Fox News is burying Republican policy positions that exacerbate income inequality in order to help the GOP rebrand itself as a party for the middle class. This effort follows years of Fox figures blasting Democratic policies designed to alleviate income inequality as "class warfare."
Congressional Republicans are borrowing from years of right-wing media attacks on federal disability benefits to justify their recent attempt to snarl funding for Social Security programs.
On January 6, Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a change to legislative rules that restricts the historically routine transfer of tax money from the Social Security retirement fund to the Social Security disability program. Such transfers have helped keep both Social Security programs solvent. In practice, the rule change makes these reallocations nearly impossible by requiring that they be "accompanied by 'benefit cuts or tax increases that improve the solvency of both funds.' " As the Los Angeles Times' Michael Hiltzik explained, because the disability fund is on track to "run dry as early as next year," this could mean "disability benefits for 11 million beneficiaries would have to be cut 20%."
In a January 6 statement justifying the rule change, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) called the disability program "fraud-plagued." And during a January 14 event in New Hampshire on the long-term future of safety-net programs, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) claimed many who receive disability benefits are "gaming the system" and downplayed disabilities, saying, "over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club."
Fox News consistently pushes fears of government "land grabs" surrounding environmental regulations. But the network celebrated the recent court decision allowing TransCanada to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on private land -- with no mention of the threat to landowner rights.
The Nebraska Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court ruling that would have protected the property rights of landowners who do not want the Keystone XL pipeline built on their land and fear that a spill could devastate region's drinking water and agriculture-based economy. As CBS reported, the ruling upheld a 2012 law allowing Canadian oil firm TransCanada to "seize property using eminent domain from any landowners who deny the developer access." A majority of Nebraska's Supreme Court -- four of the seven judges -- actually voted that the statute authorizing TransCanada's use of eminent domain was unconstitutional, but that fell just short of the supermajority (of at least five judges) necessary to make such a ruling.
Rather than address the decision's impact on property rights, Fox News celebrated the ruling by repeating the GOP talking point that President Obama is now out of "excuses" for stalling on Keystone XL as the GOP attempts to pass legislation forcing its approval in Congress this week. On the January 9 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt reported that the ruling "basically removes... the last obstacle or excuse for the administration and President Obama saying that it was not ripe for a decision." On the January 9 edition of Special Report, Correspondent Mike Emanuel stated that "New Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said now the President is out of excuses." And on the January 12 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer posited that the White House may have "run out of excuses on Keystone," and Republican strategist Tony Sayegh agreed:
Fox News figures responded to President Obama's announcement of an upcoming executive order to improve the immigration system by highlighting GOP options to punish the president -- including impeachment, lawsuits, defunding the government, and blocking presidential appointments and nominations.
President Obama is expected to announce immigration orders that build upon the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and provide temporary administrative relief for certain undocumented immigrants, an exercise of prosecutorial discretion that right-wing media have attacked as "lawless." But experts across the political spectrum acknowledge that this type of executive action has long been practiced and authorized under federal immigration law.
Right-wing media outlets are criticizing Loretta Lynch, the highly-qualified attorney that President Obama has nominated to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, by attacking her support of voting rights litigation and claiming her membership in one of the country's leading African-American sororities is "controversial."
On September 25, Holder announced that he would step down as attorney general, but would stay in office until his replacement was confirmed. The president nominated Lynch to the post on November 8, citing her extensive legal experience and stating that "it's pretty hard to be more qualified for this job than Loretta." Even conservative figures appear to agree, with Republican Senator Lindsay Graham calling her a "solid choice." News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch echoed Graham's sentiment, noting that the nominee has a "reputation for fairness and strict legality." Lynch is a Harvard Law graduate, has decades of experience as a successful and widely praised federal prosecutor, and has served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York since 2010, when she was confirmed by unanimous consent.
But after Obama's announcement, conservative media ignored her qualifications and began to attack Lynch anyway, falsely accusing her of partisanship. Breitbart.com was so eager to find fault in her nomination that it went after the wrong Lynch, erroneously claiming that she was involved in former President Bill Clinton's defense during the Whitewater investigation in 1992. In reality, it was a different attorney named Loretta Lynch who defended the president during the probe that cleared the Clintons; the current nominee Lynch was serving in the U.S. attorney's office at the time.
The attacks have continued even after Breitbart.com issued a correction to its story. On the November 11 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight, host Lou Dobbs claimed Lynch's membership in one of the country's leading African-American sororities was "controversial" because Holder's wife, a classmate of Lynch's, also pledged Delta Sigma Theta.
From the October 7 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Conservative media are claiming that unemployed Americans are "lazy" because they supposedly spend too much time "shopping" and not enough time working or looking for work. But the data they cite includes the activities of stay-at-home parents, students, people with disabilities, and retirees who are "not employed."
On September 8, fringe conservative website CNS News published an article claiming "an unemployed American is more likely to be shopping ... than to be looking for a new job. " The article ostensibly cited data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), an annual survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). CNS claimed that "only 18.9 percent of Americans who were unemployed" engaged in job searches or job interviews on "an average day." Meanwhile, according to CNS, 22.5 percent of the "unemployed" engaged in shopping "for items other than groceries" on "an average day."
Unfortunately, CNS did not link to its internal data or provide methodology for its reporting, leaving readers to take the website's claims at face value.
Digging into the technical notes of the ATUS reveals that the BLS does not categorize individuals as "unemployed," but rather as "not employed." This distinction is important, as it includes individuals who fit the classification of being unemployed -- not working but actively looking for work -- as well as individuals who are "not in the labor force" for other reasons, including retirement, educational pursuit, and disability. So-called "discouraged workers," the small percentage of the population who involuntarily leave the labor force due to a lack of opportunity, would also count as "not employed" by ATUS classification.
CNS' insinuation that the so-called "unemployed" spend too much time engaged in non-work activities like "shopping" is based on a fatally skewed statistical error. But that fact has not stopped right-wing media outlets from using CNS' assumptions to fuel their campaign against the unemployed.
From the September 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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When it comes to sexual assault on college campuses, Fox News host Lou Dobbs doesn't see "anything controversial" about telling women not to drink in order to avoid sexual assault.
In August, former George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg came under fire for comments he made on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, where Trachtenberg argued that women should be "trained not to drink in excess" so that they can fend off potential rapists.
During the September 3 edition of Outnumbered, Dobbs vocalized his support for Trachtenberg's comments, wondering "why there should be anything controversial" about advising college students to avoid alcohol to protect themselves from sexual assault. He went on to explain that the "vulnerability" of drinking is a "disastrous choice" to make, while co-host Harris Faulkner agreed, that "personal responsibility... is very important in all of this":
But the implication that preventing sexual assault is as simple as telling women not to drink is faulty. Although excessive alcohol consumption may play a role in encouraging damaging behavior, "[t]he fact that alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur does not demonstrate that alcohol causes sexual assault," according to a literature review from the National Institutes of Health:
[M]en are legally and morally responsible for acts of sexual assault they commit, regardless of whether or not they were intoxicated or felt that the woman had led them on previously. The fact that a woman's alcohol consumption may increase their likelihood of experiencing sexual assault does not make them responsible for the man's behavior, although such information may empower women when used in prevention programs.
And as an expert explained to USA Today, "People don't get raped because they have been drinking, because they are passed out or because they are drunk. People get raped because there is a perpetrator there -- someone who wants to take advantage of them."
Dobb's dismissal of sexual assault as a problem that can be mitigated by educating women not to drink places blame squarely on victims' shoulders instead of pointing the finger at perpetrators of sexual assault. Such willingness to shift responsibility away from perpetrators to the victims contributes to the dangerous culture of stigmatization that keeps many survivors from reporting the crimes in the first place.
With the nation's attention turned toward the growing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, media figures have called on President Obama to speak out more forcefully on the situation and race relations in America. But Obama's past statements on race have been met with attacks from conservative commentators, blasting Obama for "promoting racial division" and "exacerbating racial tensions."
Voices currently urging the nation's first black president to say more on race ignore the marked history of conservative media figures' accusations of race-baiting in response to Obama's previous remarks:
In The Wall Street Journal, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) disavowed the offensive narrative pushed by conservative media which labels needy Americans as "takers" versus more economically-prosperous "makers." However, Ryan's proposed anti-poverty policies still rely on the right-wing media myth that blames poverty on poor individuals' personal life choices.
Fox News pundits questioned President Obama's engagement in world affairs following a press conference in which the president announced historic investments in Africa and took questions from journalists on a wide range of pressing international and domestic issues.
From the August 6 edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight:
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The racially charged and conspiratorial rhetoric protesters spewed at child migrants on their way to temporary housing in Murrieta, California, closely mirrored some of conservative media's favorite xenophobic talking points.
In the first week of July, hundreds of protesters gathered in Murrieta to voice opposition to the planned housing of migrant detainees at the federal Border Patrol station in the city, blocking buses and forcing them to return to the Border Patrol station in San Diego. The buses contained unaccompanied minors and women with children, awaiting deportation proceedings after crossing the U.S. border in Texas to flee violence in Central America.
These protests, along with a preceding Murrieta town hall on July 3, were full of invective -- protesters charged that the "illegal aliens" carried dangerous diseases and were possibly members of gangs and drug cartels. The crowds demanded that the government simply send the children back, screaming chants of "go home" and "U.S.A."
The protestors were so full of vitriol that immigration officials rerouted the migrants' buses to San Diego, citing safety concerns for the women and children aboard.
Media Matters for America researcher Lis Power contributed to this post.