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With the U.S. Senate considering a Republican-backed resolution of disapproval over the historic nuclear agreement with Iran, Media Matters debunks the myths that have pervaded the media debate on the deal.
Conservative media figures reacted to the announced nuclear deal with Iran by comparing the deal with the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated with North Korea. These flawed comparisons failed to note several key differences between the substance of the two agreements and between the situations of the two countries at the time the deals were made.
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Fox News is falsely claiming that a new study concerning the survival rate of premature newborns will have an outsized impact on abortion law.
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) suggests that an extremely small number of premature babies born at 22 weeks can survive outside the womb with extensive medical intervention. The New York Times reported that, according to the study, "a vast majority died or suffered serious health issues" despite these best efforts. Because the Supreme Court has held that states cannot ban abortion prior to fetal viability, many pro-life advocates and now Fox News are already suggesting that the current medical standard of viability be lowered to 22 weeks - a conclusion the study does not support.
In fact, not only does this claim misrepresent the science, it also misinterprets how the Supreme Court has defined "viability" in its rulings on reproductive rights.
Although the overwhelming medical consensus is that viability is generally 24 weeks, and most states that regulate abortion use the 24-week date as a cut-off, the Supreme Court does not use this as a bright-line rule. But on the May 7 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jenna Lee falsely claimed that it does, and suggested that the new study would accordingly upset the Supreme Court's rulings on reproductive rights. In an interview with Dr. Carla Simonian, Lee erroneously claimed that Roe v. Wade had set "28 weeks as viable has been a marker not only in the medical community but also in the legal community," and that in the court's 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 28 week viability date "became 24 weeks."
Based on her misunderstanding of these decisions, Lee went on to wonder whether 22 weeks would become a new legal standard for viability:
In reality, the Supreme Court has never set viability at a specific week -- rather, it has acknowledged that viability is different for every pregnancy and is determined on a case-by-case basis by a woman and her doctor. The court specifically noted in Colautti v. Franklin that viability "may differ with each pregnancy" and that it "is reached when, in the judgment of the attending physician on the particular case before him, there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus' sustained survival outside the womb."
Moreover, in Casey, the court held that a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy before viability without interference from the state, but did not definitively set viability at 24 weeks or any other date. In short, the Supreme Court still defers to medical science, which is why Fox News' question, "Are we looking at even 22 weeks?" as the new legal date of viability is not only unsupported by the NEJM study, it also incorrectly explained how the constitutional right to abortion is protected.
While conservative politicians and right-wing media may attempt to exploit this study to promote more archaic restrictions on reproductive rights, the Supreme Court is not bound by its findings to revisit its reproductive rights jurisprudence. Life-saving advancements in medical science and technology are good news, but under current law, the point of viability continues to vary, depending on the pregnancy.
Fox News misleadingly attacked the federal food stamp program for being wasteful and unaccountable despite reports that the program achieved the lowest payment error rate in its history in the most recently available data.
Fox New complained about the findings of a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on quality control in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps. The USDA report clearly states that the 2012 fiscal year was "another year of excellent performance in payment accuracy" before noting that the most recent payment error rate of 3.42 percent was once again "the lowest National payment error rate in the history of SNAP."
On the July 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade cast the findings in a negative light, stressing that "the government is overpaying on food stamps by about $2 billion." Co-host Steve Doocy then questioned whether the Obama administration could "be trusted with more money," given the overpayments. Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney went on to chastise the Department of Agriculture for labeling the food-stamp payment error rate of 3.42 percent "excellent," wondering aloud "since when has that been good?"
Fox News' mischaracterization of the SNAP report continued throughout the day. On Happening Now, co-host Jenna Lee called the USDA report "startling" and said that "the administration is having a tough time managing its funds." On The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson claimed that federal spending on nutrition assistance was "reaching a breaking point" before highlighting the growth of participation in the food stamp program since 2007.
Far from indicating a managerial flaw in the Obama administration, the 2012 payment error rate in SNAP is evidence of success in rooting out improper payments. According to the report being derided on Fox News, the national payment error rate in SNAP during President Obama's first year in office was 4.36 percent. That error rate then fell to 3.81, 3.80, and 3.42 percent in fiscal years 2010-2012, respectively.
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Fox News made light of the real threat that domestic violence and stalking pose to women during a discussion of a man's arrest for violating a restraining order.
On January 10, Thomas Gagnon was jailed for reportedly sending his ex-girlfriend, who had a restraining order against him, an email invitation to join Google+.
While discussing Gagnon, Happening Now co-host Jon Scott downplayed the gravity of violence against women by suggesting that men don't take restraining orders seriously because they "know there are a lot of overly-vindictive women out there." Guest Fred Tecce similarly made light of stalking, joking that the email should have said "I'm cold hanging out here hiding in the bushes behind your house." Tecce and fellow guest Arthur Aidala quickly swept aside co-host Jenna Lee's observation that the perpetrator may have had a history of violence, as Tecce joked that "she had to get a restraining order because the guy was trying to get his ring back and she just didn't want to give it back to him":
Frequent Fox guest and former Reagan economic advisor Art Laffer argued for the abolishment of the minimum wage for some workers, describing the law as the "black teenage unemployment act." He added that the federal requirement "makes no sense whatsoever."
Laffer, the so-called father of trickle-down economics, appeared on the January 8 edition of Fox News' Happening Now to discuss the possible extension of recently-expired unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. When host Jenna Lee asked Laffer and American Enterprise Institute's Michael Strain about other ways to improve the economy, Laffer recommended doing away with the minimum wage for some workers, saying that "honestly" the requirement is the "black teenage unemployment act." Strain agreed, and suggested lowering the minimum wage "for the long-term unemployed" to $4 an hour.
JENNA LEE: One of the things you both agree on is maybe looking at minimum wage, and Art, you have an idea for minimum wage that you think could encourage hiring and it involves state government so what is that plan?
LAFFER: Yeah, well the minimum wage makes no sense whatsoever to me. I mean, honestly, it's just the teenage -- black teenage unemployment act and this is the very groups that we need to have jobs not be put out of work because of the minimum wage so I'm really very much in favor of at least for teenagers getting rid of the minimum wage so we can bring them back into the labor force, get them the skills they need to continue being productive members of our society for years and years. I mean, that's the way I'd go on minimum wage.
STRAIN: I certainly agree with Art that we should lower the minimum wage for teenagers, I also think we should lower the minimum wage for the long-term unemployed. You know, right now, if you're a worker and you apply for a job and you've been unemployed for 7 months, the firm may say 'hey, you know, I wonder if there is something about this person maybe previous firms have seen something that I'm not seeing -- I'm not going to hire them.' And the reason that, well a reason that a firm might feel that way is because the government says that you have to take a $7.25 per hour risk on that worker. So if we lower that down to, say, $4 an hour, then the risk is much less to the firm, firms are going to be more likely to hire these workers. Now, I think if we do that, for workers that are heads of households and that are working full time, we don't want them living in poverty, so, if we're going to lower the minimum wage for those workers then we need to have some sort of a wage subsidy or an expansion of the earned income tax credit or something to make up the difference.
LEE: I'm going to need a calculator.
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Fox News used the Senate's recent filibuster reforms to revive the long-debunked myth that the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is a "death panel" that will now be staffed by Obama appointees who won't have to endure Republican obstruction efforts.
Senate Democrats changed rules on November 21 so that "judicial and executive branch nominees no longer need to clear a 60-vote threshold to reach the Senate floor and get an up-or-down vote," a changed referred to by critics as the "nuclear option."
On the November 26 edition of Fox's Happening Now, co-host Jenna Lee introduced a segment claiming "new fallout from the nuclear option" could allow Obama the power to nominate candidates to "so-called death panels" without GOP input. Chief Congressional correspondent Mike Emanuel explained correctly that the IPAB "is a 15 member panel and its role is to slow the growth in Medicare spending." But Fox's on-screen text referred to the IPAB as "Obama death panels," referencing a right-wing myth that IPAB will have the power to ration health care in America and decide who lives and dies:
The ACA does not allow IPAB to recommend rationing health care. The text of ACA explicitly states that IPAB cannot make "any recommendation to ration health care... or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria." A Politifact analysis reported that IPAB is "forbidden from submitting 'any recommendation to ration health care.'" Washington Post's Glenn Kessler pointed out that the ACA "explicitly says that the recommendations cannot lead to rationing of health care":
During a discussion of the latest jobs report, The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore ignored the prominent role sequestration cuts played in depressing job growth, choosing instead to make the reality-defying claim that sequestration has in fact been a boon to the economy.
On October 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly unemployment report for September. According to the report, payrolls rose by 148,000, while the unemployment rate dropped from 7.3 to 7.2 percent. Those positive gains, a welcome change from losses sustained after the financial crisis, nonetheless fell short of expectations that 180,000 to 200,000 jobs would be created in September.
WSJ's Moore reacted to the jobs report during an interview with Fox News host Jenna Lee on Happening Now. He claimed the numbers represented an economy in "stagnation" that is "middling at best" and "kind of limping forward." Lee followed up, asking whether automatic spending cuts known as sequestration were to blame. Moore responded:
MOORE: Well first of all, I think the sequester has been very good for the economy, not bad. When you cut government spending, that frees up resources for private businesses. So the sequester has been, in my opinion, a very positive force and it's bringing down the deficit in spending.
Moore's cheerleading of sequestration while complaining about an under-performing economy is ironic because the slowdown of the recovery has been caused in large part by the sequester, which, according to Yahoo! Finance, is "finally dinging the economy":
Forecasting firm MacroEconomic Advisers has lowered its second-quarter forecast for GDP growth from 1.8% to 1.3%. That's very weak growth that will probably hold back hiring and spending, and depress confidence. "The sequester is expected to slow growth this year, and largely accounts for the weak second-quarter growth and lackluster third-quarter growth," the firm said in a recent report.
Pullbacks in the job market seem likely during the next few months. After five straight months of improvements, small businesses surveyed by the National Federation for Independent Business curtailed hiring in May. The latest jobs report from ADP showed private-sector firms created about 30,000 fewer jobs than expected in May, with companies hiring at a pace too slow to bring down the unemployment rate. Manufacturing activity, which is directly affected by federal spending on defense contractors, has fallen below the level generally considered to be recessionary.
Tony Nash of forecasting firm IHS warned recently on CNBC that the effects of the sequester should build as the year goes on. Even the Federal Reserve mentioned the sequester in its latest "beige book" report on regional economic conditions, citing concerns about defense-industry cutbacks in the Cleveland and Richmond regions.
According to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, the sequester has impacted job growth throughout the country. CNN recently confirmed an earlier report that the sequester has slowed economic growth. Worse still, an October 2013 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that the "full brunt of the [sequester] cuts hasn't hit yet, and if we go down the sequester path for too long, we won't be able to reverse the devastating impacts."
Furthermore, repealing the sequester would stimulate the economy. According to an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), canceling sequestration would increase the United States' Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $113 billion and generate 900,000 new jobs, which the Economic Policy Institute noted, is "a number akin to 40 percent of the total number of jobs created over the last twelve months."
Moore's ignorance is not new. He previously claimed that sequestration was a "success" free of "negative consequences," a sentiment echoed throughout the right wing media. Instead of spending cuts, Moore would do well to turn his attention to job creation.
Fox News' timeline of the ongoing government shutdown cherry-picked dates to omit congressional Republicans' conception and furtherance of the shutdown over their demand to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act (also known as the ACA or Obamacare).
Fox News downplayed the immediacy of the upcoming debt ceiling deadline, giving credence to congressional Republicans' plan to use the threat of default as a means of gutting the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On September 25, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to congressional leadership in the House and Senate regarding the state of government finances. Lew specifically emphasized the consequences of failing to lift the federal debt limit by October 17. From the letter:
Treasury now estimates that extraordinary measures will be exhausted no later than October 17. We estimate that, at that point, Treasury would have only approximately $30 billion to meet our country's commitments. This amount would be far short of net expenditures on certain days, which can be as high as $60 billion. If we have insufficient cash on hand, it would be impossible for the United States of America to meet all of its obligations for the first time in our history.
On the September 25 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, host Jenna Lee and Fox Business host Neil Cavuto discussed the upcoming October 17 deadline to raise the debt limit. Cavuto recognized the fact that a failure to lift the debt ceiling would have far more dramatic consequences than a simple government shutdown, but also specifically rebuffed the nature of a firm deadline, claiming:
CAVUTO: Never believe those figures, Jenna, because every Treasury Secretary, be it a Republican or Democratic administration, has always cried panic and always attached a date that is really just made up.
Cavuto outlined the means by which congressional Republicans could use the threat of breaching the debt limit to extract concessions on the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, which could range from delaying to defunding key initiatives of the law. In fact, The Hill reported that Republicans in the House of Representatives plan on tying any increase of the debt limit to a one-year delay of Obamacare. From The Hill:
Moving to the debt ceiling fight, which Republican leaders have long seen as stronger ground, could be a way to convince rank-and-file Republicans to fight their spending and healthcare battles there rather than on a government funding bill.
Cavuto's caution that listeners should "never believe" Treasury Department deadlines, and the claim that these deadlines are "really just made up," directly contradicts the facts presented by Lew.
According to Treasury estimates, the United States government will have merely $30 billion in liquid assets on hand by October 17. By Lew's own admission, this sum, equivalent to roughly 0.75 percent of annual federal outlays, would be insufficient to meet the obligated expenses of certain individual days. Contrary to Cavuto's claims that the government could use flexible accounting to sustain itself for months without a debt limit increase, those so-called "extraordinary measures" have been in place since May 17 and are now at their limit.
If the debt ceiling is not lifted by October 17, the United States government will be unable to finance the payment of its pre-existing expenses through the continued sale of Treasury bonds. This would have all of the effects of a government shutdown -- outlays to certain program beneficiaries, employees, the military, etc. would cease or be delayed -- while also initiating a global financial crisis among corporate and sovereign wealth funds that own or purchase American debt.
According to The New York Times, the Treasury makes more than 80 million individual payments each month, and would miss nearly one-third of those regular payments every day until the debt ceiling was lifted. A $12 billion Social Security payment is due on October 23 and a $6 billion interest payment on public debt is due October 31. These alone would virtually exhaust the Treasury's remaining resources if Congress fails to act.
The notion that Republicans might be able to string a debt limit increase along for months as they negotiate attacks against Obamacare ignores both the economic consequences of a debt default and the political reality in Washington. The last legitimate Republican threat to breach the debt ceiling resulted in the first ever downgrade of the United States Department of Treasury bond rating -- from AAA to AA+. This downgrade marginally increased the cost of future American borrowing and, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, will cost taxpayers an additional $18.9 billion over the coming decade.
Increasing the debt limit does not increase the national debt, but manufacturing a crisis by using the debt limit to leverage political concessions has already cost taxpayers.