Fox News hosts falsely claimed that a federal program that helps low-income Americans obtain phone access is paid for by individual taxpayers, when in fact the program is funded by fees levied on telecommunications companies. Fox fabricated this falsehood in support of a new smear campaign against low-income phone programs from conservative activist James O'Keefe.
From the June 19 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co.:
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Conservative activist James O'Keefe released a new highly edited video that he's using to suggest there are widespread problems with a government program that provides phones and phone service to low-income Americans.
The Lifeline phone program, which according to the Federal Communications Commission "provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income consumers to help ensure they have the opportunities and security that telephone service affords, including being able to connect to jobs, family, and 911 services," has existed for decades and was expanded to include cell phones during the Bush administration. Conservatives have criticized the program repeatedly, which they have called the "Obama phone" for years.
O'Keefe's video, which coincides with the launch of his self-congratulatory book, purports to show O'Keefe's actors receiving free cell phones after telling employees of a wireless phone company that they plan to sell the phones to pay for drugs, other purchases, or bills. The edited video includes a narration by O'Keefe asking if the employees would tell his actors "to sell the phones and break the law."
The raw footage that O'Keefe also released doesn't show any of the featured employees telling the actors to sell their free phones, despite the actors repeatedly saying that they intend to do so and asking about their resale value. As New York magazine's Jonathan Chait explained, the employees only acknowledged that personal property, in the form of these cell phones, can be sold by their owners to buy other things. The raw footage also shows that none of the actors actually received a free phone -- only information about how they could apply for a free phone and the eligibility requirements to receive one, with the actors walking away saying they'd bring their documentation later.
But O'Keefe's edited video is fulfilling its intended effect and is fooling right-wing media. The Daily Mail Online's David Martosko, who wrote the exclusive article about O'Keefe's video, falsely wrote in his headline that the video "catches wireless employees passing out 'Obama phones' to people who say they'll sell them for drugs, shoes, handbags and spending cash." Martosko again wrote that the video:
[S]hows two corporate distributors of free cell phones handing out the mobile devices to people who have promised to sell them for drug money, to buy shoes and handbags, to pay off their bills, or just for extra spending cash.
Again, the raw footage shows that the actors who stated their intention to sell free phones for these reasons never actually received phones.
Fox News has teased a segment on the O'Keefe video for Tuesday's edition of The O'Reilly Factor. Will Fox fall for O'Keefe's misleading framing?
From the June 14 edition of Fox News' O'Reilly Factor:
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Right-wing media have repeatedly used dishonest and misleading charts from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to decry spending on nutrition assistance and other programs for needy Americans.
Fox News, Fox Nation, and The Weekly Standard have, over the course of many months, taken charts from Sessions' staff depicting spending on food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and other spending on low-income Americans in grossly misleading ways with out-of-context numbers. On June 12, Fox & Friends First cited Sessions when airing a graphic showing spending on SNAP being more than five times greater than spending on veterans job training and education programs:
Similar charts appeared on Fox Nation and The Weekly Standard. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projection that is cited on the graph does not list any spending on veterans job training and education, so that number cannot be verified. But the White House projects that spending on this program will increase over the next five years, after it already grew dramatically after 2009 -- while spending on SNAP is projected to decrease over the same five-year period.
But it is ridiculous to compare a veterans education program -- which is limited to only military veterans and thus a very small segment of the population -- to SNAP, which is an income security program (indeed, it is listed as such in the CBO document) and is open to every American that meets eligibility requirements. And many veterans and their families are eligible for SNAP and active-duty service members and their families use the benefits. But if one was to look at income security spending for veterans, CBO projections show that more is actually spent on veterans -- a total of $801 billion on income security for veterans over 10 years, and a much larger amount than the veterans program highlighted by Sessions and the right-wing media.
During the segment, Fox Business' Diane Macedo noted that "the USDA also provides bonuses totaling about $50 million per year to states that meet high enrollment targets." These awards, which Sessions brought up on Fox News in June 2012, date back to the Bush administration, and have their origin in the 2002 farm bill.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs downplayed proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that experts have estimated could end eligibility for millions of low-income households.
On the June 11 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs reported on proposed changes to the farm bill, the legislation that includes authorization and funding for the SNAP program. After noting that both the House and Senate versions of the bill reduced SNAP funding by several billion dollars, Dobbs downplayed the effects of the cuts: "The Senate bill would actually cut spending on food stamps by an almost negligible $4 billion, but a bill awaiting debate in the House calls for a $20 billion cut in food stamps. Still, when you're talking about both measures providing $700 billion to food stamps alone over the next decade, neither cut, of course, is particularly sharp."
But the cuts would have significant effects on SNAP eligibility. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that the version of the bill advanced by the House Agriculture Committee, which cuts about $20 billion from SNAP over 10 years, would cause almost 2 million low-income people to lose SNAP eligibility and limit access to school meals:
While the five largest network and cable Sunday shows underreported economic developments in the past month, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry provided ample discussion of the economy.
A Media Matters analysis of Sunday show coverage from May 12 to June 9 found that ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC devoted less than 36 total minutes to the economy. This lapse in coverage occurred despite multiple economic developments emerging over that period.
Of the Sunday shows analyzed, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry stood out for its economic coverage. In five weeks, the show dedicated almost three hours to discussion on the economy -- by far the most coverage of the seven shows Media Matters analyzed. Melissa Harris-Perry was almost five times more likely to discuss the economy than CNN and network Sunday shows combined.
The show's discussion of the economy was diverse, touching on a range of topics including poverty in America, food insecurity, student loan reform, and the recent rebound of the housing market.
The show's ample and diverse economic coverage comes at a critical time -- according to a May 7 Gallup poll, a majority of Americans view an array of economic issues as high priorities.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren lamented that "we do nothing about the poor," but has repeatedly hosted guests who have attacked the federal food stamp program, which helps keep millions out of poverty and limits the effects of poverty and unemployment.
On the June 9 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren decried a lack of attention to impoverished Americans, saying, "The thing that disturbs me is that the economy I see is a three legged stool: the rich, the middle class, and the poor. And all three have to be winning and surviving, and we do nothing about the poor. You know, we play with all these numbers and look at all the unemployment but we still aren't digging into the inner city and going into the poverty, the huge poverty at the bottom in this city."
But Van Susteren's concern for the poor is inconsistent with attacks by guests on her show on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program that is designed to keep people out of poverty.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney dismissed the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a highly effective anti-poverty program, as "corrupt," falsely claiming that it offers excessive benefits to people "who have never paid a dime in their lives," while admitting, "I am being mean to poor people. Frankly, I am."
On the June 5 edition of Fox & Friends, Varney continued his campaign against the EITC, demonizing the program as a "corrupt" effort to redistribute income to "people who have never paid a dime in their lives" [emphasis added]:
VARNEY: Okay, if you work, on the books, you've got a job but you earn very, very little money, you get a check from the government. It is to make up. It's essentially it's a tax credit in the form of a check from the government. We hand out $79 billion every January to these so-called poor people who get a direct check from the taxpayer. That's not complicated. It is corrupt. Because you've got a lot of people who are not reporting off-the-books income but still getting the check.
GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Well why you say so, so the so-called poor people. You're not being mean to poor people today.
VARNEY: I am. I am being mean to poor people. Frankly, I am.
VARNEY: Because this is a direct transfer payment from this group of people who pay taxes--
STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Right.
VARNEY: To this group of people who have never paid a dime in their lives but they get a check from the government.
VARNEY: Let's get to the basics here. This is, in my opinion, a corrupt program administered by the IRS. They're giving out money which they should not be giving out--
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): And why is this?
VARNEY: That budget, the IRS budget is $11 billion. They've given out $13 billion by mistake in this one program.
Why put these people -- why put the IRS in charge of policing Obamacare?
Why do that?
The EITC is set up as a tax credit, not a stipend or a subsidy as Varney implied, and the value is based on the earnings of an individual or family and the number of children supported, increasing in value as workers earn more, until a maximum limit is reached. When earnings reach that certain threshold, payments stabilize and then phase out. The credit is "designed to encourage and reward work" for low-income Americans.
Research has shown that the EITC has been successful at promoting employment. As the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco stated in a March 2012 letter, "[t]he EITC unambiguously encourages some people not working to enter the labor market." The National Bureau of Economic Research similarly found that the EITC has a "substantial, positive effect on the employment of families who have used or will use welfare." And the Congressional Budget Office asserted that the EITC has had particular success in improving employment and reducing poverty for low-income single mothers.
Additionally, the program has helped reduce poverty. A February 1 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report noted that in 2011, the EITC "lifted an estimated 500,000 people out of poverty and reduced the severity of poverty for approximately 10 million poor people." And an April 9 CBPP report found that the EITC's benefits are far-reaching, including potentially improving infant health and helping to improve child academic performance such that the children of recipients are "likelier to attend college, and earn more as adults" than if their parents had not received the tax credit.
Varney has a long history of promoting tax cuts that benefit the rich while pushing to end policies that assist the poor, and has smeared the nation's low-income individuals, going so far as to claim that what low-income people really "lack is the richness of spirit."
Fox News continued its campaign to demonize welfare benefits, this time hyping improper payments made by a Massachusetts program even though those payments made up only a minimal amount of all benefits paid by the state.
On Fox & Friends First, co-host Patti Ann Browne hyped a report that Massachusetts welfare agencies had improperly continued to provide a total of $2.39 million in assistance to 1,164 deceased recipients, calling the figures "ugly." On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade mocked the report, claiming, "More than 2 million dollars. That's the amount of welfare benefits paid out recently to nearly 1200 dead people in Massachusetts. They could not be reached for comment." A FoxNews.com article called the audit of the agencies "damning."
But according to the audit, improper payments to deceased individuals made up only a tiny amount of total assistance payments made by the state. Massachusetts' Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) spent more than $1.7 billion in benefits in fiscal year 2012 alone for a variety of financial assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP, or food stamps) and emergency aid to people with disabilities and children. The audit found only $2.39 million dollars improperly paid to deceased recipients for the entire time period from July 2010 to December 2012.
Furthermore, the audit found that Massachusetts has already taken steps to reduce the small number of improper payments in these programs, and according to the official press release, the auditor was "encouraged" by DTA's actions.
Fox News has a history of attacking programs for Americans in need. Fox News hosts have tied government assistance programs to the terror attacks committed at the Boston Marathon, mocked food stamps as a diet plan, claimed all individuals who receive government disability benefits are faking their disabilities, and even asked whether children should have to work in exchange for free school meals.
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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