Fox News covered Democratic criticism of harmful and unnecessary spending cuts as a purely political maneuver, without acknowledging that those criticisms are reflected in actual economic data, and echoed by economists and even by House GOP leadership.
On the April 29 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer set up an interview with Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore by suggesting that only Democrats argue that America is not in a "debt crisis," and hinted that the raw total of U.S. debt belies that claim. Moore proceeded to divert the conversation far away from economic reality, first citing a Fox News poll on public concerns about the debt, then accusing anti-austerity Democrats of merely seeking to protect "the favored programs that they care about," before finally misleading viewers on the relationship between economic growth and spending cuts. From America's Newsroom:
There are a few layers of deception to unpack here:
These sorts of facts in the U.S., and related ones from other economies, are threatening to upend the entire austerity movement, as Irwin observes. But while that debate proceeds and evolves elsewhere, Fox News continues to offer conservatives a venue to avoid reconciling ideology and fact.
Over the objections of their own legal experts, right-wing media continue to argue the alleged Boston bomber should be denied constitutional rights unlike the hundreds of terrorists before him who have been successfully tried and convicted.
Prominent right-wing media figures have advocated a wide range of unconstitutional treatment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old U.S. citizen accused of complicity in the Boston marathon bombing and subsequent murder of a police officer. Echoing GOP politicians from Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN), right-wing media have called for Tsarnaev to be denied the constitutional protections regularly given to domestic or foreign terrorists in this country, both before and after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Fox News hosts have suggested using torture on Tsarnaev because not all American citizens are "worthy of the constitutional rights that we have." The Wall Street Journal joined the dangerous clamor (fueled by Graham and Bachman) to indefinitely detain Tsarnaev in military custody as an "enemy combatant." Conservative pundit Ann Coulter told Fox's Sean Hannity she wanted authorities to "shoot up the boat" when they found Tsarnaev unarmed and "get him an automatic death penalty there."
When the Department of Justice initiated criminal proceedings against Tsarnaev, right-wing media turned their ire upon Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama for not preventing the federal judge from following the law. National Review Online's John Yoo accused the president of the "elevation of ideology over national security." Fox host Megyn Kelly continues to pretend "the public safety exception to Miranda lasts only 48 hours." A Washington Times columnist called for President Obama's impeachment because he is "unwilling" to protect America.
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.
Fox News has consistently downplayed positive weekly jobless claims reports, ignoring the standard the network set for signs of labor market improvements.
A Media Matters analysis revealed that despite consistent improvements in the number of people filing for unemployment benefits, Fox's coverage of weekly jobless claims reports was overwhelmingly negative. The network consistently used the reports to bring up unrelated negative economic news, a practice that has become common on Fox when faced with positive economic developments.
Fox News' coverage of weekly jobless claims in the first quarter of 2013 overwhelmingly focused on negative aspects of the labor market and broader economy. However, weekly claims numbers have been consistently improving, beating Fox's own standard for signs of a positive labor market.
According to Fox News, economists believe when the weekly number of initial jobless claims filed stays below 375,000, it's a sign the labor market is healthy enough to reduce the unemployment rate.
Fox News host Bill Hemmer cited that threshold on the January 10 edition of America's Newsroom, while showing a chart with a bright yellow line across it at the 375,000 mark: "Economists say that weekly claims must consistently fall below 375,000, shown by that yellow line on the screen right there, to indicate that the job market is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate." When the next week's numbers came out on January 17, Hemmer's co-host Martha MacCallum again touted Fox's chart showing the threshold, noting, "You always want to look at the chart, in terms of the long-time trend here." She continued, "Economists say that the weekly claims number has to consistently fall below 375,000 as indicated by that yellow line."
For the first quarter of 2013, weekly jobless claims have consistently fallen below Fox News' threshold of 375,000, signifying an improving labor market.
The final report of the quarter, released on April 4, represents the first one-week spike over the 375,000 threshold in 2013, but the more telling number - the four-week moving average of weekly initial claims - remains well below Fox's bright yellow line. (Other news outlets report that the economists' consensus about the threshold is 400,000 weekly claims, and economist Frank Lysy says that new jobless claims occur at a rate of 310,000 to 320,000 per week when the economy is at close to full employment.)
Despite consistent signs that the labor market is improving (by Fox News' own standards), Fox was overwhelmingly negative when reporting on weekly jobless claims.
When the weekly claims beat consensus expectations or declined from the previous week, Fox News anchors regularly used the positive news to highlight other, unrelated metrics, such as rising gas prices or federal spending. When weekly claims did not meet expectations or rose from the previous week, anchors regularly used the news to paint a negative picture of the economy.
Overall, Fox News was about 13 times more likely to present weekly jobless claims with a negative rather than positive tone. Furthermore, Fox's negative coverage greatly overshadowed neutral reporting.
Media Matters reviewed every Thursday edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, and Happening Now from January 3, 2013 to April 4, 2013 and recorded the amount of time spent discussing the weekly jobless claims report.
We identified "positive coverage" as that which indicated weekly claims were improving, or made broader positive implications for the labor market and overall economy. Positive coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.
We identified "negative coverage" as that which indicated weekly claims were deteriorating, or made broader negative implications for the labor market and overall economy. Negative coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.
We identified "neutral coverage" as that which directly reported the information in the Labor Department's weekly jobless claims report.
When tone of coverage was unclear, Media Matters chose to err on the side of neutrality.
We did not include coverage of topics that were unrelated to the weekly claims report, even if they were brought up in a segment that was primarily focused on the report. For example, the January 3 edition of Fox & Friends contained a segment that introduced the weekly jobless report and pivoted to discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. In this instance, time spent discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill was left out of the analysis. When it was unclear whether coverage of a topic was brought up in relation to the weekly claims report, Media Matters chose to exclude it from the analysis.
In segments where coverage related to the weekly claims report was introduced before the report itself, Media Matters chose to begin time recording when the report was initially introduced.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed that any signs of a weakening labor market cannot be explained by sequestration. However, economists have linked the expected slowdown in hiring to sequestration, and note that any negative impacts are likely to be temporary.
Reacting to an unexpected rise in weekly jobless claims, America's Newsroom host Bill Hemmer asked Varney if any of the rise was due to sequestration. Varney responded by claiming, "No...There's no seasonal factors, it's not weather, it's not sequester, it's just weakness in the underlying economy."
Economists do not support Varney's insistence that sequestration has had no impact on the job market. An April 3 Associated Press report noted economists' opinions on the link between sequestration and hiring:
Jim O'Sullivan, chief United States economist at High Frequency Economics, now expects just 160,000 net jobs in the March employment report, instead of 215,000. Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said her group had lowered its forecast to 155,000, from 220,000.
Ms. Lee said businesses might have temporarily suspended hiring because they wanted to see the impact of $85 billion in government spending cuts, which began on March 1.
Furthermore, while Varney used the rise in weekly jobless claims to paint a thoroughly negative picture of the labor market, the same AP report noted that "most economists say any slowdown is likely to be temporary."
Indeed, when a more stable measure of the labor market is examined - such as the preferred four-week moving average of initial jobless claims - a much less negative picture emerges. While the four-week average rose in the April 4 report, the underlying trend of weekly claims has been positive. Since the beginning of 2013, the trend of initial claims has declined greatly, producing four-week averages at levels not seen since 2008.
Echoing a conspiracy theory pushed by conservative website The Daily Caller, Fox News tried to link President Obama to a Google doodle highlighting the birthday of labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chávez.
In a segment on the April 1 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer discussed Google's decision to feature an illustration of Chávez on its homepage on Easter Sunday -- March 31 is also Chávez's birthday -- with his guest, David Drucker of Roll Call. Drucker thought the move was "an obvious mistake," and Hemmer bizarrely insinuated that Obama was somehow linked to Google's choice:
HEMMER: Eric Schmidt, who runs Google, was an informal adviser for President Obama. In 2011, the president said, "Make this day, 3/31, make it Cesar Chávez Day." Well, this year the calendar also fell on Easter Sunday. And that's why you had people lighting up the internet saying that they are on their way to Bing as their search engine of choice. Now the theorists would say there is a definite connection here. Do you buy it?
Conservative media are again using a European financial crisis to stoke fears about the U.S. economy.
According to many right-wing media figures, the Cypriot government's plan to tax private bank accounts to avert a fiscal disaster provides a dire warning for the U.S. Many have speculated or outright claimed that the same could happen here unless the so-called "debt crisis" is averted
Of course, fears of heavy taxation on private bank accounts occurring in the U.S. are largely unfounded, with many experts noting the comparison between the two countries is ill-conceived. But the facts rarely matter for right-wing media when it comes to exploiting a European crisis.
From the March 22 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News host Bill Hemmer advanced a number of false and dubious claims about Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) new budget plan, including that the plan would lower tax rates for all individuals.
Fox News' KT McFarland claimed that building the Keystone XL pipeline would decrease dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf and alleviate the impact of future Middle East conflicts on the U.S. economy. In fact, studies show the pipeline will have little effect on foreign crude oil imports, and if the economy remains dependent on oil, events in the Middle East will have a significant impact on U.S. energy markets regardless of where the nation's oil imports originate.
On the March 4 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox News national security analyst KT McFarland said that building the Keystone XL pipeline would make us less vulnerable to conflicts in the Middle East, such as a potential nuclear Iran. She claimed that if "if we get our own oil" from the Keystone pipeline we won't need to rely on Middle East oil, which is responsible for pulling the U.S. "into every Middle East conflict." From the show:
A 2010 study conducted by the U.S. State Department found that building the Keystone pipeline would not significantly affect how much oil was imported from foreign countries including the Middle East. The study included a graphic which showed almost no change in foreign imports of oil with or without Keystone XL pipeline:
Fox News pushed Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's theory that the supervised release of some undocumented immigrants is "payback" for her state's immigration enforcement efforts. But the release was nationwide, not just in Arizona, and was in response to impending budget cuts from sequestration.
Fox News is cropping a statement President Obama made in November 2011 to falsely claim he threatened to veto any replacement for the scheduled across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration. But in that statement, Obama called on Congress to pass "a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion" to replace the cuts in the sequester.
Fox News suggested that unemployment benefits and other government assistance programs contribute to the nation's unemployment numbers, and even claimed that people are quitting their jobs to become eligible for benefits. In truth, unemployment benefits stimulate the economy and create jobs.
Reporting on news that jobless claims dropped by 27,000 last week, America's Newsroom host Bill Hemmer wondered if "government programs might be keeping unemployment rates higher than they should actually be." Fox correspondent Doug McKelway answered that "some small business owners" say that "it's not unusual at all for people to quit work these days, because they know they can get more from unemployment and other benefits than from hard work." He continued, "Americans are not working as much today, and there is ample evidence that it's not just an economy stuck in neutral but it may be the increasing government incentive not to work."
Despite Hemmer and McKelway's claims, studies show that unemployment benefits stimulate the economy and create jobs. In 2010, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determined that increasing aid to the unemployed would have a bigger impact on the economy than reducing taxes. The Economic Policy Institute's Lawrence Mishel explained that unemployment insurance is "such good stimulus" because "virtually every dollar spent on extending unemployment insurance benefits goes directly, and immediately, toward the purchase of local goods and services, providing an extremely efficient demand boost." And near the end of 2012, CBO concluded that extending unemployment benefits through 2013 would create 300,000 more new jobs than would otherwise be created.
What's more, the notion that one could quit work in order to receive unemployment benefits is nonsensical -- In order to be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI), the Labor Department makes clear, you must be "unemployed through no fault of your own (determined under State law)." And importantly, as CBO explained, "To maintain eligibility for benefits while unemployed, UI recipients must search for a new job and, in some states, must accept a reasonable job offer."
Fox News host Bill Hemmer highlighted a recent increase in gasoline prices to raise concerns about its "drag on the economy," then claimed that gas prices "rarely" decrease. But the very chart Hemmer used during the segment debunks his own claim -- and Hemmer has previously fearmongered over the economic impact of low gas prices as well.
During the February 14 edition of America's Newsroom, Hemmer followed Fox Business host Stuart Varney's assertion that gas is at "the highest price ever for a gallon of regular gas in the month of February" by pointing to a chart comparing gas prices in early 2012 with those in 2013:
Hemmer said that gas is currently "up 11 or 12 cents over the average where we were a year ago," then repeatedly emphasized the "drag" rising gas prices could have on the economy before concluding, "When these prices go up, rarely do they go back down."
But Hemmer's own chart debunks this claim. As Hemmer noted, average gas prices in January 2013 were "10, maybe even 15 cents" lower than those in January 2012.