge a no vote on this rule and on the underlying bill. It dishonors our poorest veterans, it disparages those the Gospel of Matthew calls "the least of these." I yield back my time.
Fox News' Doug McKelway offered a series of misleading facts about the food stamp program in an effort to defend Republicans from criticisms that their attempt to cut funding for the program would take eligibility away from millions of people.
During a September 19 Happening Now segment on the House Republicans' plan to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), McKelway aired Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) criticizing the proposal by saying the cuts would save money "by snatching food out of the hands of millions of neediest children and their families." McKelway asked, "But would it really?" before claiming the program "has expanded exponentially since President Obama took office" and that the "system is easily abused." McKelway also responded to Reid's criticism by highlighting Fox's Great Food Stamp Binge -- an hour-long special Fox is reportedly distributing to members of Congress in advance of votes on SNAP -- that demonized SNAP recipients and attempted to make a California musician who openly takes advantage of the program "the new face of food stamps":
But despite McKelway's deflection, Reid's criticism was accurate. A report by the Health Impact Project found that SNAP "reduces household food insecurity by 18 to 30 percent," and found that the House Republicans' bill could cause "as many as 5.1 million people" to lose eligibility:
From the September 18 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
Loading the player reg...
The House Republicans are gearing up to slash nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), knocking up to 3.8 million people off the food stamp rolls over the next two years. As far as benefit programs go, SNAP is pretty effective, and can be indispensable in hard economic times. The Republicans, however, are raising the specter of rampant waste and fraud within the program, and the centerpiece of their PR campaign to cut the program's funding is a terrifically misleading Fox News special from August hosted by Special Report anchor and "straight journalist" Bret Baier.
That special, called "The Great Food Stamp Binge," made a right-wing celebrity out of Jason Greenslate, an unlikeable surfer from San Diego who refuses to work and proudly abuses his SNAP benefits. Greenslate is a rarity. The vast majority of SNAP households (75 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office) have a child, a person over the age of 60, or a disabled person. Greenslate's yearly benefit represents 0.000003 percent of the annual SNAP budget. He is in no way representative of SNAP recipients, and his behavior is atypical -- waste and fraud within the SNAP program is actually pretty rare.
In spite of all this, Greenslate ate up nine minutes of the hour-long special, divided between two segments. Offering no data or fact-based justification of any kind, Baier proclaimed Greenslate "the new face of food stamps." Baier's intention was clear: to create the (false) impression that SNAP is rife with abuse, and to transform Greenslate into a punching bag for conservative politicians and pundits who want to slash the social safety net.
New data reveal persistent, elevated poverty rates in the United States in the wake of recession. The news of economic stagnation among low-income Americans comes at a time when right-wing outlets are leveling attacks on anti-poverty programs and other policies that could raise incomes, drive economic growth, and lift millions of Americans out of poverty.
On September 17, the United States Census Bureau released updated nationwide statistics on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage for 2012. Tens of millions of Americans have seen no positive change in their circumstances from year-to-year. From the press release:
The nation's official poverty rate in 2012 was 15.0 percent, which represents 46.5 million people living at or below the poverty line. This marked the second consecutive year that neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from the previous year's estimates. The 2012 poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the economic downturn.
According to Census Bureau data, the poverty rate, which neared all-time lows by 2000, has been on the rise for more than a decade through two distinct periods of recession and recovery.
Despite more than three years of consistent economic growth, and a recovery of the financial sector, millions of Americans remain mired in poverty, where they are often the target of right-wing assaults.
Right-wing media attacks on anti-poverty programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) reached new heights in the past year. A misleading Fox News documentary portrayed the alleged abuse of the program by a single California recipient as a harbinger of fraud nationwide. Meanwhile, various Fox personalities have wildly exaggerated actual rates of fraud and abuse. At least one attack on SNAP inflated actual abuse statistics by 5,000 percent.
Although these segments frame a narrative regarding how much the government should cut from these benefit programs, they completely ignore the fact that abuse rates in SNAP and other government benefits are historically low and the economic return on investment is positive. The fact that Fox News, in particular, has begun using its own misleading coverage of benefit abuse as a lobbying and promotional tool to influence members of Congress shows unprecedented legislative influence by the right-wing media in dismantling the social safety net.
Right-wing attacks have also been leveled against proposals to increase the federal minimum wage, an action that would immediately lift millions of workers out of poverty and provide a boost to the economy.
Part of the attack against lifting the minimum wage has consistently focused on the involvement of labor unions. In his preview of the latest poverty data, economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) explained that unionization is one of the best options available to alleviate poverty. His analysis of union activity in OECD countries concludes that higher rates of union membership have a positive impact on lowering poverty rates. Labor unions, via collective bargaining, effectively raise wages and therefore the share of economic productivity distributed to workers. In cases when they are politically active, unions typically promote policies that they believe would benefit other workers, spreading the benefits of unionization to union members and non-members alike. From CEPR:
There are many other important differences that could be important in reducing poverty in these countries. However in almost every case, unions were a major force in advancing the various policies that are associated with lower poverty. It would have been difficult to envision a scenario in which these policies would have been enacted with pressure from unions.
Decreasing union membership is often celebrated by the right-wing as an ideological victory, when it in fact represents an economic policy failure. The right-wing media remain unflinching in their constant attacks on worker mobilization and labor unions.