In recent months, conservative media figures have undermined efforts by labor groups to organize across the United States, demonizing labor unions in the process. These anti-union attacks are largely reliant on myths alleging negative side-effects of union participation.
Fox News is providing ample, uncritical airtime to hype Representative Paul Ryan's (R-WI) report on the alleged ineffectiveness of government anti-poverty programs, despite condemnation from numerous economists that the report is misleading and inaccurate.
Fox News is helping promote Sen. Tom Coburn's misleading report on health care spending, which attacked the Affordable Care Act by cherry-picking data on the rise of spending in health care systems.
The Oklahoma Republican released a report this week titled "The History of Federal Health Care Spending," which attempted to rebut projections that the ACA will reduce the deficit and lower health care costs by presenting data on the cost growth of other federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare. The report argued that that "the government's spending on health care programs usually outpaces economic growth" and that "compared with initial government estimates and outlays, most programs have experienced exponential growth."
On Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer said the report revealed "stunning numbers," while Fox contributor Charles Gasparino endorsed the report's suggestion that the growth in government health care programs contradicted positive projections of the ACA's impact, claiming "when government is this much enmeshed in a program like this, it always leads to disaster":
But Fox's hype ignores the crucial flaw in Coburn's report -- it omits crucial context about why the programs' costs have increased and how they perform at controlling costs when compared to private health insurance.
While it's true that spending on programs such as Medicaid and Medicare have increased over the last 50 years, the cause of those rising costs are not a result of government involvement, but due to the fact that overall spending on health care has increased exponentially. A 2010 report in Health Affairs which tracked Medicare spending over roughly 20 years found that much of the growth "is attributable to rising spending on chronic conditions -- specifically diabetes and hypertension, both of which rose considerably in treated prevalence over the past two decades."
Notably, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that "Since Medicare's inception, however, growth in annual spending per beneficiary has been approximately one percentage point lower than private health insurance spending":
Fox News gave Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) an uncritical platform to continue pushing anti-labor falsehoods about a recent attempt to unionize a Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, TN.
On February 14, the VW plant in Chattanooga voted against joining the United Auto Workers (UAW) union by a vote of 712-626. Prior to the vote, Corker and third party anti-labor groups like Grover Norquist's Center for Worker Freedom (CWF) waged an anti-UAW publicity campaign that threatened workers with claims that unionizing would hurt jobs and the economy of Tennessee. Days after stating that he believed it was not "appropriate" to make public statements about the unionizing effort, Corker issued one anyhow, telling workers that if they rejected the union, VW would reward the plant with a new product line:
I've had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga.
But VW AG rebuffed statement, saying "There is no connection between our Chattanooga employees' decision about whether to be represented by a union and the decision about where to build a new product for the U.S. market."
On the February 19 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer interviewed Corker, who repeated the claim that the vote to unionize was tied to decisions about new product lines for the plant. Remarkably, Hemmer failed to push Corker on this point or even note that VW directly rejected his accusations.
Fox News accused an MSNBC contributor of injecting racism into the failed union vote at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant, but the analogy that formed the basis of Fox's phony outrage actually originated with the anti-labor forces Fox was defending.
Last week workers at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen plant voted against organizing with the United Auto Workers union. The vote gained national attention for what some labor experts called the unusual nature of the campaign: While Volkswagen did not oppose unionization, interference was run by national conservative groups like Grover Norquist's Center for Worker Freedom, which, aided by Republican politicians, waged a dishonest publicity war against the union effort.
On February 17, MSNBC contributing writer Timothy Noah ruffled right-wing feathers after he said that the anti-union forces were portraying the UAW as "a union invasion, refighting of the Civil War," adding: "Apparently there are not a lot of black employees in this particular plant, and so that kind-of, waving of the Confederate flag was an effective strategy."
Fox News figures accused Noah of injecting the "tired, old, desperate" racism argument into the union vote. According to The Five co-host Andrea Tantaros, Noah's reference to the Civil War was "shameful" and "really pathetic."
The problem with Fox's indignation is that the Civil War analogy Noah referenced actually originated with the UAW opposition trying to convince workers to vote against organizing.
Right-wing media accused President Obama of unprecedented overreach resembling that of a "dictator" for the ordinary administrative agency rule-making process surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) employer mandate.
Fox News disingenuously blamed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for a "coverage gap" that could leave 5 million low income Americans without health insurance. In doing so, Fox absolved the sins of the Republican governors whose refusal to expand Medicaid is responsible for the gap and will cost states money.
The ACA allows states to expand Medicaid programs to provide coverage for people whose income falls below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Initially, the federal government covers the full cost of new enrollees for the first three years. However, many states have refused to expand their Medicaid coverage under the law, "thanks largely to hostility to the law among GOP governors," according to The Washington Post's Greg Sargent.
On the February 10 edition of Fox's America's News HQ, host Bill Hemmer condemned the coverage gap as "another problem growing out of Obamacare." Fox business host Melissa Francis explained that 5 million Americans fall into a gap where they earn too little for federal subsidies but too much for Medicaid benefits and argued that many states did not expand Medicaid benefits under the ACA because they can't afford it:
FRANCIS: The Kaiser Foundation studies this and they say there's about 5 million people between the ages of 18 and 64 who fall into this gap. And it all comes from that Supreme Court decision that said that we couldn't force states to expand Medicaid. Now places like Alabama where this one gentleman who is the example lives, they have said that they can't cover more people with their state program because they simply can't afford it. So that's how these people got left out in the middle but there is a lot of them, 5 million.
FRANCIS: The states, though, are pushing back and saying look, we didn't expand Medicaid because we can't afford it, and even though the federal government will pay for it for 3 years, after that it's on us and we just simply can't afford this. So it's going to be a really tough problem to fix.
Fox News' Bill Hemmer attempted to prop up Republican accusations that President Obama cannot be trusted by fantasizing that Obama's historically low number of executive orders might actually constitute a "presidential record" high.
On the February 10 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) questioned Obama's trustworthiness, citing Speaker of the House John Boehner's claim last week that the House could not move forward with immigration reform because of a mistrust in the president. When McCarthy echoed that Obama has created a "lack of trust" with Congress, Hemmer cited Obama's use of executive orders -- perhaps at record highs, according to the host -- as a possible cause of that mistrust:
HEMMER: You talked about Obamacare and executive actions. We have found, going back to March of 2013, 122 executive orders, not just on Obamacare but every executive order, apparently, according to the research through the Federal Register and Whitehouse.gov. 122 going back to March of 2010. I don't know if that's a presidential record, but that goes to the point that you're making, about when you pass laws, and you change laws, what does that law then look like.
From the January 28 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ:
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At Fox News, President Obama's push to increase the federal minimum wage for millions of American workers through legislative and executive action is merely a "symbolic" gesture.
On January 28, the White House announced that President Obama had authorized an executive order raising the minimum pay for federal workers to $10.10 per hour, a regulation that will be effective for all employees signing a new federal contract. According to the White House's official press release, the president hopes that this move will encourage Congress to take action on a proposal by Representative George Miller (D-CA) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 for all American workers.
On the January 28 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer called the move a "shot across the bow" for congressional Republicans resisting an increase to the minimum wage. Fox Business' Stuart Varney questioned the White House's motivation, claiming that it was a "symbolic" move motivated by political circumstances and concluding that an executive order lifting wages for all federal employees was simply "not a big deal":
Varney's disregard for the impact of executive action on the minimum wage mirrors comments from other Fox News personalities. On the January 27 edition of The Real Story, contributor Charles Payne scoffed at the notion that lifting the minimum wage is an important goal, noting, "higher minimum wage is not the cure, we're talking about something that impacts less than 3 percent of real workers."
Demos' Heather McGhee hailed the Obama administration for lifting federal pay through executive order, noting that the decision "adds momentum to the fight for a federal minimum wage increase." According to research from the Economic Policy Institute, adopting a $10.10 minimum wage nationwide, which would require congressional legislative action, would positively impact the wages of more than 27 million workers while boosting overall economic growth by $22 billion and creating enough economic demand to support 85,000 new jobs.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 nationwide also has the support of hundreds of economists around the country, including numerous Nobel Laureates.
In an economy as large as the United States, while it may be easy for right-wing media voices to shrug off the implications of minimum wage policies, the fact is that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 3.6 million American workers currently work at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. After adjusting for inflation, the federal minimum wage is lower than at any point from the 1950s to the early 1980s.
Right-wing media's opposition to raising the minimum wage has grown as public sentiment has turned in favor of it. Varney's pattern of deriding both policies to lift wages and low-wage workers themselves appears to be par for the course.
Fox News' Bill Hemmer dismissed the historic magnitude of the 2007 economic recession, suggesting instead that the Obama administration is attempting to "placate the left" by pointing out the president inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Gearing up for this week's State of the Union address, White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfieffer appeared on Fox News Sunday on January 26 where he reminded the host how Obama "inherited the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, a financial crisis."
America's Newsroom host Bill Hemmer challenged that description of the recession on the January 27 program. Speaking with Karl Rove, Hemmer said of Pfeiffer's statement, "I heard that and I -- I don't know if that is what they're saying to placate the left or whether that's something they truly believe."
Fox News personalities have repeatedly attempted to downplay income inequality, claiming that it doesn't exist, that it is unfixable, or that it's a distraction from other issues. Nevertheless, the network still blamed the widening income gap on President Obama and what one Fox reporter called "Obamanomics."
In December 2013, President Obama declared that reversing the widening gap in income inequality -- the distribution of economic gains to a small percentage of the population, which, in this case, favors the very wealthy -- is "the defining challenge of our time," and began unveiling a legislative agenda aimed at addressing that trend.
Fox pundits have repeatedly dismissed concerns over growing income inequality in the United States. Fox correspondent Doug McKelway once claimed it was merely "class resentment," that exists because "some people are better, smarter, harder-working, or luckier than others." Bill O'Reilly called it "bull." When the network has acknowledged income inequality, its contributors have claimed that there is "no way" growing inequality is "going to be stopped," that attempting to reverse it will result in "chronic unemployment," and that the Obama administration's focus on closing the income gap is merely a "distraction."
But that didn't stop Fox Business senior correspondent Charlie Gasparino from blaming Obama's economic policies. On the January 16 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Gasparino called the president a "big class warfare guy," and claimed "there is more income inequality under Obamanomics." Previously, Fox misconstrued a report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) to claim that the president's policies were responsible for declining wages. The NELP later told Media Matters that Fox's misrepresentation of their report was "shamelessly partisan and completely inaccurate spin on economic facts."
In reality, income inequality has been growing for decades, long before the president took office. From Mother Jones:
From the January 8 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ:
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Fox News contributors Rich Lowry and Charles Payne erroneously asserted that income inequality cannot be mitigated, ignoring the causes of rising inequality and a multitude of policies proposed by economists.
On the January 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer hosted Lowry and Payne to discuss President Obama and recently inaugurated Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio's focus on reducing income inequality. Reacting to comments from Obama and de Blasio regarding inequality, Lowry claimed that while it may be a problem, it simply cannot be stopped (emphasis added):
LOWRY: The broader point, Bill, and this is something the president neglects when he talks about this, inequality is a trend across the decades, across all presidencies, across every developed advanced economy, it has to do with deep trends in our world - globalization, automation -- so there's no way it's going to be stopped. And when President Obama or Bill de Blasio says somehow they're going to end social and economic inequality, it's a pipe dream and they can only do damage by trying to do it.
Payne responded to Lowry's comments, saying, "I don't disagree" before Lowry later claimed that "if you honor just certain basic norms -- if you graduate from high school, if you get a full-time job, if you get married before you have kids -- the chances of you being poor are basically nil."
Lowry and Payne's assertion that income inequality is somehow a natural result of economic activity that cannot be mitigated through policy, however, is at odds with economists' opinions.
Economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has long argued that reducing income inequality is one of the United States' greatest current policy challenges, and has proposed a number of solutions, such as the institution of living wages, larger earned income tax credits, better access to education, and increased union rights. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, while agreeing that inequality is a wide trend, argues that "the trend [is] not universal, or inevitable." Stiglitz traces the recent surge in inequality to a number of government policies:
American inequality began its upswing 30 years ago, along with tax decreases for the rich and the easing of regulations on the financial sector. That's no coincidence. It has worsened as we have under-invested in our infrastructure, education and health care systems, and social safety nets. Rising inequality reinforces itself by corroding our political system and our democratic governance.
Indeed, the Economic Policy Institute recently launched an educational project with Reich demonstrating that because inequality is the result of policy, it can be mitigated through policy changes.
Economists also discount Lowry and Payne's claim that any attempt to reduce inequality will harm economic growth. Multiple economists have argued that reducing inequality is a means to increase economic growth through enhancing the skills and purchasing power of a greater number of people.
America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer botched his description of a recent legal challenge to the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by wrongly claiming that a group of nuns who run the Little Sisters of the Poor charity will be forced to provide birth control to their employees in contravention of their religious beliefs.
In a segment discussing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's recent temporary injunction of the application of the birth control mandate for two non-profits suing the government in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius, Hemmer misleadingly claimed that the ACA would "make [the nuns] provide birth control" to their employees. Hemmer's guest, Weekly Standard senior writer and Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes, agreed with Hemmer's characterization, calling the Sisters' existing eligibility for an exemption "not good enough." Hayes went on to falsely equate contraception with "abortifacients" and suggested that the Obama administration would provide abortions "if they had their way":
HEMMER: The point for this group of Catholic nuns is that if you make us provide birth control, not only does it violate our religious beliefs, but if we do not do it and adhere to the law, we will suffer fines that will cause us to go bankrupt.
HAYES: Right. And the administration -- remember, back in the spring -- proposed what they called a compromise, which would have allowed these non-profit groups to sort of certify that they weren't providing, actually providing this contraceptive and abortifacient coverage but then the insurance companies would be doing so on their behalf and the argument that you hear from those representing this group and others is that's not good enough because in effect what we would be doing is signing off and facilitating the coverage of these kinds of contraceptives and abortifacients for our employees.
HEMMER: Steve, just back up a little bit. Why did the administration think it was necessary to include this contraception mandate in the health care bill to begin with?
HAYES: Well, I think we've heard from the president pretty consistently that he believes that the government should be in the business of covering all of women's health and that is to include birth control, other contraceptives and these abortifacients -- and, I think if they had their way, abortions themselves.