Cable and television news outlets have overwhelmingly presented Social Security as a program that should be cut, giving little to no airtime for proposals that would instead strengthen the program for beneficiaries.
Media Matters research revealed significant media selection bias in the Social Security debate. Through the first six months of 2013, the three largest broadcast and cable news networks dedicated nearly 300 segments to discussions of Social Security. More than two-thirds of those segments framed the entire Social Security debate as a problem of long-term solvency and the national debt, which can only be solved through drastic cuts to beneficiaries.
Media's heavy focus on "fixing" the solvency of the program belies the fact that Social Security is funded for at least the next two decades.
On May 31, the Social Security Board of Trustees submitted its annual report to members of Congress and the White House, which concluded that Social Security "does not face an immediate crisis," as noted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' summary of the report. The report recommends that lawmakers prudently address long-term solvency concerns, but need not immediately adopt deep benefit cuts.
The Economic Policy Institute argued, contrary to most news coverage, that the challenges facing Social Security are "modest and manageable." Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman had a similar reaction to the latest Social Security report, noting "the system will be able to pay most of its scheduled benefits as far as the eye can see." Krugman also recognized the irrationality of arguments made by those who claim to want to save Social Security from eventual collapse:
The risk is that we might, at some point in the future, have to cut benefits; to avoid this risk of future benefit cuts, we are supposed to act pre-emptively by...cutting future benefits. What problem, exactly, are we solving here?
While media coverage of Social Security paints the debate of the program as one-sided, members of Congress have put forth plans that would expand the program through need-based benefit increases and tax reform.
The most prominent Social Security expansion proposal involves raising the payroll tax cap from its current $113,700 annual limit. The payroll tax is the primary source of revenue for Social Security. A report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research revealed that placing a cap on taxable income causes low wage workers to pay higher effective rates than high wage workers. Eliminating the payroll tax cap would more evenly distribute payroll taxes to all workers while extending the life of the Social Security trust fund indefinitely.
In January 2013, the National Academy of Social Insurance conducted a comprehensive survey of American attitudes toward various Social Security reform proposals. The data revealed overwhelming support for lifting or raising the payroll tax cap, while respondents reported significant opposition to benefit cuts, including raising the retirement age and decreasing cost of living adjustments through chained CPI.
The Center for American Progress has also argued in favor of expanding Social Security through tax reform and increasing outlays to those beneficiaries who most rely on the program.
News segments devoted to the alleged demise of Social Security and other benefit programs consistently overlook these alternative proposals aimed at strengthening -- rather than cutting -- the program for beneficiaries.
Fox News Sunday panelists ignored a poll showing a majority of Texans oppose a proposed abortion ban bill, instead pushing the baseless claim that the bill is supported by that state's public.
Republicans in Texas recently attempted to pass a bill during a special legislative session that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, which is unconstitutional under Supreme Court precedent, with lower courts recently striking down similar bans in two other states. The bill did not include exemptions for rape or incest and contained other restrictions that would force all but five clinics that provide abortions in the state to close. The bill was defeated after Texas Senator Wendy Davis filibustered the bill for 11 hours, causing the special session to expire before the bill was passed. But Governor Rick Perry said he would convene another special session on July 1 to pass the bill.
When discussing the second attempt to pass the bill, the June 30 Fox News Sunday panel focused solely on the bill's 20 week ban provision to baselessly claim that the bill would pass because it has the support of the Texas public. Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin said Gov. Perry "is completely in tune with public opinion" on the bill. Fox News contributor Juan Williams backed Rubin, saying that polling shows "abortions after 20 weeks are not popular with anybody." Wall Street Journal editorial board member Kimberley Strassel said that the ban is "something that Americans actually have a great deal of unanimity on."
But a mid-June poll of Texas residents showed that a majority of Texans oppose the abortion ban bill. The poll, conducted by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, found that 51 percent of Texans opposed the bill. Sixty-three percent of respondents said that Texas has enough abortion restrictions already, and 52 percent said they think that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Seventy-four percent, including a majority of Republicans and Independents, felt that private medical decisions about abortion should not be made by politicians.
Despite a number of significant economic developments, major network and cable Sunday shows have been largely silent on the economy.
Media Matters research reveals that from May 12 to June 9, five major Sunday shows devoted only approximately 35 minutes of economic coverage.
During this time period, the Sunday shows were silent on the economy and missed an opportunity to cover significant developments.
Despite the various economic developments over this period, CNN and major network Sunday shows devoted little time to those stories. Only during the week of June 2 did coverage of the economy rise above five minutes, which provided three-quarters of the coverage for the entire five-week period.
In recent weeks, Sunday morning network news programs have virtually ignored economic issues, instead devoting hours of coverage to the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya; improper targeting of conservative nonprofits by the Internal Revenue Service; controversial federal investigations of national security leaks; and new revelations about National Security Agency surveillance programs.
From the June 9 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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Fox News Sunday selected Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, attorneys who represented witnesses at a Republican-led hearing on the attacks at a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, for its "power players of the week," an unfortunate choice given that both individuals misled Fox News and its viewers about allegations of threats and intimidation against their clients and about efforts by the administration to prevent their clients from testifying.
Though Fox News Sunday aired certain aspects of Toensing and diGenova's biographies, the segment neglected to mention that the two have a history of poor professional conduct, including criticism from a Democratic congressman for inappropriate behavior and actions while they worked as congressional investigators due to their constant media appearances attacking President Clinton. They were also accused of having a conflict of interest for representing a Republican committee chairman under Justice Department investigation while simultaneously serving as special counsel to the committee in a separate investigation. More recently, Toensing pushed the false claim that outed CIA agent Valerie Plame had not been covert, in addition to other falsehoods.
On April 29, Fox's Special Report aired video of Toensing claiming that people who wanted to testify on Benghazi "have been threatened," which Fox & Friends aired the following morning. Toensing was also cited by Special Report on April 29 in reporting the allegations that "the Obama administration is trying to intimidate potential whistleblowers into silence" and that possible witnesses were having their careers threatened. And a May 6 FoxNews.com article by Fox Washington correspondents James Rosen and Chad Pergram sourced a claim that a witness named Mark Thompson "has been subjected to threats and intimidation by as-yet-unnamed superiors at State, in advance of his cooperation with Congress" to diGenova, who was representing Thompson.
But testimony by the witnesses at a GOP-led hearing on May 8 and subsequent interviews of their attorneys on Fox News revealed that Toensing and diGenova misled the network by claiming that their clients had suffered threats, intimidation, and orders to keep quiet. When asked on Fox's Your World on May 9 about claims that Thompson had been threatened, diGenova replied that Thompson "actually hasn't said that," and explained that his client "didn't feel intimidated."
Gregory Hicks, another witness at the hearing -- represented by Toensing -- explained under questioning that he had not been told not to speak to congressional investigators, only that he was required to have a State Department attorney present while doing so. Hicks also explained that, in contrast to claims that the administration tried to silence him, he was interviewed twice by the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board that was created to investigate the Benghazi attacks. Hicks' testimony further contradicted Toensing's April 29 claim to Special Report that careers were being threatened when he explained that "the overriding factor" in his determination to not return to his post in Libya was to remain with his family in the United States.
From the May 19 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
William Kristol wants to go to war in Syria, but he won't say what that war should look like. Appearing on Fox News Sunday to discuss reports of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the Weekly Standard editor (and noted Iraq war hawk) attacked President Obama as "totally irresponsible" for indicating that he doesn't want "to start another war," saying: "You've got to do what you've got to do."
When host Chris Wallace pointed out to him that there are "no good choices" for intervening in the Syrian conflict and asked, "so what do you do?," Kristol brushed it off without indicating how he thought the president should respond: "You do what you think is best. You're commander in chief, you've got an awful lot of options."
Kristol's call for (non-specific) military action got a boost from Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume, who observed: "There's something to be said for doing something. That if they cross a line, you've got to do something. Now whatever it is may not directly affect the chemical weapons use, but if it directly affects and harms the regime's prospects in the war, that would at least be a consequence."
According to Hume, doing "something" (whatever that is) wouldn't be as difficult as people suspect. "This isn't Mission: Impossible."
From the April 14 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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From the March 17 edition of Fox Broadcasting Company's Fox News Sunday:
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Zeb Colter, an anti-immigrant character from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck, would be right at home in the conservative media. Many of Colter's bigoted and flawed arguments have been the right's stock-in-trade for years.
Beck targeted the Colter character on his radio show, arguing that Colter is "demonizing the Tea Party." Beck also accused the WWE of "mocking me for standing up for the Constitution." Beck's co-host Stu Burguiere complained: "It seems that the villain, the guy you're supposed to hate, is this stereotype of a conservative that I've never met."
Colter currently appears on WWE programming alongside wrestler Jack Swagger, spouting a lot of heated anti-immigrant rhetoric in the middle of a scripted feud with Mexican-born wrestler Alberto Del Rio. According to WWE, Colter's rhetoric is intended to "to build the Mexican American character Del Rio into a hero given WWE's large Latino base."
WWE explains that in order "to create compelling and relevant content for our audience, it is important to incorporate current events into our storylines."
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace allowed Bill Kristol to attack the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary without disclosing that Kristol is currently waging a full-scale campaign to oppose the nominee. Wallace further failed to challenge Kristol on his previous support of Hagel until he publicly supported a withdrawal from the Iraq War.
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol has been leading a relentless attack campaign against former Republican senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for defense secretary. During television appearances and on his site The Weekly Standard, Kristol is actively encouraging the Senate to block Hagel's nomination. The Emergency Committee for Israel, a political advocacy group Kristol founded, has even launched an anti-Hagel website complete with attack ads.
Yet on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Kristol to opine on Hagel's nomination without any mention of his advocacy to prevent Hagel from becoming defense secretary. After saying Hagel is a "controversial pick for defense secretary," Wallace directed Kristol: "Your comments on Hagel?" Kristol replied, "I don't think Chuck Hagel is the right man to be secretary of defense. We'll see if the United [States] Senate agrees with that." Kristol opposes the nomination on the false grounds that Hagel is hostile to Israel and sympathetic to Iran.
Kristol even interjected Hagel attacks into unrelated conversations.
A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX remained low in 2012 despite record temperatures and a series of extreme weather events in the U.S. When the Sunday shows did discuss climate change, scientists were shut out of the debate while Republican politicians were given a platform to question the science.
From the December 9 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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