While discussing a Supreme Court case focused on union fees, Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade falsely claimed that public employees were "forced to join unions" and to pay fees that went directly "to political causes." Not only can public employees opt out of joining a union, but the reduced fees that non-members pay, known as agency fees, are used by the union to collectively bargain on behalf of all the employees of a workplace -- including non-members -- and are distinctly not permitted for use toward a union's outside political activity.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board predictably lined up behind the conservative establishment's interests by arguing in favor of a Supreme Court decision that would deal a blow to unions representing teachers, social workers, EMTs, firefighters, and other public employees.
On January 11, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case calling into question a California state teachers union's right to charge an "agency fee" or "fair share fee" to non-members who benefit from the union's collective bargaining efforts despite not paying full membership dues. Media have noted that if the case results in the court overturning a previous decision, it would weaken all public-sector unions -- and a "who's who" of conservative anti-union backers have been instrumental in bringing it before the Supreme Court as quickly as possible.
The "agency fee" principle was established in a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and was designed to prevent non-union employees from freely enjoying the substantial benefits negotiated by unions on behalf of their members. This so-called "free rider" problem would otherwise force unions to operate on smaller budgets but continue to bargain and organize on behalf of the same number of people. As The Atlantic reports:
Under federal law, if a majority of employees decide to form a union, the union must represent all employees for bargaining purposes. But if some people decide not to join (whether because of genuine political disagreement or merely to save money on the fees), the union has less leverage because it represents fewer members. It also has less money to pay for the things that keep it strong, like bargaining and organizing. But it still has an obligation to do things such as bargaining and organizing since, in many states, public employers are required to bargain with unions.
The Supreme Court's most recent decision on agency fees in the 2014 case Harris v. Quinn, which the Wall Street Journal also advocated for and celebrated, signaled the conservative majority's desire to revisit and potentially overturn Abood, and thus decades of labor law that are "vital to the very concept of public employee unionism" -- an opportunity Friedrichs now provides.
Of course, the Wall Street Journal predictably jumped at the chance to fall in line with conservative interest groups pushing for a case like Friedrichs that could give the court -- in particular, Justice Samuel Alito, who seemingly asked for such a case in his Harris opinion -- the chance to overturn Abood. On January 10, the Journal's editorial board celebrated Friedrichs as "a rare and splendid opportunity to repair damage to the First Amendment done by the Court itself" -- at best, minimizing the implications for public-sector unions and public employees and, at worst, enjoying the prospect that institutions of organized labor could be dealt a serious blow with the decision. The editorial pushed several incorrect claims related to the case before concluding that Abood ought to be sent "to the mistake file" with the Friedrichs decision:
But as the teachers point out, collective bargaining in government is impossible to separate from matters of ideological speech. For public teachers, collective bargaining involves wages and benefits that inevitably implicate fiscal policy and the tax burden. It also includes such controversial political matters as teacher evaluations and tenure. Individual teachers who object to the union's positions on these issues must nonetheless subsidize them.
In her dissent in Harris, Justice Elena Kagan justified this state coercion for unions on grounds that the government has an interest in labor peace. But no great harm to the state or the public is caused by letting teachers exercise their free-speech right. The union won't vanish, or even lose its monopoly bargaining power. It will merely have less money to spend to influence politicians.
The board claimed that "no great harm to the state or the public" would result from a decision overturning Abood, and that the California teachers' union "won't vanish, or even lose its monopoly bargaining power," but would "merely have less money to spend to influence politicians."
The Journal's anti-union argument managed to be wrong on just about all counts: research shows that unions are severely weakened when they are no longer allowed to charge agency fees for collective bargaining activities, and the economy suffers as a result. In so-called "right-to-work" states, where unions cannot charge agency fees, unions have notably decreased in size and potential leverage, and public employees are earning less and enjoying fewer benefits. And as economist Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, points out, "a decline in unionization on the national level has caused wage stagnation, growing inequality, and the overall slippage of the American middle class."
The Journal also mischaracterized the premise of agency fees, arguing that paying such fees requires public employees who do not agree with a union's political stances to "nonetheless subsidize them." The Abood decision establishing agency fees prevents exactly that, drawing a distinction that limits agency fee revenue to subsidize only collective bargaining activities, not political advocacy. The Journal's claim ignores that distinction to back the plaintiff's flawed argument that all union activity constitutes free speech -- even bargaining and organizing that directly benefit employees and prevent costly, escalated labor disputes.
The Wall Street Journal's factually challenged opinion on the Friedrichs case should come as no surprise; the Journal has a long history of advocating for measures that would weaken organized labor, and members of its board are tied to the "web of dark money" responsible for pushing Friedrichs to the Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs in Friedrichs, ten California public school teachers, are represented by conservative legal group the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), a pro-bono legal organization known for its work on cases dismantling affirmative action and civil rights protections, with donors connected to "the web of dark money" associated with anti-labor billionaires Charles and David Koch. CIR attorneys declined to argue the case in lower courts, instead pushing for the courts to issue decisions that would allow the case to move exceptionally quickly to the Supreme Court level. The CIR's funders constitute "a who's who of the right's opposition to organized labor." As The American Prospect reported:
Koch-linked groups known to have made grants to CIR, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, include DonorsTrust, the Donors Capital Fund, and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation. Other CIR funders belong to the Koch donor network. Among them are the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, as well as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which was instrumental in the legislative attack on labor in Wisconsin...
Think tanks and groups that receive either direct funding from Koch entities or are linked to the Koch brothers' funding network also filed amicus briefs in favor of the Friedrichs plaintiffs. They include the Cato Institute, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, and the Mackinac Center, a major force behind the 2012 anti-union legislation enacted in Michigan.
According to journalist Laura Flanders, earlier in its history CIR also enjoyed the support of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist organization devoted to the promotion of eugenics.
It's clear the "phony grass-roots support" behind Friedrichs is well-funded by the anti-labor conservative establishment, and propped up by research written by institutions and individuals receiving that funding. The Wall Street Journal editorial board's flimsy argument to overturn Abood may be no exception -- several members of the board have received large grants from the Bradley Foundation, one of the foundations involved in Wisconsin's "right-to-work" push in 2014 and a funder of the CIR. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, two of the foundation's annual $250,000 "Bradley Prizes" for journalism were awarded to Wall Street Journal columnists in 2014 -- one of whom sits on the paper's editorial board. In 2010, Paul A. Gigot, the editorial pages editor at the Journal, also received the Bradley prize.
Media figures have credited House Speaker Paul Ryan with thrusting the supposedly "forgotten" issue of poverty into the 2016 Republican presidential race following his participation in the January 9 presidential forum on poverty, but failed to mention that despite his new rhetoric, Ryan has a long history of promoting harmful policies that would "exacerbate poverty, inequality, and wage stagnation."
MSNBC's Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski squandered the opportunity to ask GOP presidential candidates and House Speaker Paul Ryan any questions related to their plans to eliminate poverty and raise wages during a series of interviews at a GOP anti-poverty summit. Instead of discussing topics relevant to the anti-poverty forum, the co-hosts questioned the GOP candidates and Speaker about election polling, campaign strategy, and Donald Trump, among other unrelated issues.
From the January 10 edition of MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry:
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Fox Business host Stuart Varney opened his show this morning by downplaying the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) jobs report for December 2015, marking the third consecutive month that Fox personalities have attempted to cast stellar job creation figures in a negative light.
On the January 8 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney opened the show by downplaying the December 2015 employment summary from the BLS, which showed the economy added 292,000 jobs last month. After accounting for upward revisions to job creation totals in October and November, the December report was the strongest jobs report of 2015. Instead of acknowledging these facts, Varney referred to this report as "modest by historical standards" and lamented that it was a sign of the "new normal in the Obama years." Later in the segment, Varney and guest Paul Conway, a former Bush administration official, combed through the report for kernels of negative data. Far from being "modest by historical standards," in the 77-year history of the BLS monthly jobs report, only 171 of the 923 months (18.5 percent) have seen job creation equal to or greater than the December 2015 total.
Varney's disingenuous complaint fits a trend at Fox News, where on-air personalities continue to lament consistently improving economic data. On November 6, 2015, Fox & Friends co-hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Steve Doocy stumbled through a segment on the outstanding October jobs report, with Hasselbeck confusingly claiming that "only 271,000 jobs" had been created that month. On December 4, 2015, in response to a strong November report that beat most economists' expectations, Varney still managed to conclude that the pace of job creation was "mediocre."
The December report showed that the economy added 2.7 million jobs in 2015 and the national unemployment rate remained stable in December at 5.0 percent. BLS revisions to October and November jobs figures combined to add 50,000 more jobs than previously reported, bringing the 3-month average for job creation to 284,000, its highest level since the end of last year.
In the face of Fox's contrarian reporting, actual economists were elated by the job market news. University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers began a stream of tweets about the report by stating "It's beautiful. Just beautiful." A blog by economist Jared Bernstein called the December data "another welcome show of strength" for the ongoing economic recovery. In a statement to The New York Times, economist Mark Zandi described the December report as "remarkable" and an "achievement":
"The remarkable thing is how consistent employment growth has been over the past three or four years," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "We're getting at least 200,000 jobs per month on a consistent basis. That's quite an achievement."
Watch the full opening remarks from Varney & Co. below:
STUART VARNEY (HOST): 292,000 new the jobs created, modest by historical standards, the new normal in the Obama years. But hourly earnings unchanged, that's important.
Media outlets are challenging both the substance and form of Ted Cruz's latest anti-immigration ad, calling it out for factual errors as well as racism and classism.
CNBC reported that a study published by the journal Health Affairs "found little evidence that the ACA has caused increases in part-time employment as of 2015," debunking a long time conservative media attack on President Obama's health care law.
Despite being repeatedly debunked, right-wing pundits have continued to push the false claim that the Affordable Care Act would negatively effect American employment, claiming its enactment would drive losses in full-time jobs while increasing part-time employment -- though no data has supported this assertion.
A January 5 article from CNBC reported that despite Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) assertion that the ACA has "forced millions of people into part-time work," "the analysis did not find such a shift to a reduction in work hours," and this speculative claim "isn't borne out by reality":
A new study further undercuts a major claim by critics of the Affordable Care Act, who contended that the law would encourage companies to slash full-time workers' hours and shift them into part-time work in order to avoid having to offer them health insurance.
The research "found little evidence that the ACA had caused increases in part-time employment as of 2015," according to a summary of the findings published in the journal Health Affairs on Tuesday.
"We can say with a large degree of confidence that there is nothing we can see nationwide when we look at the whole workforce" that would support a claim that the so-called employer mandate or other Obamacare features have led to increases in part-time employment at the expense of full-time jobs, said Kosali Simon, a professor at Indiana University, and a co-author of the report.
Critics of the law have said that many employers, rather than subsidize workers' insurance plans or pay the Obamacare fine, would instead cut workers' hours so that they fell below the 30-hour-per-week threshold that would trigger the penalty.
"There doesn't appear to be any substantial changes in the labor market as a result of Obamacare. The anecdotes are real, but I think it's just not happening in large numbers." -Larry Levitt, senior vice president, Kaiser Family Foundation
But the research published Tuesday in Health Affairs strongly suggests that such "speculation that employers would reduce work hours to avoid the mandate that they must offer health insurance to full-time employees" isn't borne out by reality.
"If this were true, one would expect to find increases in employment at the 'kink' just below the thirty-hour threshold," the paper noted.
2015 was an important year in education policy, with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the beginning of the 2016 election campaigns, and local fights for teachers and public schools making national headlines. In an important year for students and teachers across the education spectrum, however, some media outlets used their platforms to push falsehoods. Here are five of the worst media failures on public education this year.
This summer, teachers union opponent and former journalist Campbell Brown launched a "non-profit, non-partisan news site about education," called The Seventy Four. In spite of the site's stated mission to combat "misinformation and political spin" with "investigation, expertise, and experience," Brown hired Eric Owens, who has a long history of attacks on students and teachers, to write for the site. Owens has a long history of attacking and mocking teachers and students with transphobic, sexist, victim-blaming, and racially insensitive rhetoric as the education editor at the Daily Caller.
This year, The Wall Street Journal continued its campaign of misinformation on teachers unions, pushing harmful, union-opposed policies such as a Louisiana voucher program that was found to violate desegregation requirements and a Washington, D.C. voucher program reported to waste federal dollars on "unsuitable learning environments." The WSJ editorial board often explicitly attributed its support of these unsuccessful policies to combating teachers unions. In an October editorial, for example, the board wrote that being "unpopular with unions... ought to be a requirement for any education leadership position," ignoring the troubling realities of the programs they attempted to defend in spite of well-founded union concerns.
As ESSA moved through Congress in late November, the editorial board doubled down on its teacher-blaming rhetoric, claiming that the new legislation was favored by "teachers unions who want less accountability," and advocating for the continuation of unpopular high-stakes testing and voucher policies in the states.
The Washington Post editorial board similarly advocated for continuing the extensive testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, lending support to a high-stakes testing policy with questionable public or research support, and villainized teachers unions in the process. In its February editorial on the issue, the Post claimed that teachers unions "give lip service to accountability as long as their members aren't the ones held to account," and cited this self-interest as the source of unions' opposition to flawed teacher evaluation models that utilize students' standardized test scores to punish teachers.
Fox News featured offensive and often inaccurate commentary on public education and the teaching profession throughout the year -- in some cases doubling down on the anti-teacher rhetoric many Fox figures pushed in 2014.
In February, Outnumbered co-host Kennedy kicked off the teacher-bashing by arguing that "there really shouldn't be public schools," before the hosts agreed that the federal Department of Education ought to be abolished. In April, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy slurred prospective bilingual educators, referring to immigrants with legal permission to work in the United States as "illegals" during a segment highlighting an initiative to boost language learning in schools.
In August, Fox & Friends included a segment where Fox News regular Frank Luntz conducted a live focus group segment about public education. Questions for the focus group included "Who here has issue with teachers unions?" and "Doesn't it make you angry that you're putting all this money into public schools?" Luntz followed up his leading question about teachers unions by singling out a teacher from the group and asking him to "defend" himself.
In an October discussion about New York City schools on Fox's The Five, the co-hosts implored the city's public school teachers to "become a better teacher" and "don't suck at your job." That same month, co-host Juan Williams attacked unions' endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, asserting that an "unholy alliance between education unions and Democrats" would be "dangerous for our kids" and would "hurt" "minority communities" and "poor people."
This year also marked the launch of the 2016 presidential campaign season, with five Republican and three Democratic debates held this fall. While candidates outlined their positions time and again on national security issues, women's health care, and taxes, the debates barely mentioned education issues. A Media Matters search of all eight full debate transcripts found only nine mentions of any variation of the term "teach." In fact, according to this review, no candidate or moderator uttered the phrases "No Child Left Behind," "Race To The Top," or "Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)" throughout the 2015 debate season, despite the recent passage of the landmark ESSA legislation replacing No Child Left Behind.
Moderators did discuss schools and teachers a handful of times throughout the debate season, mostly in relation to national security. In the August 6 Republican debate on Fox News, moderator Bret Baier questioned former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on their disagreement on the Common Core state standards and asked former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) whether he would abolish the Department of Education, among other federal agencies. The moderators of the October 28 CNBC Republican debate also mentioned teachers once, when moderator Carlos Quintanilla asked Donald Trump about his comments that educators ought to be armed. And on CNN's December 15 Republican debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked candidates about the closure of the Los Angeles Unified school district following an email threat.
The other five debates did not feature questions regarding K-12 education policy.
Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and school funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions not only protect the rights of educators but also benefit students and their communities, state newspapers editorializing on union activities framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others.
Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, Media Matters found that state newspapers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, and Washington published editorials distorting the facts to question the motives of teachers and attack their right to organize.
In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News repeatedly claimed that teachers unions supporting a parent-led movement against standardized testing want to maintain "the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo" and require children to "pay the price." In Scranton, Pennsylvania, The Scranton Times-Tribune lamented that teachers unions had the ability to strike and dismissed teachers' calls to be treated with respect and dignity. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Albuquerque Journal mocked teachers' concerns over an unfair evaluation method that was subsequently struck down by a district court that agreed with the unions. In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times dismissed unions' worries that a charter expansion plan created by one of the paper's education reporting funders would financially jeopardize local public schools, telling those who opposed the plan to "quit whining." And in Seattle, Washington, The Seattle Times repeatedly attacked the local union for "using their students as pawns," as they advocated for fair pay, guaranteed recess time, more funding for schools, and greater equity in school discipline policies.
These editorial board attacks on educators -- because of the readers they serve and the prominence of local priorities on education policy -- have the dangerous potential to shift public conversation away from the facts and to pit communities against the teachers who advocate for them. After a year where the importance of education policy has become more critical than ever, hopefully this disturbing trend will not continue in 2016.
Image by Ian MacKenzie under a Creative Commons license.
Leading up to the 2016 elections, media should be careful not to perpetuate the same myths about Latino voters that many pushed in 2015, including portraying Latinos as a monolithic voter bloc exclusively interested in immigration or superficially attracted to Hispanic or bilingual candidates regardless of their policies, and suggesting this growing demographic will be a "non-factor" in 2016.
In 2015, conservative media outlets -- led by Fox News -- set a new standard for attacking the least fortunate members of American society, targeting low-income workers, recipients of government assistance, and the homeless in a campaign of misinformation. The campaign was so pervasive that President Obama personally addressed it during a leadership summit dedicated to alleviating poverty. In recognition of their exemplary efforts to distort the public discourse on poverty, here are five of the worst trends in right-wing media poor-shaming from 2015.
Right-wing media spent 2015 defending, praising, and peddling several of GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's debunked falsehoods, which PolitiFact rounded up as one big "lie of the year."
Public school educators and their unions in major cities made national headlines in 2015 following strikes, contentious contract negotiations, school board elections, and funding battles. While research shows that teachers unions benefit students, educators, and communities, state newspapers editorializing on these union activities have ignored the facts and framed unions and educators as selfishly seeking higher pay at the expense of others. Amidst a victory year for teachers unions on several fronts, here are some of the most inaccurate claims state newspaper editorial boards pushed.
With global crude oil prices at their lowest point in seven years, and gasoline prices approaching their lowest point of President Obama's term of office, Media Matters remembers Fox News' hypocritical coverage of the relationship between presidential policy initiatives and fuel and energy markets.
For two consecutive years, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has published an estimate of how many workers will choose to leave the workforce or reduce their work hours as a result of certain protections and subsidies created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As was the case last year, conservative media has incorrectly reported that the CBO was projecting potential job losses stemming from Obamacare.