After months of struggling with how to report on good economic news, Fox News finally found a new strategy to attack consistently positive labor market gains: move the bar to an unreasonable height. While downplaying the May 2013 jobs report that was better than expected, Fox misleadingly cited employment growth during the Reagan administration and proposed a new standard for growth so unreasonably high that it has only been met three times in the past 30 years.
On the June 7 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, contributor Charles Payne downplayed the May 2013 jobs report -- a report that was better than expected -- saying, "You know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number." He then compared the number to the September 1983 jobs report when the economy added 1.1 million jobs. Later, Payne guest hosted Fox Business' Varney & Co. where contributor Monica Crowley claimed, "At this point in the recovery, you should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month." She also brought up the September 1983 report.
PAYNE: You know what, all things considered, what you just laid out: it's better than expected. But you know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number. It's extraordinarily mediocre with what we've gotten in the past. You know, the way we've come out of recessions in the past, we've had some amazing, robust times. I mean, going all the way back to Reagan where one month we actually had one million jobs created in a single month. For us to still be well under 200,000 is really disheartening. But you know, the good news is, a lot of people thought it could have been worse.
MACCALLUM: Wow, that's an - I just want to go back to what you just said. So during the Reagan recovery there was a single month period where we added a million jobs?
PAYNE: One single month. A million - by the way, we had a whole lot less people too.
But Payne and Crowley ignored the context of the 1983 report. While Payne portrayed it as just one example of the so-called "Reagan recovery," according to The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch blog, it was actually an outlier. Market Watch also pointed out that about 640,000 of the 1.1 million jobs can be attributed to striking AT&T employees returning to work. In reality, the average monthly job growth during the Reagan administration was 168,000.
Crowley's assertion that the economy "should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month," is also unreasonable. When Market Watch evaluated a similar claim by Gov. Mitt Romney, it found that job growth had only surpassed the 500,000 mark three times in the past 30 years. From Market Watch:
How rare is it for 500,000 jobs to be created in a month? The last time was in May 2010 -- when the U.S. hired thousands of workers to conduct the Census. (The next month, payrolls shrunk by 167,000.)
Lest Romneyites think that only President Barack Obama struggled to make that grade, neither President Bush, older or younger, saw job creation that strong. President Clinton had one-plus 500,000 month, when in September, 1997, 507,000 positions were created. (Aided by the return of striking UPS workers.) President Reagan enjoyed a spectacular 1.11 million-job month in September 1983, but that was the only plus-500K mark and was boosted by roughly 640,000 AT&T workers returning from a strike.
Payne and Crowley's claims represent a new line of attack, but this isn't the first time Fox News has reset the bar on how it characterizes economic news. As the economy has consistently improved, Fox News has repeatedly struggled to portray good news in a negative light. In some cases, it has even cut its economic coverage in half.
From the May 14 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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From the March 30 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
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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.
Fox's Alisyn Camerota and Charles Payne attacked paid sick day laws as job-killing "entitlements" but ignored studies indicating such laws protect vulnerable workers while having little or no negative impact on businesses.
On the March 29 broadcast of America's Newsroom, the two criticized a paid sick leave law poised to pass New York's City Council. The law would require companies with at least 15 employees to give full-time and some part-time workers five paid sick days per year, which advocates say would provide paid sick days for one million New Yorkers who don't currently have them.
Camerota opened the segment by saying the law means that "business owners are taking it on the chin here in New York City," and later hyped Mayor Michael Bloomberg's concerns that the law "could crush New York's fragile economy right now." Payne agreed and said Bloomberg is "absolutely right," adding, "We're talking about very thin [profit] margins, and if you have this many sick days and people simply take them, when things get tough, there won't be jobs for those same people. ... The smaller businesses cannot afford it."
Camerota noted that paid sick day laws are becoming a trend nationwide, but failed to inform her viewers that in at least one city, the law has been a success. A paid sick leave law passed in San Francisco has benefited workers and has not harmed businesses there.
Fox Business commentator Charles Payne criticized programs providing food and other assistance to low-income families, bizarrely claiming the social safety net keeps people mired in poverty despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In an America's Newsroom segment, guest host Alisyn Camerota said that enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program, has increased 70 percent since 2008 and asked Payne, her guest, "Is this all just a by-product of this slow recovery?"
Payne agreed that the slow recovery is "a large part" of the cause, but went on to claim that food stamps, as well as other public benefits, actually prevent poor and middle-class Americans from improving their economic status:
PAYNE: For instance, if you're making, in California, $44,000 a year and your boss offers you a raise to 50,000, you would probably say, "No thanks. Cause I don't want to lose out on things like food stamp benefits, local benefits, my child care tax credit, my earned income tax credit."
In other words, you know, we're a very generous society. But what we've actually ended up doing is creating a wall, a giant barrier for people to move out of poverty into the middle class because that initial transition, they actually lose money and lose benefits.
Payne is wrong (even setting aside the fact that a Californian family earning $44,000 would almost never qualify for food stamps). Social safety net programs are not "a giant barrier" for people seeking to escape poverty: they keep millions of Americans out of poverty every year.
From the March 28 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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From the March 26 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Fox News contributor Charles Payne falsely claimed that the Cyprus banking crisis could happen in the U.S., describing the Cypriot financial situation as the natural "end game" for all nations in debt and in need of a bailout. The realities of the U.S. economy, however, delegitimize Payne's comparison.
On Monday, the European Central Bank (ECB) approved a bailout for the island nation of Cyprus, with the caveat that roughly six billion euros of the total 16 billion euros in requested funds be financed through a tax on savings deposits at Cypriot banks. Lawmakers did not approve the controversial measure, but are facing pressure from the ECB to reach a deal by Monday or risk a cutoff of financing for Cypriot banks.
Earlier this week, the island nation of Cyprus considered bailing out its indebted banks with the help of a onetime tax on all deposits. Lawmakers did not approve the controversial measure, but are facing pressure from the European Central Bank to reach a deal this week or risk a cutoff of financing for Cypriot banks.
On the March 22 edition of Fox's America's Newsroom, contributor Charles Payne discussed the Cypriot debt crisis, falsely claiming that, "Constitutionally, you definitely could see it happen here." Payne concluded the segment by warning that Cyprus is a "cautionary tale," which proves that "when a country gets its back against the wall to a certain degree, anything can happen, and ultimately, even the biggest empires in the world, including America now, aren't immune from that."
But Payne's fear mongering ignores significant differences between the banking and deposit insurance systems in Cyprus and the U.S., realities even Fox Business host Stuart Varney has reluctantly acknowledged.
CNBC reported that unlike Cyprus and other European nations that have borrowed in a currency controlled by the ECB, "the U.S. is the issuer of the currency in which its debt is denominated." Because Cyprus cannot issue currency to pay off its debt, it must accept the conditions imposed by the ECB. However, as economist Paul Krugman noted when commenting on right-wing comparisons of the U.S. to Greece, the U.S "literally can't run out of money. After all, it can print the stuff. So there's almost no risk that America will default on its debt." The very structure of the U.S. economy precludes it from needing to accept draconian measures imposed by a central bank outside the U.S.
CNBC also illustrated a fundamental difference between the Cypriot and U.S. economies, citing former president of the Dallas Fed Bob McTeer:
There are other fundamental differences between the U.S. and Cyprus. For one, the U.S. does substantial financing through its capital markets and is not as reliant on banking. "In the U.S. the dog is the economy and the banking system is the tail," McTeer said. "In Cyprus it's the other way around apparently. The banking system was bloated relative to their overall economy."
Since the bloated banking system in Cyprus is what ultimately caused the need for a bailout from the ECB, using the Cypriot crisis to stoke fears about government seizure of private funds in the U.S. further misses the mark.
Another key distinction of the U.S. system is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which according to CNBC "has never lost money backing deposits. Although the banks had to borrow money, the banks are better capitalized than they were before the crisis."
Even Fox's Stuart Varney has backed away from claims that the U.S. government could follow Cyprus and seize private bank accounts. On the March 18 edition of Fox's America's Newsroom, Varney suggested that U.S. citizens had reason to fear for their bank accounts, saying, "Who's next? Which other governments which have run up enormous debt will also go towards begin seizing private bank accounts? Who else is next? Maybe Spain? Maybe Italy? How about America?" However, Varney negated his own argument on The Sean Hannity Show the following day, saying that a run on the banks is "possible in Europe, but I doubt it in America [...] your money in a bank account, you think it's safe, I believe it is safe in America, but elsewhere in the world, it's clearly not."
A trio of Fox Business commentators attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) advocacy for an increased federal minimum wage by wildly mischaracterizing comments she made during a Senate committee hearing. In addition to incorrectly implying that Warren is advocating for a $22 per hour minimum wage, the panelists dismissed the need for any increase in the minimum at all by relying on misinformation and distorted arguments.
At a March 14 hearing on the ties between economic growth and the federal minimum wage, Warren said that if minimum wage had been pegged to productivity as it had increased from 1960 until now, "the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour."
On the March 19 edition of Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney and two guests, Fox Business contributor Charles Payne and Fox Business reporter Sandra Smith, mischaracterized Warren's statement to claim she was advocating for raising the minimum wage to $22 per hour. For instance, Smith claimed that Warren is "fighting for you to make $22 an hour."
Payne also misleadingly suggested Warren's numbers were incorrect by comparing the $22 figure -- which is tied to worker productivity -- to the unrelated metric of inflation.
In fact, as the Huffington Post noted, Warren was not making the case for raising the minimum wage to $22, but was in fact referring to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) that supports her position that an increase in the minimum wage is overdue. According to the CEPR study, "Between the end of World War II and 1968, the minimum wage tracked average productivity growth fairly closely. Since 1968, however, productivity growth has far outpaced the minimum wage. If the minimum wage had continued to move with average productivity after 1968, it would have reached $21.72 per hour in 2012 - a rate well above the average production worker wage."
Payne also claimed that the minimum wage is not meant to support a family and is usually earned by teenagers, saying: "This is a stepping stone. This is not something that -- it was never designed for people to live on, per say." But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over half of all workers receiving the federal minimum wage in 2011 were aged 25 and above For her part, Smith also repeated the myth that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs, but numerous studies show that's not true.
From the March 9 edition of Fox News' Cavuto on Business:
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Sunday's "Forward On Climate" rally drew an estimated 35,000 people to Washington, DC to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, making it the largest climate rally in U.S. history, according to organizers. Every major news outlet covered it, putting a national spotlight on the environmental risks associated with the project. But Fox News used the rally as an opportunity to mock the protesters and cast doubt on the science of climate change.
On his Fox News show, Neil Cavuto suggested that it was "bad optics" to "protest global warming in the middle of this Arctic blast." Fox Business' Charles Payne claimed that the protesters "probably have done very little research" and are relying on "anecdotal" evidence of climate change:
But by pointing to cold weather in Washington, Fox News was actually the one using an anecdote to dispute the long-term warming trend.
As congressional leaders debate a framework for comprehensive immigration reform that will likely grant undocumented immigrants legal status, conservative media are engaged in promoting myths and falsehoods about what reform means for the country.
Fox's Charles Payne attacked President Obama for stoking fears about the debt ceiling and blamed him for the economic consequences. But experts agree that Obama's concerns are justified, as failing to raise the debt limit could lead to higher deficits, and higher interest rates, which could have dire consequences for the economy.
During a January 14 press conference, President Obama warned that failure to raise the debt ceiling "would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy."
On the January 14 edition of Fox News' America Live, Fox Business contributor Charles Payne responded by claiming the debt ceiling debate would not be having an effect on the economy if the president "weren't going on a cross country tour, if you weren't doing these -- if you weren't hyping it." Payne went on to accuse Obama of "helping stoke the flames" of economic uncertainty by informing people about the debt ceiling:
In The Washington Post, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer admitted that right-to-work laws lead to lower wages for workers -- conflicting with the narrative promoted by Fox News that such laws increase wages.
In his column, Krauthammer claimed that recently passed right-to-work laws in Michigan were "inevitable" and that "the entire Rust Belt will eventually follow because the heyday of the sovereign private-sector union is gone." Krauthammer wrote that such laws could possibly bring down unemployment, but he also admitted that President Obama's statement that right-to-work laws give workers "the right to work for less money" was correct:
Principle and hypocrisy aside, however, the president's statement has some validity. Let's be honest: Right-to-work laws do weaken unions. And de-unionization can lead to lower wages.
Obama calls this a race to the bottom. No, it's a race to a new equilibrium that tries to maintain employment levels, albeit at the price of some modest wage decline. It is a choice not to be despised.
I have great admiration for the dignity and protections trade unionism has brought to American workers. I have no great desire to see the private-sector unions defenestrated.