Fox Business Contributor Worried Trump Will "Interfere In The Market" And Still Create Fewer Jobs Than Obama
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The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board joined a chorus of right-wing outlets in blasting the federal government’s income-based student loan repayment program, calling it a costly “con” meant to “buy millennial votes.” Yet right-wing media are ignoring the benefits of a program that could relieve millions of student borrowers of a portion of their remaining debt and that is still generating a profit.
Right-wing media lambasted the Department of Education and student borrowers after the Journal reported on November 30 the latest findings from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the government is on track to forgive $108 billion of $352 billion in student loans as part of federal income-driven repayment plans. The Journal’s editorial board blasted the government on December 1, calling the latest findings proof that the Department of Education’s loan program is a “con” designed to “buy millennial votes.” (The editorial column was the Journal’s second since November 1 lamenting the federal program, which has led to millions of students earning student loan forgiveness.) Earlier that day, Fox News host Jon Scott questioned if the program was a “bailout” for student borrowers. Fox Business host Stuart Varney also called the program “a bailout” on the November 30 edition of Varney & Co., while his guest Steve Costes added that the program is “a shame.”
Federal student loan borrowers have multiple repayment plan options, including income-based plans that require borrowers to pay back loans based on a percentage of their income for a certain number of years, after which the remainder is eligible to be forgiven. The GAO’s findings were for the hypothetical cost in loan principal forgiveness for the 5.3 million borrowers who signed up for income-based repayment plans for loans issued over a 22-year period, between 1995 to 2017. These borrowers will likely see an average of $21 forgiven for every $100 in loans received. Despite right-wing media complaining about the cost of borrower relief for those on income-based payment plans, the GAO found that the Department of Education still nets a profit on student loans.
The reason the government still makes a profit even after loan forgiveness is because many federal student loans have an interest rate at 6.8 percent -- a figure that is much higher than inflation or the 1 percent interest rate banks receive from the Federal Reserve. The 6.8 percent interest rate is so high that the GAO’s hypothetical borrower would pay almost double the original principal of their loan if the income-based plan had no cutoff date for forgiveness:
Student loan debt is a leading concern among young people, with The Atlantic finding nearly 30 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 “cited paying off student loans as their biggest financial challenge.” According to Fortune, “there is little doubt that many Millennials are struggling financially” after a survey by PwC found that 79 percent of the 42 percent of millennials that have student loans struggle to pay those loans. Evidence shows student debt can impact personal wealth, delay homeownership affect personal decisions to marry or start a family, and that it has “cripple[d] retail sales growth.” The financial stress of student loans has a “devastating toll” on borrowers’ mental health, according to Complex, which cited findings by researchers that “student loans were associated with poorer psychological functioning.”
While right-wing media push many myths about student debt, student concerns are valid; according to a November 21 op-ed published by Investopedia, Americans with student loan debt have “a challenging road ahead of them in the present and the future” due to workers being unable to save for retirement. The op-ed, which was authored by a financial adviser, even questioned whether people with student loans "will be able to retire” at all. The increasing debt burden can even hinder career advancement as graduates can be forced to take jobs that may have no chance of wage growth or career development so they can make debt payments on time.
Conservative media have labeled higher education as a "privilege" and suggested students ought to choose fictional cheaper colleges. Some outlets have even defended schools that take advantage of students and leave them with significant debt. But research shows college matters now more than ever, and the cost to attend is rising across the board. The student debt crisis is especially damaging for poor students and students of color, who more frequently attend cheaper open-access and community colleges and are still forced to borrow in higher numbers to pay for their education.
Blaming students for the student loan debt crisis ignores the facts and distracts from finding real solutions to America's skyrocketing student debt burden.
Trump Reportedly Leaning Toward Prolific Right-Wing Op-Ed Writer And Fast Food CEO To Head Department Of Labor
Media outlets have reported that President-elect Donald Trump is considering Andy Puzder, a right-wing commentator and fast food CEO, for secretary of labor. Puzder is known for writing op-eds denouncing worker rights and the minimum wage, and his company is infamous for its “supermodel-centric marketing strategy” designed to offend viewers and stoke sales.
According to a November 15 article in Politico, Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which operates burger chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, was on the short list to replace Tom Perez as the secretary of labor in the incoming Trump administration. The same day, The Atlantic also reported on Trump’s possible choice of Puzder, noting the CEO’s history of fundraising for Trump and his staunch opposition to Obamacare and raising the minimum wage.
In his op-eds and media appearances, Puzder frequently peddles right-wing misinformation advocating policies that hurt American workers. Puzder has praised the job destruction that comes with workplace automation, boasting in a March 16 interview with Business Insider that he wanted to automate more of his restaurants to avoid paying worker salaries and benefits. Puzder claimed that replacing people with machines would be preferable because machines “never take a vacation” or complain when discriminated against. From Business Insider:
"They're always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case," says Puzder of swapping employees for machines.
Puzder opposes new overtime rules proposed by the Department of Labor that would extend guaranteed overtime pay to qualified salaried workers making less than $47,476 a year. Puzder defended his position by claiming that having a salaried position -- and thus no overtime pay -- is an “opportunity” that confers “prestige” and “an increased sense of ownership” to overworked and underpaid managers. Puzder has also frequently attacked the push to raise the minimum wage and Obamacare’s health insurance expansion, misleadingly claiming that stronger wages and benefits actually hurt workers.
Puzder even attacked working-class Americans during an appearance on Fox & Friends, claiming that low-income workers might be wary of higher paying jobs if the salary increase results in a loss of government benefits. Puzder wrote in an op-ed in The Hill of a so-called "Welfare Cliff," where employees turn down promotions that could lead to $80,000 salaries because they "don't want to lose the free stuff from the government." Yet, by Puzder's own admission, the company he runs does not pay anywhere near the $80,000 annual salary that his employees were supposedly passing up so as to qualify for anti-poverty assistance.
In addition to being an outspoken media advocate of poverty wages in the fast food industry and an opponent of policies aimed at helping American workers, Puzder also runs a company that boosts its sales via a “supermodel-centric marketing strategy” catered to exploiting his customers’ base impulses. Puzder told Entrepreneur magazine that complaints that his ads are sexist “aren't necessarily bad” for the company and that he thinks his company’s “sales go up” amid public outcry over ads that degrade women. The fast food chain has been running these ads for years, and Jezebel compiled “a history of disgusting Carl's Jr. ads” from 2005 to 2013. Puzder’s stance on objectifying women for commercial gain is eerily reminiscent of Donald Trump’s own history of degrading remarks about women.
As the president-elect begins the transfer of power, media need to inform Americans of Trump’s potential cabinet picks, the potential policies these cabinet members may support, and how those policies will affect American workers. Experts have already started to express fear that Trump’s proposals for the economy -- budget-busting tax cuts for the rich and unfunded deficit spending -- may create a short-term “sugar high” followed by an economic crash. The next labor secretary could exacerbate those economic worries if he or she promotes policies that undermine the livelihoods of millions of Americans.
Report Fails To Mention Only Group With A More Positive Outlook Since The Election Is Republicans
Fox Business spun the first post-election consumer confidence report to misleadingly claim economic confidence “increased sharply” after Donald Trump’s election, failing to note the confidence numbers swung based on party affiliation.
During the November 16 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., guest host Ashley Webster used the latest consumer confidence report from Gallup to push so-called “Trumponomics” as “a winning formula” for the American economy. Conservative columnist Liz Peek added that she thought the Gallup numbers showed Americans were “cheered up by the idea that Republicans have [control of all three branches of government]”:
In reality the Gallup poll found the only Americans who are “cheered up” by Republicans having complete control of the federal government are other Republicans. Gallup concluded that Donald Trump becoming the president-elect of the United States “transformed the way Republicans and Democrats view the economy” but it was “too early to say” if these numbers will hold.
Republicans, who had been unduly pessimistic about the economy under President Obama, substantially lifted their outlook on the economy after the election. According to Gallup, Republican opinions of whether or not the economy was getting better or worse went from -65 points before the election to +5 points after, while Democratic opinions on the same topic shifted from +26 points before the election to -1 point after. At the same time, Republican opinions of the current state of the economy also improved markedly after Election Day, with GOP opinions improving from -21 points to -5 points, while Democratic opinions sagged from +26 points to +17 points.
Republican economic optimism may be short-lived after Trump takes office, as experts have expressed fear that his proposals for budget-busting tax cuts for the rich and unfunded deficit spending may create a short term “sugar high” followed by an economic crash. Trump’s proposals to severely restrict immigration and international commerce could create the conditions for another recession in the United States and his proposed monetary policies could imperil the financial system. The spending cuts and restrictions to vital anti-poverty programs proposed by Trump and congressional Republicans would push millions of working-class Americans into poverty, while his anti-trade policies could cost 4 million jobs.
From the November 9-13 Gallup U.S. Daily Survey:
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After Donald Trump's election, media and experts are predicting the president-elect’s stated policies will harm the economy if implemented in 2017 and beyond. According to expert analyses, working-class Americans will face the greatest economic disruptions as a result of Trump’s policies.
The Wall Street Journal falsely claimed so-called “right-to-work” laws assist in job creation because they serve as “an attraction for many businesses” in an editorial attacking a South Dakota ballot measure that could roll back that state’s anti-union laws. In fact, “right-to-work” laws have continually proved to be ineffective tools at boosting local economies, and they may hurt economic mobility for working Americans.
The Journal’s editorial board slammed a ballot initiative in South Dakota that “would effectively repeal the state’s right-to-work law” by falsely claiming that such anti-union laws are one “secret to high employment.” The Journal’s assault on South Dakota’s Measure 23 echoes years of right-wing media myths on “right-to-work” laws and ignores the reality that “workers at any workplace always have the option as to whether or not to join a union.” The Journal cherry-picked two states with both low unemployment rates and “right-to-work” laws to make its farfetched assertion that cracking down on unions is good for the economy:
Right to work simply gives workers the right not to join a union, and South Dakota has had such a law since 1947, as do 25 other states. South Dakota’s 2.9% unemployment rate is tied with New Hampshire’s for the lowest in the country. Right-to-work laws aren’t the only secret to high employment, but they are an attraction for many businesses considering states for investment.
The measure is being pushed by the International Union of Operating Engineers. Last fall IOUE Local Chapter 49 Director of Special Projects Jason George told the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls that “unions are the only organizations in the country that are required to provide a service, but can’t charge a fee. We don’t think that’s fair.”
South Dakota’s Measure 23 was previously targeted by the conservative National Review, which suggested on November 3 that the state’s Republican-led legislature change the legal language that the initiative is already modifying in order to nullify its effects. Right-wing media have consistently attacked labor unions, but the facts have repeatedly showed that unions boost wages and economic mobility. An in-depth May 8, 2015, profile in The American Prospect compared two states with similar economies but radically different public policy initiatives -- Wisconsin, which pursued anti-labor policies, and Minnesota, which did not, -- and found “Minnesota’s economy has outpaced Wisconsin’s.”
Researchers have consistently found that “right-to-work” laws do not actually benefit workers. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analyzed employment growth in states with and without "right-to-work" laws and found that "the evidence is overwhelming" that "right-to-work laws have not succeeded in boosting employment growth in the states that have adopted them." While EPI did not find that “right-to-work” laws boost employment, additional research from the think tank found wages in “right-to-work” states are 3.2 percent lower than states that do not have such anti-union laws. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) got similar results in a January 2014 report, finding that workers in “right-to-work” states made more than $7,000 less in an average year than their counterparts in “union security states.”
In addition, research suggests that children enjoy more economic mobility and nonunion workers receive stronger compensation in local economies with high rates of union membership. The Center for American Progress (CAP) found children from union families were better off than children in nonunion families in areas with lower rates of unionization. Unions also have a positive impact on the wages of nearby nonunion workers, and the decline of union rates has had a negative impact on wages “for union members and nonunionized workers alike."
Media Emphasis On Tax Returns Overshadows Outrageous Tax Policies
According to Media Matters’ ongoing quarterly analyses of prime-time weekday cable news coverage of the economy, cable outlets more frequently discussed Republican nominee Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns than any economic topic from July through September. Amid the flurry of coverage focused on Trump’s tax secrecy, the major cable networks missed an opportunity to also thoroughly discuss how Trump’s unworkable tax policy proposals would adversely affect the American public.
With just one day left before Election Day, Trump has yet to release his tax returns during his run for president of the United States. According to The Huffington Post, “the writing has been on the wall for months now” that Trump would not release his tax returns before November 8. Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns makes him the first major party nominee to do so since 1976. Media have floated many theories for why Trump has refused to release his tax information: He may be hiding the fact that he has not paid federal income taxes; he could be covering up the news that he makes less money than he claims; or he might be trying to disguise the fact that he improperly used funds from his nonprofit foundation for personal expenses.
In the third quarter of the year, evening cable news shows featured 63 segments dedicated to Trump’s tax returns -- more than the number of segments on actual tax policy (49) or any other economic subject. Media Matters tracked the number of segments each of the three major cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- committed to Trump’s tax returns. Then we compared those figures to the other economic topics tracked as part of our quarterly report on coverage of the economy -- economic inequality, economic growth, tax policy, the federal deficit and national debt, health care, and the minimum wage:
Fox News spent much of the third quarter ignoring Trump’s tax returns while promoting his embrace of failed trickle-down economic policies. Fox aired the fewest segments discussing Trump’s tax returns (11) -- fewer segments than the network spent on economic inequality (38), economic growth (33), taxes (29), the debt and deficit (15) -- and the same number as network devoted to health care (11). The only economic topic Fox News had fewer segments on was the minimum wage (5).
Fox’s economic coverage largely pushed economic claims aligned with Trump’s policies. Of the 76 segments Fox aired discussing the economy, almost one-third (24) specifically discussed the supposed benefits of cutting taxes -- a major part of Trump’s tax plan. Fox’s Hannity frequently used persistent economic inequality as a foil against Trump’s political opponents to claim progressive economic policies under President Obama had failed.
Despite airing the fewest segments about Trump’s tax returns, the majority of Fox’s segments actually attempted to defend Trump’s decision not to release his tax returns -- and Fox was the only network that attempted to defend Trump. Out of 11 segments, Media Matters identified seven that were either attempts by the host to defend Trump’s actions or were appearances by Trump where he defended not releasing his tax returns. Five of these seven segments were on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.
Coverage of Trump’s tax returns on MSNBC eclipsed all other economic coverage. Much of MSNBC’s relentless drumbeat for transparency came from The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, which accounted for over half of all coverage at the network, with 17 segments, followed by All In with Chris Hayes (10), and The Rachel Maddow Show (3). In total, the network discussed Trump’s tax returns in 30 segments, more than all economic segments combined (25).
While MSNBC dedicated more coverage in the third quarter to Trump’s failure to release his tax returns than any other network, it also provided the least amount of coverage on the economy (25 segments) compared to CNN (35) and Fox News (76). MSNBC did discuss tax policy in relation to Trump's tax returns once and was the only network to do so. As was the case with CNN and Fox, MSNBC could have used more of its segments on Trump’s tax returns to provide more context on how Trump’s actual tax policy plans would increase the deficit and neglect the middle class while giving the largest tax reductions to high-income individuals. Unfortunately, MSNBC covered tax policy only 12 times:
CNN featured twice as many segments discussing Trump’s tax returns (22) as Fox News (11). CNN also discussed the economy (35) more than MSNBC (25). Yet, while CNN did have more economic coverage than MSNBC, the network did not produce as many segments discussing tax policy (8) as MSNBC (12). And while none of MSNBC’s coverage on tax policy pushed debunked trickle-down economics, CNN did have three segments promoting the supposed benefits of tax cuts.
CNN covered Trump’s taxes more than any single economic topic: economic inequality (16), economic growth (17), tax policy (8), the debt and deficit (4), the minimum wage (5), and health care (5). Slightly over half of the segments on Trump’s tax returns were from Anderson Cooper 360 (12). In one exchange with Trump senior adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sanders claimed Trump could not release his tax returns because he is being audited, and host Anderson Cooper answered that “what you are saying doesn't make sense.” From the September 9 edition of Anderson Cooper 360:
Scrutiny of Trump's missing tax returns was necessary given the possible reasons for his unprecedented breach of political norms. Trump has tried to falsely claim that he cannot release his tax returns while under audit by the IRS, but even President Richard Nixon released his tax returns during his re-election campaign in 1972, when he was under audit by the IRS.
Trump’s tax returns are just one aspect of the concerns media and experts have had with his extreme and unconventional campaign. Trump’s economic plan has been blasted as “pie in the sky” and “magical thinking” by experts on both sides of the aisle. The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation found Trump’s proposed tax cuts will explode the deficit by $2.6 to $3.9 trillion. Media Matters identified 19 economic myths Trump has spread during this election cycle. Trump’s actions even moved 370 economists, including eight Nobel laureates, to sign a letter denouncing his repeated lies about the economy.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of network broadcast news and cable prime-time (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from July 1, 2016, through September 30, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: econom! or jobs or growth or debt or deficit or minimum wage or inequality or taxes or poverty or low income or low-income or obamacare or aca or affordable care act or health care.
Hundreds of economists, including eight Nobel laureates, signed a letter denouncing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s repeated lies about job growth, trade, immigration, the federal debt, and the state of the American economy. The misinformation the economists identified is not Trump’s alone, but the product of a right-wing media echo chamber that specializes in spreading myths about the economy to serve its partisan agenda.
The Wall Street Journal published a letter from 370 economists on November 1 denouncing Trump’s economic policies and the distortions upon which they are built. The Journal reported that the letter was “less partisan or ideological” than similar letters aimed at political candidates and instead focused on “Trump’s history of promoting debunked falsehoods” and “conspiracy theories” instead of “engag[ing] with reality.” The economists took specific issue with Trump’s false claims that the unemployment rate is higher than the federal government reports, that increasing tariffs would lead to more U.S. manufacturing jobs, that immigration has hurt the U.S. economy, and that his proposed tax cuts will decrease the deficit. From the letter:
- He degrades trust in vital public institutions that collect and disseminate information about the economy, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by spreading disinformation about the integrity of their work.
- He has misled voters in states like Ohio and Michigan by asserting that the renegotiation of NAFTA or the imposition of tariffs on China would substantially increase employment in manufacturing. In fact, manufacturing’s share of employment has been declining since the 1970s and is mostly related to automation, not trade.
- He claims to champion former manufacturing workers, but has no plan to assist their transition to well-compensated service sector positions. Instead, he has diverted the policy discussion to options that ignore both the reality of technological progress and the benefits of international trade
- He has misled the public by asserting that U.S. manufacturing has declined. The location and product composition of manufacturing has changed, but the level of output has more than doubled in the U.S. since the 1980s.
- He has lowered the seriousness of the national dialogue by suggesting that the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Education would significantly reduce the fiscal deficit. A credible solution will require an increase in tax revenue and/or a reduction in spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or Defense
- He claims he will eliminate the fiscal deficit, but has proposed a plan that would decrease tax revenue by $2.6 to $5.9 trillion over the next decade according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation.
- He uses immigration as a red herring to mislead voters about issues of economic importance, such as the stagnation of wages for households with low levels of education. Several forces are responsible for this, but immigration appears to play only a modest role. Focusing the dialogue on this channel, rather than more substantive channels, such as automation, diverts the public debate to unproductive policy options.
The falsehoods the economists denounce have been well-documented -- Media Matters identified 19 economic myths Trump has spread during this election cycle. The economists took issue with Trump falsely claiming the unemployment rate could be as high as 42 percent, a wildly exaggerated figure that has been repeatedly debunked after being popularized by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
The economists denounced Trump’s attacks on immigrants and immigration reform, which have been enabled by Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and others at the network. According to Vice, Trump learned his anti-immigrant rhetoric from right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, who has attacked immigrants for years. Yet, as FiveThirtyEight chief economics writer Ben Casselman pointed out, immigration has “important economic advantages” for the United States, including stoking economic growth by imbuing the population with younger and more economically productive workers and consumers.
The economists pointed out that Trump’s proposed tax cuts will explode the deficit by $2.6 to $3.9 trillion. Media Matters has pointed out that Trump’s tax policy agenda has been discredited as “pie in the sky” and “magical thinking” by experts on both sides of the aisle, but it has nevertheless found repeated defenders in Fox News, which falsely claims huge tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans is “how we grow the economy.” The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has also defended Trump’s tax plan, lauding it for reducing taxes on the wealthy.
Even conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin -- no stranger to pushing absurd and unrealistic right-wing media narratives when it suits her -- slammed Trump’s “know-nothingism” on the economy. Conservative Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman had also previously hit the GOP nominee for perpetuating “a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible” with his fact-free economic populism.
But criticism from a few conservative writers does not change the fact that conservative media outlets enabled Trump’s lies, paved the way for his presidential campaign, and built the political infrastructure he needed to conquer the Republican Party. As Media Matters and others have repeatedly pointed out, Trump is a creation of the right-wing media. His willingness to echo any number of right-wing media economic myths is further proof of that.
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Reports that benchmark health insurance premiums will increase by an average of 25 percent from 2016 to 2017 for plans purchased on Healthcare.gov marketplace exchanges have prompted right-wing media outlets to claim the price hike is proof of “the collapse” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and evidence of a so-called Obamacare “death spiral.” In reality, the majority of individual insurance customers will be insulated from cost increases due to proportional increases in the health care subsidies, and these premium increases are still in line with anticipated health care costs initially predicted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared on The Dr. Oz Show to discuss, among other things, his child care policy proposals. Trump noted that “there are a lot of men involved” in child care and that “under the plan we’re doing they will be helped so much,” yet Trump’s child care plan explicitly excludes fathers from access to parental leave. Oz did not point that out.
Trump’s child care proposal includes a plan for six weeks of maternity leave for new mothers paid through unemployment insurance. By specifying “maternity leave,” as The Associated Press reported, Trump’s “leave program would not apply to working fathers.” ThinkProgress economic policy editor Bryce Covert also noted that Trump’s plan would exclude not only working fathers, but “potentially all adoptive parents” and countless LGBT parents. Trump’s failure to include fathers in his child care proposals is one of several shortfalls journalists should be aware of when reporting on Trump’s plan. From the September 15 edition of ABC’s The Dr. Oz Show:
DONALD TRUMP: In the case of Ivanka, the child care thing has been so important to her for so long, she used to say, “I don’t know who people do it.” Last night -- just one story quick -- we met with about 20 mothers and a couple of gentlemen, too, by the way, who are also, you know, there is a lot of men involved in this that are getting absolutely --
DR. MEHMET OZ (HOST): Mister Moms.
TRUMP: -- they are getting hurt so badly. But, we met with these 20 people, they were incredible people, and they had just unbelievable and sad, very sad stories to tell. And, I got a very heavy dose of what's going on. And, I will tell you, under the plan we're doing they will be helped so much. And Ivanka was always saying, "Dad, we've got to do something about child care. It's just so unfair." And we really talked with those people last night how tough it is.
IVANKA TRUMP: And most people don’t realize that it’s the single-largest household expense in much of this country, even exceeding the cost of housing.
Right-wing media personalities have long claimed that the economy is worse off than it is in reality by citing inappropriate figures to distort the full picture. They claim that the “real” unemployment rate is much higher than the figure reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and they often point to the labor force participation rate as the main indicator of how healthy job growth is.
Donald Trump has claimed that the unemployment rate is as high as 42 percent, saying “these are the real unemployment numbers – the 5 percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.” PolitiFact gave that claim a rating of “Pants on Fire,” its worst possible verdict, but right-wing media have repeatedly enabled this lie by claiming that as many as 94 million Americans are "not in the labor force," failing to note that this 94 million includes: students, retirees, stay-at-home parents, and those institutionalized in mental health or penal facilities. As of August 2016, the official unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, down from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 following the financial crisis.
Conservative pundits like to cite the labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the population that is in the labor force, as proof that the economy is in decline. They use this rate because it is downward trending while the unemployment rate has been steadily improving for nearly six years. The reason the labor force participation rate is on the decline though, is because "baby boomers" are retiring en masse; in fact, roughly 10,000 people reach retirement age every day. Labor force participation peaked during the Clinton administration, and President Obama inherited an economy in the midst of a deep recession from President Bush. The idea that Obama is to blame for an imaginary economic decline is just misinformation.
Many economists agree that the employment to population ratio is a better measure of economic health -- as it represents the number of jobs available as a proportion of the total population -- and the ratio has been gradually improving since the end of the recession.
These types of myths are harmful. CNN Money recently highlighted a study from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University which found that while the unemployment rate is only 4.9 percent, 57 percent of Americans “believe it is a lot higher” because the “general public has ‘extremely little factual knowledge’ about the job market and labor force.” The article also noted how “Donald Trump has tapped into this confusion” by “repeatedly call[ing] the official unemployment rate a ‘joke’ and even a ‘hoax.’”
Veteran political consultant and commentator James Carville says the media assumes false equivalence when covering major policy disagreements, allowing right-wing misinformation to overshadow clear evidence that Democratic policies on issues like the economy and health care have been successful.
Carville, who is a guest contributor to Media Matters, recently released We’re Still Right, They’re Still Wrong, a sequel to his 1996 book We’re Right, They’re Wrong. In an interview with Media Matters, Carville explained that he wrote the book because “the Democratic Party does a very poor job of tootin’ our own horn” while “right-wing blowhards” successfully push misinformation about Democratic policies into mainstream media coverage.
“The economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans -- there’s no debate there,” Carville explained. “You don’t even have to be an expert to go look up unemployment data. Look up growth. The deficit is remarkably lower under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents.” But Carville argues that reporters’ obsession with presenting “both sides” of policy disagreements -- rather than focusing on evidence -- ends up lending credibility to right-wing misinformation. Conservatives "don’t ever cite any facts for anything that they say. And they just move on.”
Carville highlighted conservative fearmongering on issues like Obamacare, the Ebola virus -- which some warned was going to “kill us all” -- and climate change as notable examples. “It’s not a disputable fact. The earth is getting warmer; get over it. There‘s not another side of the argument.”
Carville sees evidence of that same false equivalence in reporting about the presidential election. “I do interviews and they say, ‘Well, we have two unpopular candidates.’ Yes, that’s sort of true, but one is twice as unpopular as the other.”
In Carville’s view, Republican nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy is the natural product of years of fact-free right-wing fearmongering. “I think Trump is the perfect nominee of a party that hates facts. Because he doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know the nuclear triad from the federal triangle. And he is just exactly what they deserve. They’ve been a fact-denying party from evolution to global warming to economic policy to foreign policy, so why should they be surprised if they have a fact-denying nominee? He fits in perfectly for them.”
At the same time, Carville sees a double standard in the way reporters handle each candidate's respective controversies. In a March piece for Media Matters, Carville laid out what he dubbed “The Clinton Rule” based on the Beltway media’s obsession with supposed Clinton “scandals”: “There shall be one standard for covering everyone else in public life, and another standard for the Clintons.”
As a recent example, Carville pointed to the media’s recent scrutiny of the Clinton Foundation and the growing calls for the Clintons to shut it down. He urged Democrats to be blunt in their defense of the foundation: “People are going to die. Yes, people will die when you shut it down.” He dismissed potential hand-wringing over his proclamation: “‘Oh gee, do you think you should you really say that?’ Well it’s a fact.”
“My message to Democrats is, you’ve been right, get over it. You can be nice, you can be polite about it, but you’ve just been right,” Carville said. “I’m sure it’s going to come a day where we’ll get something wrong and we’ll deal with that, too.”
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