Mainstream media are highlighting the Clintons' recent disclosure of their personal finances to suggest that Hillary Clinton will not be able to address poverty and income inequality as a 2016 presidential candidate, ignoring how her past policies and work have helped to alleviate these issues.
"The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over," announced the World Health Organization on May 9, declaring a cautious end to the deadly wave that claimed 4,700 Liberian lives since last summer. That outbreak, of course, eventually sparked panic in the United States last September and October when a handful of Ebola cases were confirmed domestically. Ebola mania raged in the media for weeks and became one of the biggest news stories of 2014.
So how did the American media cover the latest, good-news Ebola story in the days following the WHO announcement? Very, very quietly.
By my count, ABC News devoted just brief mentions of the story on Good Morning America and its Sunday talk show, This Week. On NBC, only the Today show noted the development, while CBS This Morning and the CBS Evening News set aside brief mentions. None of the network newscasts have given this Ebola story full segments, according to a transcript search via Nexis.
A scattering of mentions on cable news and a handful of stories including in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, rounded out the remaining coverage in the past week.*
Pretty amazing, considering that late last year the U.S. news media were in the grips of self-induced Ebola hysteria. During one peak week, cable news channels mentioned "Ebola" over 4,000 times, while the Washington Post homepage one night featured at least 15 Ebola-related articles and columns, many of which focused on both the international crisis and the political dynamic, and the problems Ebola was supposedly causing President Obama.
That's not to say the tragic outbreak was not a big story worthy of any news coverage. It was, but American media went into overdrive hyping concerns that a deadly domestic outbreak was imminent -- only to rapidly forget.
The recent look-away coverage from Ebola shouldn't come as a surprise. The American media lost complete interest in the story right after Republicans lost interest in the story, which is to say right after last November's midterm elections, when they brandished Ebola as a partisan weapon.
That's no exaggeration. From Media Matters' research:
Media are hyping claims that Carly Fiorina's 2016 bid for the GOP presidential nomination renders the Republican "war on women" neutral -- because both parties now have women running for office -- dismissing how Fiorina's policy positions would harm women.
Less than one week into Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and it's a blurry image from a fast-food restaurant security video that's emerged as the defining media image. After "news" broke that Clinton, en route to Iowa to meet with voters, stopped in at an Ohio Chipotle for lunch and that the order was captured on film, the press corps basically went bonkers, treating it like a Tupac sighting and going all-in with fevered reporting.
The New York Times first got hold of the security cam video and reported that Clinton's order "included a Blackberry Izze drink, a soda and a chicken salad, and was filled just after 1 p.m." (1:20 p.m., to be exact, according to the New York Daily News.) Who carried the tray after payment? Clinton herself, the Times explained to readers.
Stories like the original Times report are not entirely out of the ordinary for campaign coverage. But the way the rest of the press went completely overboard in its wake suggests we could be in for a long and painful 19 months before the 2016 election.
More tick-tock details followed. "The newly-minted presidential candidate ordered a chicken bowl with guacamole, a chicken salad and fruit juice," according to ABC News, which interviewed the restaurant's manager. (The guacamole and fruit juice information was considered a mini-scoop; Business Insider noted guacamole "costs extra.")
For days, Clinton's Chipotle stop served as a treasure trove of information: Who made Clinton's burrito bowl? Politico sent a reporter to Maumee and determined, "The 25-year-old who cooked the chicken that went into the burrito bowl Hillary Clinton ordered at the Chipotle here on Monday makes $8.20 an hour and splits rent with two roommates." And assistant general manager Jef Chiet got Clinton her drink, Politico confirmed, "first a blackberry Izze, which she decided she didn't want after she read the ingredients, so he replaced it with an iced tea."
But campaign sleuths weren't finished. Bloomberg confirmed that, "The change from the meal totaled less than a dollar, but it was pocketed rather than deposited in the tip jar as many customers at the restaurant do."
Could any political analysis be gleaned from the mundane lunchtime stop? Of course:
"Hillary Clinton Goes Unnoticed at Chipotle In Botched Retail Politicking Bid" (Washington Times)
"Clinton Bypassed Centrist Taco Bell for Liberal Favorite Chipotle" (Wall Street Journal)
"What Hillary Clinton's Chipotle Stop Says About Her Campaign" (Christian Science Monitor)
Is it possible that maybe she was just hungry?
The Chipotle nonsense reached such heights (or depths), that even starstruck E! called out the political press for its ridiculous overreaction to the story, and the fact that "ChipotleGate 2015" triggered "all sorts of in-depth analysis, from what her choice in burrito bowl means for America, to whether her decision to don sunglasses means she's unfit to be president."
During her first week on the campaign trail, Clinton has avoided any defining, self-inflicted gaffes. The same cannot be said of the press.
News organizations have gone on a "staffing binge" in preparation for the 2016 campaign, according to the Washington Post. That means political units have to produce content, no matter how trivial and innocuous. The machine must be fed (clicks must be harvested). And right now, that machine is spitting out some dreadful, breathless, and gossipy campaign dispatches that are divorced from anything remotely connected to a public discourse.
Just think about the Chipotle story. Was Clinton in hiding at the time? Had she dared the press to find her out? Was there any reason to think her highway pit stop for food was newsworthy? No, no and no. Maybe -maybe -- if it were the final weeks of an historically close White House campaign, that kind of myopic attention paid to a lunch order would be warranted. But 70-plus weeks before voters go to the polls? It's unfathomable.
Chipotle Week was so bad it produced a sense of dismay among some media observers and practitioners, as expressed on Twitter.
Daily Beast executive editor Noah Shachtman:
Hillary's campaign is only three days old and it has already been the subject of some of the worst political "journalism" of all time.-- Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) April 15, 2015
New York Times writer Nate Cohn:
A lot of the analysis of the nascent Clinton campaign is unusually vacuous--and that says something-- Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) April 15, 2015
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen:
Detecting a sense of dread coming over watchers of campaign coverage after the first few weeks... Plotting how to write criticism into that.-- Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) April 15, 2015
The irony was that while the campaign press freaked out over the trivia surrounding Clinton's lunch order, some pundits were simultaneously castigating the candidate for not rolling out a sweeping campaign agenda.
Politico assigned no fewer than eight reporters for an article about how, just 72 hours into her likely 18-month campaign, Clinton "has been slow" to articulate detailed positions on issues such as fast-track trade agreements and the need for reform at the National Security Agency.
The team at NBC's First Read agreed: "That lack of a message was on display at her Iowa event yesterday." Well, actually that wasn't true. NBC conceded that Clinton had already detailed four fights she wants to wage: "1) building an economy for tomorrow, 2) strengthening families and communities, 3) fixing America's political system by getting rid of "unaccountable" money, and 4) protecting the country."
Additionally, NBC reported Clinton had struck a "populist tone" and condemned income equality in America. But NBC didn't think any of that counted as much of a "message" from Clinton because she was just saying "what you hear from 90% of Democratic candidates running for downballot office."
Clinton didn't say anything entertaining and newsy! "She didn't say anything unique, which was always going to be the shortcoming of a rollout emphasizing theater over substance/message," according to NBC.
And there's the media's inadvertent punch line: It's Clinton who's guilty of emphasizing "theater over substance."
The staff at the Maumee, Ohio, Chipotle might disagree.
Media outlets like CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, and Bloomberg Television have been giving a platform to a disgraced financial firm that was fined $1.5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements."
The firm, Stansberry Research, heavily markets itself in conservative media by catering to right-wing audiences' fears of President Obama and big government. It predicts doomsday "End of America" financial scenarios that involve waves of violence, "martial law," and the destruction of the American economy. Last year, for instance, Stansberry claimed on its EndofAmerica.com website that on "July 1st, 2014," "'H.R. 2847' goes into effect. It will usher in the true collapse of the U.S. dollar, and will make millions of Americans poorer, overnight." (America and the dollar did not end.)
Numerous observers have criticized Stansberry's marketing practices as "misleading," "dubious," "questionable," and "an example of the worst excesses of financial marketing."
The firm also paid a $55,000 civil monetary penalty to the Social Security Administration in 2011, while not admitting wrongdoing, to settle an allegation it broke federal law.
The New York Times is holding Jeb Bush to a lower standard over his selective release of emails from his time as governor of Florida, taking Bush's word for it that enough emails have been "made public" despite reports that Bush hand-picked the emails he would release. At the same time, the Times is insisting that Hillary Clinton lay out the process she used to release emails from her tenure as secretary of state.
"Under Florida's records laws, emails from Mr. Bush's personal account have been made public," the Times reported. "'His emails were available via public records requests throughout his time in office and have remained available,' Ms. Campbell [a Bush spokesperson] said."
That's it. That's all the Times had to say about Jeb Bush's use of a non-government email account during his tenure as governor.
Media outlets are holding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a higher standard by scandalizing her use of personal email while at the State Department, claiming the practice raises questions about her "transparency." In reality, other public officials -- including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R), who is attacking Clinton over the emails, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell -- have exclusively used personal email.
Early news coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign has tacitly allowed the GOP to disingenuously rebrand itself as a party of the middle class, despite the fact that the party's new rhetoric doesn't align with its policy positions that continue to exacerbate income inequality. When highlighting Republican rhetoric about the need to reduce income inequality, media should take care to hold the GOP accountable for its actions, not just its words.
Recent Gallup polling shows "two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S.," and Republicans have taken note. Prospective GOP presidential candidates have suddenly started talking about income inequality ahead of the 2016 elections, apparently heeding advice from the Republican National Committee's (RNC) post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned that the GOP had been "increasingly marginalizing itself" and urged the party to improve its optics by recognizing the fact "that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty."
During the January 25 Koch brothers-sponsored Freedom Partners Forum, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL) each took the opportunity to bemoan income inequality and blame the Obama administration for a growing income gap. Mitt Romney claimed that "income inequality had worsened" during President Obama's time in office in a January 28 speech at Mississippi State University, while Jeb Bush's "Right to Rise" PAC has declared that "the income gap is real."
The Washington Post, Politico, USA Today, and Bloomberg Politics each reported on the 2016 hopefuls' Freedom Partners comments, highlighting the senators' statements lamenting income inequality and focusing on "issues such as the minimum wage ... [and] tax reform." The Wall Street Journal featured Republican policy proposals "aimed at boosting the middle class," and applauded Bush, Romney, Rubio, and Paul for "promoting or seeking ideas for shoring up the middle class." The Post's Post Politics blog and NBCNews.com's "First Read" emphasized Romney's recent focus on income inequality and poverty, pointing to speeches at the RNC and Mississippi State University.
These media outlets acknowledged the fact that Republicans are changing their rhetoric on inequality -- but it's actions and policies that count, not just rhetoric. Media cannot take GOP candidates at their word when their policies continue to exacerbate inequality and burden the middle and lower class.
Cruz, Paul, and Rubio all oppose recent calls to raise the minimum wage. At a January 25 private donor event, each of these senators argued that raising the minimum wage would eliminate jobs. Cruz claimed "the minimum wage consistently hurts the most vulnerable," while Rubio called focus on raising the minimum wage "a waste of time." During the same event, none of the senators "said they could stomach any tax increases," and Rubio called the ACA a "perfect example" of "cronyism," blaming health reform for halting job creation. Just this month, Cruz introduced a bill to repeal the health care law, while Paul echoed calls to repeal and suggested instead to "try freedom for a while." Such positions are consistent with the GOP's historic stances on these issues. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted, supposed Republican attempts to address income inequality, "in practice, ... apparently mean endorsing an agenda that cuts off unemployment benefits, slashes food stamps, cuts funding for public services, eliminates health care benefits, and rejects minimum wage increases."
Economists have often noted that wage stagnation has a profound impact on aggravating income inequality, and as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has pointed out, raising the federal minimum wage just to $10.10 per hour by 2016 would "raise the wages of 27.8 million workers." The Congressional Budget Office has also reported on the "ripple effect" of raising the minimum wage, saying it would benefit 16.5 million workers and lift nearly one million people out of poverty. And according to a Center For American Progress report, a $10.10 minimum wage would cut food stamp participation and taxpayer expenditures by $4.6 billion annually. Support for anti-poverty government programs -- like SNAP, unemployment benefits, school lunch programs, and the like -- cut the country's poverty rate "nearly in half," according to research from the Institute for Research on Poverty.
Rather than alleviating income inequality, lawmakers have worsened inequality by consistently cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, according to a 2013 EPI study. Economist Larry Summers has emphasized the importance of "closing [tax] loopholes that only the wealthy can enjoy," noting that would "enable targeted tax measures such as the earned-income tax credit to raise the incomes of the poor and middle class more than dollar for dollar by incentivizing working and saving."
And despite countless Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care law will reduce income inequality, boost the incomes of lower and middle-class Americans, and extend coverage to 15.1 million uninsured adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Media acknowledging the GOP's new talking points and mottos is one thing. But given the 2016 hopefuls' apparent commitment to policies that stand in contrast to their rhetoric on income inequality, media should make sure and hold these Republicans accountable for their actions, not just their words.
Bloomberg News is helping a Republican operative push out a dishonest smear of Hillary Clinton, hyping the aggregate cost of Clinton's air travel while she was serving as a U.S. Senator as something that could be scandalous. But the article's dubious premise is undermined by facts contained in the article, notably that Clinton's travel history was routine and completely within Senate rules.
"Hillary Clinton took more than 200 privately chartered flights at taxpayer expense during her eight years in the U.S. Senate," Bloomberg reported, "sometimes using the jets of corporations and major campaign donors as she racked up $225,756 in flight costs."
The article warned that Clinton's travel record could feed into Republican attacks that she is "out of touch."
But Bloomberg undermined the entire premise of its article, reporting that "the flights fell within congressional rules and were not out of the ordinary for senators at the time":
There is no evidence her Senate trips, which ranged in cost from less than $200 to upwards of $3,000 per flight, ran afoul of Senate rules, which were tightened by a 2007 ethics law. Before the law was changed, senators were required to pay the cost of a first-class ticket to ride aboard a private jet -- or, in some cases, even less. In Clinton's final two years in the Senate, lawmakers who flew on private or chartered planes had to pay their proportional share of the cost of the flight based on the number of passengers.
Bloomberg's complicity in pushing a GOP smear campaign that it concedes is without merit is a troubling development given the relentless and deceptive conservative attacks on Clinton.
Media outlets have described Hillary Clinton's wealth and the speaking fees she has earned as a "potentially serious political problem" and a "potential political liability." Will they describe the financial dealings of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush the same way now that he is exploring a presidential run? And will they do in-depth reporting on the controversial business deals Bush has been involved in?
From the November 10 edition of Bloomberg TV's Market Makers:
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Mainstream media figures, following in the footsteps of conservative media, are trying to manufacture a scandal out of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent argument against trickle-down economics by stripping her comments of context to falsely cast them as a controversial gaffe or a flip-flop on previous statements about trade.
Conservative media outlets rushed to vilify Clinton's stance after she pushed for a minimum wage increase and warned against the myth that businesses create jobs through trickle-down economics at an October 24 campaign event for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley (D). Breitbart.com complained, "Clinton told the crowd ... not to listen to anybody who says that 'businesses create jobs,'" conservative radio host Howie Carr said the comments showed Clinton's "true moonbat colors," while FoxNews.com promoted the Washington Free Beacon's accusation that she said "businesses and corporations are not the job creators of America."
Mainstream media soon jumped on the bandwagon.
CNN host John King presented Clinton's comments as a fumble "a little reminiscent there of Mitt Romney saying corporations are people, too," and USA Today called the comments "An odd moment from Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail Friday - and one she may regret." In an article egregiously headlined, "Hillary Clinton No Longer Believes That Companies Create Jobs," Bloomberg's Jonathan Allen stripped away any context from Clinton's words in order to accuse her of having "flip-flopped on whether companies create jobs," because she has previously discussed the need to keep American companies competitive abroad.
Taken in context, Clinton's comments are almost entirely unremarkable -- and certainly don't conflict with the philosophy that trade can contribute to job growth, as Allen suggests. The full transcript of her remarks shows she was making the established observation that minimum wage increases can boost a sluggish economy by generating demand, and that tax breaks for the rich don't necessarily move companies to create jobs:
CLINTON: Don't let anybody tell you that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs. They always say that. I've been through this. My husband gave working families a raise in the 1990s. I voted to raise the minimum wage and guess what? Millions of jobs were created or paid better and more families were more secure. That's what we want to see here, and that's what we want to see across the country.
And don't let anybody tell you, that, you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know, that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried. That has failed. That has failed rather spectacularly.
One of the things my husband says, when people say, what did you bring to Washington? He says, well I brought arithmetic. And part of it was he demonstrated why trickle down should be consigned to the trash bin of history. More tax cuts for the top and for companies that ship jobs over seas while taxpayers and voters are stuck paying the freight just doesn't add up. Now that kind of thinking might win you an award for outsourcing excellence, but Massachusetts can do better than that. Martha understands it. She knows you have to create jobs from everyone working together and taking the advantages of this great state and putting them to work.
Economic experts agree that job growth is tied to the economic security of the middle class.
U.S. economic growth has historically relied on consumer spending, and middle class consumers are "the true job creators," Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz points out. Right now, the U.S. economy is "demand-starved," as Economic Policy Institute's (EPI) Joshua Smith puts it. Steiglitz says that, of all the problems facing the U.S. economy, "The most immediate is that our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth."
In a testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, economist Heather Boushey noted that "It is demand for goods and services, backed up by an ability to pay for them, which drives economic growth" and "The hollowing out of our middle class limits our nation's capacity to grow unless firms can find new customers."
UC Berkeley economist Robert Reich agrees that the problem in the U.S. economy is demand. "Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell," he writes, and places the blame on low paychecks and growing inequality: "The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping... Consumers can't and won't buy more." He says the key to job growth is "reigniting demand" by "putting more money in consumers' pockets." From The Huffington Post:
Can we get real for a moment? Businesses don't need more financial incentives. They're already sitting on a vast cash horde estimated to be upwards of $1.6 trillion. Besides, large and middle-sized companies are having no difficulty getting loans at bargain-basement rates, courtesy of the Fed.
In consequence, businesses are already spending as much as they can justify economically. Almost two-thirds of the measly growth in the economy so far this year has come from businesses rebuilding their inventories. But without more consumer spending, there's they won't spend more. A robust economy can't be built on inventory replacements.
The problem isn't on the supply side. It's on the demand side. Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren't enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell.
The reason consumers aren't buying is because consumers' paychecks are dropping, adjusted for inflation.
Clinton's emphasis on the minimum wage is supported by economic experts as well. Reich says that raising the minimum wage is an effective way to generate the consumer demand that would spur job growth. It "would put money in the pockets of millions of low-wage workers who will spend it -- thereby giving working families and the overall economy a boost, and creating jobs." He also rejected critics' claims that giving low income-earners a raise hurts job growth: "When I was Labor Secretary in 1996 and we raised the minimum wage, business predicted millions of job losses; in fact, we had more job gains over the next four years than in any comparable period in American history."
EPI called the minimum wage a "critically important issue" that "would provide a modest stimulus to the entire economy, as increased wages would lead to increased consumer spending, which would contribute to GDP growth and modest employment gains" (emphasis added):
The immediate benefits of a minimum-wage increase are in the boosted earnings of the lowest-paid workers, but its positive effects would far exceed this extra income. Recent research reveals that, despite skeptics' claims, raising the minimum wage does not cause job loss. In fact, throughout the nation, a minimum-wage increase under current labor market conditions would create jobs. Like unemployment insurance benefits or tax breaks for low- and middle-income workers, raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of working families when they need it most, thereby augmenting their spending power. Economists generally recognize that low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to spend any extra earnings immediately on previously unaffordable basic needs or services.
Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by July 1, 2015, would give an additional $51.5 billion over the phase-in period to directly and indirectly affected workers, who would, in turn, spend those extra earnings. Indirectly affected workers--those earning close to, but still above, the proposed new minimum wage--would likely receive a boost in earnings due to the "spillover" effect (Shierholz 2009), giving them more to spend on necessities.
This projected rise in consumer spending is critical to any recovery, especially when weak consumer demand is one of the most significant factors holding back new hiring (Izzo 2011). Though the stimulus from a minimum-wage increase is smaller than the boost created by, for example, unemployment insurance benefits, it has the crucial advantage of not imposing costs on the public sector.
The economic benefits of a minimum wage increase are widely accepted. Over 600 economists signed a recent letter supporting an increase, arguing, "Research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth, and providing some help on the jobs front."
Bloomberg TV co-host Cory Johnson called out the hypocrisy of activist telecommunications investor Jeff Pulver who misleadingly stoked fears that proponents of net neutrality advocate for regulations that would hamper telecommunications innovations. Johnson pointed out that without an open internet, the CEO might have been unable to create his own business.
Net neutrality, the basic principle that corporate internet providers should provide equal access to content for subscribers, has become a hotly debated issue among telecommunications conglomerates and internet service providers (ISP) who want to charge companies a premium for preferential access and speed for internet consumers.
On the October 21 edition of Bloomberg West, Johnson and co-host Emily Chang invited Pulver, the founder of Vonage, to respond to net neutrality advocates like Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who has called on Comcast to strengthen its commitment to net neutrality. Pulver accused net neutrality advocates of "bullying" and hyped fears that committing to neutrality would amount to onerous regulation of data and information services. Pulver also argued that regulating the telecommunications industry to ensure neutrality through Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 would lead to discrimination against businesses that seek to provide faster or more reliable access to certain data services and halt innovation.
On September 30, California became the first state to ban the use of plastic bags in stores, leading to a barrage of misinformation from various media outlets claiming the ban would actually hurt the environment. However, these contrarian claims are undermined by research showing that previous bans and taxes have reduced energy use and litter, while doing no harm to the economy.
A recent study from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) claims that smog regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will cost the economy $270 billion. But the regulations, necessary to alleviate the unsafe smog pollution currently experienced by 140 million Americans, will likely achieve net benefits by reducing costs associated with medical expenses and premature deaths, while experts have said the NAM study uses "fraudulent" claims and is "not based in economic reality."