Congressional Republicans are borrowing from years of right-wing media attacks on federal disability benefits to justify their recent attempt to snarl funding for Social Security programs.
On January 6, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a change to legislative rules that restricts the historically routine transfer of tax money from the Social Security retirement fund to the Social Security disability program. Such transfers have helped keep both Social Security programs solvent. In practice, the rule change makes these reallocations nearly impossible by requiring that they be "accompanied by 'benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of both funds.' " As the Los Angeles Times' Michael Hiltzik explained, because the disability fund is on track to "run dry as early as next year," this could mean "disability benefits for 11 million beneficiaries would have to be cut 20%."
In a January 6 statement justifying the rule change, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) called the disability program "fraud-plagued." And during a January 14 event in New Hampshire on the long-term future of safety-net programs, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) claimed many who receive disability benefits are "gaming the system" and downplayed disabilities, saying, "over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club."
The Environmental Protection Agency's forthcoming regulations on greenhouse gas emissions will provide legally required protection for the health and welfare of Americans at a cheap cost, while allowing states flexibility -- contrary to media fearmongering about the landmark standards.
2013 was an epic year of right-wing media misinforming the public on the health care debate, particularly on women's health issues. Ignoring women's health experts, conservative media spent this year stoking fears about everything from birth control to maternity care, ignoring science, distorting state and federal regulations, and demonizing women's health care options in the process. These are the top six scare tactics from 2013.
Media Matters looks back at the best of the worst of right-wing media's treatment of women in 2013.
Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt dishonestly accused President Obama of invoking slavery in a "blistering attack" against Republicans, ignoring that Obama was actually responding to the inflammatory rhetoric of Affordable Care Act opponents.
On America Live, Stirewalt claimed the president "went out in a blistering attack speech, invoking the Fugitive Slave Act and other things against Republicans yesterday," referring to a September 26 speech Obama gave in support of the health care law.
Later on America Live, Fox News host and media analyst Howard Kurtz similarly said, "In today's media-filled, media-centric world, it almost seems like you've got to ratchet up and talk about terrorism or Nazis or the Slave Act, as the president referenced in his speech in Maryland yesterday, in order to break through." This comes on the heels of the Drudge Report falsely accusing Obama of playing the "slavery card" to promote the law.
But as Time reported, Obama's remarks were in response to the inflammatory rhetoric of the health care law's detractors:
Mocking Republicans for their escalating rhetoric on how dire the health care law will prove to be, Obama said one Republican's assertion that it was the worst law in the nation's history is an awfully tall order. "You had a state representative somewhere say that it's as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act," the president said as the audience booed. "Think about that. Affordable health care is worse than a law that lets slave owners [space added] get their runaway slaves back."
Obama was indeed correct -- Bill O'Brien, a Republican representative in New Hampshire's state legislature, compared the law to the Fugitive Slave Act during an Americans for Prosperity rally in August, as reported [space added] by The Wall Street Journal:
The man who charged Mr. Obama with creating a health-care system akin to slavery was Bill O'Brien, a representative in New Hampshire's state legislature and former speaker of the House. In August, Mr. O'Brien spoke at an Americans for Prosperity rally in New Hampshire and likened the Affordable Care Act to an 1850 pro-slavery federal law.
"What is Obamacare?" Mr. O'Brien said his remarks. "It is a law as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed slave owners to come to New Hampshire and seize African Americans and use the federal courts to take them back to federal ... to slave states."
Right-wing media dishonestly reacted to Secretary of State John Kerry's signature to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) by promoting the National Rifle Association's conspiracy theory that the treaty -- which aims to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers -- would threaten gun rights and require the United States to create a civilian gun registry.
In fact, the treaty only regulates the international trade of arms and explicitly affirms the right of a nation to regulate domestic firearm ownership "pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." As the American Bar Association noted in an analysis that found the treaty to be consistent with the Second Amendment, "the treaty would not require new domestic regulations of firearms."
Still, Fox News continued its checkered coverage of the ATT, promoting baseless conspiracy theories about the treaty.
On September 25, Fox host Heather Nauert reported on Fox & Friends that "gun supporters are opposing part of [the ATT] because it requires the United States government to adopt a new civilian gun tracking system, and that could sidestep the Second Amendment":
Fox's Shannon Bream claimed that the Obama administration has remained silent on violence against Christians in the Middle East and Africa, ignoring that the White House has condemned violence targeting Christians in the region.
On September 21, armed terrorists shot and killed at least 62 people and wounded more than 150 in a terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The Associated Press reported that only non-Muslims were targeted by the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab in the attack.
On the September 23 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Shannon Bream claimed that "despite an increase in these kinds of attacks in Kenya and Pakistan, we still have not heard anything specific from the White House about whether the treatment of Christians in this part of the world has to change":
From the September 23 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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Fox News failed to air any of President Obama's speech on the economy, keeping in line with the network's history of refusing to cover Obama's remarks.
On September 20, President Obama delivered an address at the Liberty, Missouri Ford Motors plant. During the speech, he discussed topics ranging from the financial crisis, to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the need to raise the debt ceiling.
While both CNN and MSNBC provided significant live coverage of the speech - with 25 and 35 minutes of coverage, respectively -- Fox News did not air the remarks at all. Instead, America Live guest host Alisyn Camerota directed viewers to watch the speech online at FoxNews.com. While Camerota spoke, video of the president's remarks played onscreen, but audio was muted.
The network gave adequate live coverage to earlier remarks made by House Speaker John Boehner over efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, dedicating roughly two minutes of uninterrupted live coverage - almost the entirety of his remarks. CNN and MSNBC also aired Speaker Boehner's remarks, each dedicating around two minutes as well.
This is not the first time Fox News has failed to carry a president's speech on the economy. The network has repeatedly cut away from previous speeches, instead opting to cover other topics, such as the naming of the Royal baby.
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.
From the September 19 edition of Fox's America Live:
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From the September 18 edition of Fox News' America Live:
Frequent Fox guest Chris Plante falsely claimed that President Obama isn't interested in working with Republicans to reduce the deficit, ignoring Obama's efforts to reduce the budget through bipartisan efforts like the Budget Control Act of 2011.
On the September 12 edition of America Live, host Martha MacCallum discussed the upcoming budget debate in Congress with conservative radio host Chris Plante. After MacCallum asked whether the debate will lead to a government shutdown, Plante said that "the president claims he wants to cut spending, the man with the trillion dollar deficits," and blame Republicans. Plante added that Obama "doesn't want to do anything reasonable to get our spending under control":
But, Obama has worked with congressional members of both parties to decrease the deficit. President Obama signed the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) explained will reduce discretionary spending by "more than $1 trillion over the ten years from 2012 through 2021."
While claiming Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper suffered from falling approval ratings, Fox News aired a graphic showing Hickenlooper's approval rating rising.
On the September 11 edition of America Live, Fox host Martha MacCallum claimed that Hickenlooper has been facing "falling approval ratings" due to his support for gun violence prevention measures and asked, "Could he be the next one to pay a political price?" At the same time, Fox aired a graphic showing Hickenlooper's approval rating rising by a percentage point since June 13 and an approval rating currently four points higher than his disapproval rating:
As food insecurity remains high, Fox News touted a plan by Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich to impose work requirements on food stamp recipients, despite concerns that Ohio does not have enough jobs to accommodate those who would have their benefits put in jeopardy.
On the September 10 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Martha MacCallum and guest Chris Plante expressed support for Kasich's proposal to require some food stamp recipients to spend 20 hours a week working or engaging in work-related activities such as job training. MacCallum likened the program to college work-study programs, saying, "Nobody thinks that that model is an inappropriate model or an unfair or mean model, so what's wrong with it?" Plante called the program "a reasonable and honest and decent approach to getting people back to work," claiming, "we live in a world now where Democrats, the Democrat party has put themselves in the unfortunate position where they are now incentivized as a political party to keep as many people on the public dole as possible":
But according to The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio officials point out that the availability of jobs and qualifying activities is lower than the number of people who fall under the new requirement: