Fox News accused MA Gov. Deval Patrick of "playing politics" by refusing to release details of welfare benefits reportedly used by the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. But as Patrick has noted, state and federal law prevents the release of this information.
On April 24, an article in the right-leaning Boston Herald reported that the Boston Marathon bombing suspects had received some government assistance as children and that deceased suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev's family received some welfare benefits until 2012. The paper later reported that Massachusetts state officials had "clamped down the lid" on the Herald's requests for more details on Tamerlan Tsarnaev's government benefits.
Fox hosts seized on this to criticize Gov. Patrick on the April 26 edition of Fox & Friends. Co-host Steve Doocy said that "the governor told all the state agencies to clam up" and on-air text asked if Patrick is "playing politics."
Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson said:
CARLSON: Well, apparently Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts won't exactly explain what taxpayer assistance the bombers actually received because he says it's a matter of protecting their personal privacy. Well, that's interesting because one of those suspects is dead, and so what kind of personal privacy would be at hand to not be able to at least release what should be public knowledge if the taxpayers actually were financing these two people and their families for the last 10 years.
Fox failed to note that state and federal laws prohibit the government officials from releasing such information, a fact that Patrick had pointed out after facing questions about why the government had not released more details. On April 25, the Boston Herald reported:
Gov. Deval Patrick defended his administration's refusal to release financial aid, welfare, unemployment and other information about the suspected Boston Marathon bombers today.
"It's not about a right to privacy, it's about abiding by the law," said Patrick in Jamaica Plain today. "We'll do what we can do within the law. I'm curious, too. I understand people's curiosity."
Patrick added that he would be "happy" to release whatever information the law allows.
The Associated Press reported that the Massachusetts welfare agency later acknowledged that it had been a "mistake" to release the information to the media, saying it "inappropriately confirmed" media inquiries on the issue. The agency further stated: "Disclosing such information is not allowed by law. Regardless of the circumstances, we are obligated to follow state and federal law."
Fox News forwarded the notion that it might be appropriate for school children to be forced to work in exchange for free school meals, after a Republican lawmaker in West Virginia proposed such a requirement for a new law curbing child hunger.
On Fox & Friends First, on-screen text asked viewers whether students should have to "work for their school meals":
As The Washington Post blog "She The People" explained, the idea that students could be forced into labor in exchange for food comes from a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, who suggested the requirement be added to a bill intended to ensure no child goes hungry:
"I think it would be a good idea if perhaps we had the kids work for their lunches: trash to be taken out, hallways to be swept, lawns to be mowed, make them earn it," said Ray Canterbury, a Republican from Greenbrier and a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, during debate over Senate Bill 663, also known as the Feed to Achieve Act.
The bill -- the first of its kind in the nation -- would create a partnership between private donations and public funds to make breakfast and lunch available for free to every student, kindergarten through high school senior, in West Virginia. It's based on a model program in Mason County that's improved attendance and decreased discipline problems, according to the school district's food service director.
Free meals are provided through the National School Lunch Program to students whose family's income is 130 percent or less of the federal poverty guidelines. For this past school year, that means a family of four with an annual income of $29,965 qualifies. Children with household incomes of 185 percent or less of the poverty guidelines can get reduced-price meals under the program, which -- I was surprised to learn -- was established in 1946 by the National School Lunch Act.
West Virginia's Feed to Achieve Act wants to go beyond that by making sure no child goes hungry at school, but Canterbury repeated the theme of "there is no such thing as a free lunch" during the delegates' discussion of the bill, which had passed the state Senate unanimously.
Media outlets including NPR and Fox News are targeting federal disability benefits programs through a campaign deceptively portraying these programs as wasteful and unsustainable. In reality, these programs have low fraud rates and help the rising number of Americans with severe disabilities survive when they are unable to work.
Fueled by a report from the conservative Boston Herald, right wing media outlets such as Fox News, the New York Post, and the Washington Times, are demonizing government assistance programs by tying them to the heinous terror attacks committed at the Boston Marathon. Conservative blogs used sensationalized headlines and rhetoric to make their attacks, like RedState's "Does The US Welfare System Benefit Jihadists?" and Monica Crowley's "Nice Return on Our Investment, Huh?"
On April 24, 2013, the Boston Herald published a report that claimed, "Marathon bombings mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism."
On the April 24 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer hyped the report and complained that "taxpayers were giving money to at least one of the bombing suspects."
In reality, the right-wing smear uses an absurd guilt-by-association non sequitur in an attempt to smear government spending programs. But where does this logic end? The Tsarnaev brothers presumably used taxpayer funded roads to physically reach the Boston Marathon finish line. Will right wing media next attack government spending on highway maintenance for literally paving the way for the Boston terror suspects to commit their crimes?
Conservatives are trying to take advantage of the horrific attacks to taint the public perception of yet another policy they dislike. Since the terrorist attack on April 15, the right wing media has exploited the tragedy in Boston to smear Islam, immigration reform, education, a member of Congress, the Obama administration's foreign policy, and even the constitutional rights of American citizens.
UPDATE: During his radio program, Rush Limbaugh also jumped on this bandwagon. Limbaugh claimed the Herald's report shows "another great example of your tax dollars at work."
LIMBAUGH: Now we hear that the entire Tsarnaev family was on welfare. How could he not be an Obama supporter?
So we have another great example of your tax dollars at work. Your tax money helped to pay for the explosives, as well as Tamerlan's at least two trips back to Dagestan, his late model Mercedes, his $900 shoes. No wonder this guy hated America.
From the April 8 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News' Steve Doocy suggested that Obama look to Texas as a model for economic growth, ignoring the fact that the state's high job growth doesn't translate to economic success for many Texans. Texas' economic problems include a median wage below the national average, one of the largest minimum wage workforces in the country, and the highest rate of adults without health insurance.
From the March 30 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
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Rush Limbaugh attacked the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, as the "buy beer ... with a government credit card" despite prohibitions on the purchase of alcohol with program funds.
From Limbaugh's March 29 radio show:
SNAP explicitly prohibits the use of program funds to purchase alcohol. The program's website, which is operated by the Department of Agriculture, lists "Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco" as examples of products that SNAP benefits cannot pay for:
Households CANNOT use SNAP benefits to buy:
-- pet foods;
- Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco;
- Any nonfood items, such as:
-- soaps, paper products; and
-- household supplies.
- Vitamins and medicines.
- Food that will be eaten in the store.
- Hot foods.
Fox's Alisyn Camerota and Charles Payne attacked paid sick day laws as job-killing "entitlements" but ignored studies indicating such laws protect vulnerable workers while having little or no negative impact on businesses.
On the March 29 broadcast of America's Newsroom, the two criticized a paid sick leave law poised to pass New York's City Council. The law would require companies with at least 15 employees to give full-time and some part-time workers five paid sick days per year, which advocates say would provide paid sick days for one million New Yorkers who don't currently have them.
Camerota opened the segment by saying the law means that "business owners are taking it on the chin here in New York City," and later hyped Mayor Michael Bloomberg's concerns that the law "could crush New York's fragile economy right now." Payne agreed and said Bloomberg is "absolutely right," adding, "We're talking about very thin [profit] margins, and if you have this many sick days and people simply take them, when things get tough, there won't be jobs for those same people. ... The smaller businesses cannot afford it."
Camerota noted that paid sick day laws are becoming a trend nationwide, but failed to inform her viewers that in at least one city, the law has been a success. A paid sick leave law passed in San Francisco has benefited workers and has not harmed businesses there.
Fox Business commentator Charles Payne criticized programs providing food and other assistance to low-income families, bizarrely claiming the social safety net keeps people mired in poverty despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In an America's Newsroom segment, guest host Alisyn Camerota said that enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program, has increased 70 percent since 2008 and asked Payne, her guest, "Is this all just a by-product of this slow recovery?"
Payne agreed that the slow recovery is "a large part" of the cause, but went on to claim that food stamps, as well as other public benefits, actually prevent poor and middle-class Americans from improving their economic status:
PAYNE: For instance, if you're making, in California, $44,000 a year and your boss offers you a raise to 50,000, you would probably say, "No thanks. Cause I don't want to lose out on things like food stamp benefits, local benefits, my child care tax credit, my earned income tax credit."
In other words, you know, we're a very generous society. But what we've actually ended up doing is creating a wall, a giant barrier for people to move out of poverty into the middle class because that initial transition, they actually lose money and lose benefits.
Payne is wrong (even setting aside the fact that a Californian family earning $44,000 would almost never qualify for food stamps). Social safety net programs are not "a giant barrier" for people seeking to escape poverty: they keep millions of Americans out of poverty every year.
From the March 28 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has a long and documented history of pushing economic misinformation on his program, reinforced recently by economist Richard Wolff who said O'Reilly's claims about the economy are false.
On the March 25 edition of the independently syndicated Democracy Now!, former University of Massachusetts, Amherst economics professor Richard Wolff responded to O'Reilly's claim that European countries are going bankrupt because they are "nanny states," stating:
WOLFF: You know, he gets away with saying things which no undergraduate in the United States with a responsible economics professor could ever get away with. If you want to refer to things as "nanny states" then the place you go in Europe is not the southern tier -- Portugal, Spain, and Italy -- the place you go are Germany and Scandinavia because they provide more social services to their people than anybody else. And guess what? Not only are they not in trouble economically, they are the winners of the current situation.
[O'Reilly's] just making it up as he goes along to conform to an ideological position that is harder and harder for folks like him to sustain, so he has to reach further and further into fantasy.
O'Reilly's misinformation on economic issues, however, is not just contained to commenting on the European experience. Here are 10 other examples of O'Reilly's failure to accurately understand economics:
10. O'Reilly Falsely Compared The U.S. Debt Situation With That Of Greece. In an effort to force Congress to enact deep spending cuts, O'Reilly claimed that "like Greece, Ireland, and Spain...the USA has bankrupted itself." However, economists agree that the U.S.-Greece comparison is misguided and ignores the structure of the countries' economies.
9. O'Reilly Dismissed The Recession's Effect On Gas Prices. O'Reilly expressed doubt over the economic downturn's effect on gas prices, claiming that President Obama's explanation for low gas prices was "totally bogus." In reality, gas prices dropped precipitously during the recession, a fact that many news outlets -- including Fox -- reported at the time.
8. O'Reilly Claimed That Food Stamps Have No Economic Value. In a discussion about President Obama's stimulus bill, O'Reilly claimed that increasing spending on food stamps has "nothing to do with stimulating the economy." However, economists largely disagree, and studies have indicated that food stamps are among the most stimulative of government programs.
7. O'Reilly Suggested Bush Tax Cuts Increased Revenue. In an interview with former President Clinton, O'Reilly claimed that because of "the tax cuts under Bush, more money flowed into the federal government." However, when tax revenues are expressed as a share of the economy, the Bush tax cuts resulted in the lowest level in any decade since the 1950s, a fact noted by many economists.
6. O'Reilly Dismissed The Causes Of Income Inequality. In a discussion with Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers, O'Reilly brushed aside income inequality, claiming, "Income inequality is bull. Nobody gives you anything, you earn it." However, O'Reilly's statements ignored the fact that, at the time he said them, taxes on top income earners are at historic lows, and that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "typical middle-class households face higher rates than some high-income households."
5. O'Reilly Blamed Undocumented Immigrants For California's Budget Problems. In a segment on California's budgetary problems, O'Reilly claimed that an "enormous amount of money" was being spent on the "illegal alien problem." However, O'Reilly ignored that fact that a majority of undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and that granting them legal status could have a positive impact on the economy.
4. O'Reilly Repeatedly Suggested That "Irresponsible Behavior And Laziness" Cause Poverty. O'Reilly has consistently characterized the poor as "lazy" and "irresponsible," ignoring the consequences of the recent economic downturn and the rise in income inequality in recent decades.
3. O'Reilly Claimed That The Economy "Would Be Fine" If We Cut Spending To 2008 Levels. In a segment discussing sequestration, O'Reilly called for a rollback in spending to 2008 levels, claiming that the economy "would be fine" if spending was cut to that level. However, this proposal that has been repeatedly criticized by economists as economically dangerous, costing as many as 590,000 jobs.
2. O'Reilly Claimed That The Stimulus Was A Failure. O'Reilly has repeatedly stated that President Obama's stimulus package was a failure, ignoring the fact that, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, it increased employment by over 1 million jobs and raised GDP by between 0.8 and 2.5 percent.
1. O'Reilly Repeatedly Claimed That Economy Is Worse Off Than It Was When Obama First Took Office. O'Reilly has consistently stated that the Obama administration's policies are hurting the economy, even going so far as to claim that it is worse off than it was prior to Obama's first inauguration. However, by almost every measure of economic health, including unemployment, net job creation, and GDP, the economy has improved greatly since 2009.
From the March 13 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the March 9 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
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Fox News revived the debunked myth that President Obama "gutted" work requirements from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program despite the fact that the claim has repeatedly been shown to be false.
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy hyped a bill introduced by House Republicans last week that seeks to block the administration from granting waivers to states under the TANF program. Doocy claimed the bill would "make work a condition for receiving welfare," and repeated the debunked myth that those requirements have been "gutted under President Obama."
But the Obama administration has not removed work requirements from welfare. In July 2012, the administration announced that it would comply with governors' requests -- including Republicans -- to consider proposals to create more efficient ways to report on the work requirement for people receiving TANF benefits. According to Health and Human Services, any program that weakened or undercut welfare reform would not be approved, and waivers would only be granted to proposals that "move at least 20% more people from welfare to work."
The Center on Budget and Policies Priorities found that these waivers would strengthen welfare reform by "giving states greater flexibility to test more effective strategies for helping recipients prepare for, and retain jobs." The New York Times reported that the new requirements continued the administration's efforts "to peel back unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and allow states to spend federal money more efficiently."
As NPR reported, following 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney's use of the claim in a political ad, "every major fact-checking organization" found the attack to be false. Politifact rated the claim as "pants on fire" and The Washington Post's fact checker gave the claim four Pinocchios (its highest rating). Factcheck.org found no basis for the claim, explaining:
A Mitt Romney TV ad claims the Obama administration has adopted 'a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.' The plan does neither of those things.
- Work requirements are not simply being 'dropped.' States may now change the requirements -- revising, adding or eliminating them -- as part of a federally approved state-specific plan to increase job placement.
- And it won't 'gut' the 1996 law to ease the requirement. Benefits still won't be paid beyond an allotted time, whether the recipient is working or not.
The Washington Post's Wonkblog noted that unlike Obama, the Bush administration "pushed for a welfare 'superwaiver' that would allow states to waive just about every requirement, including the work requirement," a proposal which passed in the House three times.