Right-wing media figures are again poised to forward the fallacious notion that household budgets are analogous to the federal budget, an idea in direct opposition to expert opinion.
In an August 26 letter to congressional leaders, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew indicated that the debt limit would be reached in mid-October. If Congress fails to act and raise the debt limit, the United States will be unable to pay for previously agreed-upon obligations, such as Social Security and Medicare payments.
Previous battles over the debt ceiling and budget negotiations have proven problematic for those in right-wing media. Proponents of exacting spending cuts from Congress frequently compare the federal budget to a typical household budget, ostensibly suggesting that since a household cannot operate with debt, neither can the government.
The upcoming debt limit debate has already prompted right-wing media to forward this deceptive analogy. Previewing Congress' need to raise the debt limit, Fox News host Martha MacCallum likened federal debt to that of a daughter running up a credit card bill.
Of course, numerous economists -- such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Senior Fellow Jared Bernstein -- have repeatedly stated that comparing household budgets to government budgets demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the subject. This analogy is considered so fallacious that William Baumol and Alan Blinder tackle it directly in an Economics 101 textbook, noting that unlike households, the federal government is able to roll over debt and issue its own currency.
Bad economics hasn't stopped right-wing media before, and the same old falsehoods are likely to reappear during the debt limit debate.
Fox News discussed the need to raise the debt ceiling by erroneously linking government debt to family debt, a comparison that demonstrates the network's fundamental misunderstanding of the subject.
In an August 26 letter to Congressional leaders, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew indicated that the debt limit would be reached in mid-October. If Congress cannot arrive at an agreement to raise the limit, the United States will be unable to pay for previously agreed upon obligations, such as Social Security and Medicare payments.
On the August 27 edition of America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum hosted Fox News' Bob Beckel and former George W. Bush staffer Brad Blakeman to discuss the Obama administration's unwillingness to negotiate over raising the limit. During the segment, MacCallum likened government debt to household debt, claiming that if "your daughter runs up the credit card and has access to it and just goes crazy on it ... you're going to say, 'we're going to pay the bill, but we're going to change things in the future.' What is so very difficult about that?"
But MacCallum's analogy of a daughter running up a credit card bill is completely inaccurate.
Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman directly addressed the conservative notion that household debt and government debt are fundamentally the same, claiming that it ignores a few key realities about the nature of government debt. From his 2012 New York Times column:
First, families have to pay back their debt. Governments don't -- all they need to do is ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base. The debt from World War II was never repaid; it just became increasingly irrelevant as the U.S. economy grew, and with it the income subject to taxation.
Second -- and this is the point almost nobody seems to get -- an over-borrowed family owes money to someone else; U.S. debt is, to a large extent, money we owe to ourselves.
Economist L. Randall Wray echoed Krugman's analysis in a Huffington Post piece, adding that the federal government has the ability to issue its own currency to pay debts, a fact that further distorts MacCallum's analogy.
Fox's cheerleading for a showdown over raising the debt limit could result in disastrous consequences for the economy. Following the standoff on raising the debt limit in 2011, Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. credit rating, and the Bipartisan Policy Center estimated that the delay in raising it "will cost taxpayers $18.9 billion over 10 years."
Fox has repeatedly misled viewers over the debt limit in recent years, erroneously claiming that raising it would be the same as giving the president a "blank check" and obscuring potential negative consequences.
On August 26, Fox News hosts repeatedly demanded that the Obama administration make a statement about the shooting of Christopher Lane, an Australian student attending college in Oklahoma, ignoring the fact that days earlier Obama had offered words of comfort to the student's family.
America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum falsely claimed that Obama "so far has been silent" on the alleged murder of Lane and noted that, since Obama previously "put himself into the middle of these situations" by speaking on the shooting of Trayvon Martin, "it raises the question of why he would not, you know, comfort this family, why he would not reach out and make a comment."
Later, on Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity again falsely accused Obama of promoting a "double standard" for being "quick to respond" to Martin's death but failing to speak out about Lane's shooting in the 10 days since the alleged murder had occurred.
But Obama reached out to Lane's family days before either MacCallum or Hannity's criticisms. On August 24, the Australian newspaper Herald Sun reported that Obama, through White House spokesman Matt Lehrich, had released a statement offering his condolences:
As news of the random shooting death continued to make headlines in the US, the President took time out from a tour selling his college reforms to make a statement about the tragedy.
He said through White House spokesman Matt Lehrich that Lane's family and friends were going through trying times.
"As the President has expressed on too many tragic occasions, there is an extra measure of evil in an act of violence that cuts a young life short. The President and First Lady's thoughts and prayers are with Chris Lane's family and friends in these trying times," Mr Lehrich said in a statement to the Sunday Herald Sun.
A spokesman for Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said that "[t]he governor thinks the president did the right thing by reaching out to the Lane family and the people of Australia." Obama's words followed an August 22 tribute to "honor the strength and bravery of Chris' family as they deal with this unspeakable tragedy" from the U.S. Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich, who stated:
Like everyone else, we are struggling to understand how anybody could commit such a terrible and random act of violence. I've personally pledged to Chris' family our help in bringing Chris home as soon as possible, and to provide them with all the support within our power. We thank local law enforcement authorities in Oklahoma for their quick work and their efforts to bring those responsible to justice.
Fox News has previously attempted to frame Lane as a white equivalent to Trayvon Martin, using the incident in its ongoing campaign to hype "race-related crime" -- even after local District Attorney Jason Hicks told Fox that there was no evidence of racial motivations in the case.
Fox News downplayed Colin Powell's objections to strict voter ID laws and ignored the fact that Texas not only has a long history of illegal racial discrimination in its election practices, a federal court already found its voter ID measures to be impermissible voter suppression.
On the August 26 edition of America's Newsroom, Fox News host Martha MacCullum and correspondent Mike Emanuel reported on the Department of Justice's new legal challenge to the voter ID law Texas immediately enacted after the Supreme Court struck down a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in Shelby County v. Holder:
Fox News failed to mention, however, that Texas is being accused of illegally suppressing the vote through a voter ID law that has already been found to be racially discriminatory by a federal court.
Writing for a three-judge panel in 2012, a circuit judge dismissed Texas' evidence that its voter ID law was not impermissibly discriminatory as "unpersuasive, invalid, or both." As explained by the Constitutional Accountability Center's Doug Kendall:
[I]n Texas v. Holder, a three-judge court unanimously blocked Texas' new voter identification statute, the most stringent in the nation, finding that the statute would inevitably disenfranchise low-income Texas citizens, who are disproportionately African American and Hispanic. The court explained that, unlike Indiana, whose voter identification law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008, Texas had gone to great lengths to suppress the vote in poor and minority communities, strictly limiting the types of photo identifications available - a license to carry a concealed firearm is a valid ID under the law, but not a student or Medicare ID card - and making it costly to obtain a so-called "free" election ID for use at the polls. For those without one of the five permitted photo identifications, the court found that the law was tantamount to a poll tax, "imposing an implicit fee for the privilege of casting a ballot." The "very point" of the Voting Rights Act, the court explained, was to deny "states an end-run around the Fifteenth Amendment's prohibition on racial discrimination in voting."
Fox News host Martha MacCallum used the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington to accuse President Obama of squandering a unique opportunity to tell African-Americans "to stand up and take responsibility" and "profess that there are no excuses for anybody in this country."
On the August 23 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, MacCallum moderated a discussion of the 50th anniversary of the March with Fox contributor Juan Williams and Republican strategist Brad Blakeman. After Blakeman accused "half-black" Obama of injecting himself in racial issues instead of bringing people together, MacCallum asked whether the president "squandered a unique opportunity... to profess that there are no excuses for anybody in this country." She added that Obama may have squandered an opportunity to say, "no, you are not a victim, you need to stand up and take responsibility":
After the segment, MacCallum sent out a tweet asking whether the president missed an "opportunity to stand for responsible Fatherhood":
Fox News promoted research that erroneously suggests current federal debt stands at $70 trillion, a figure that amounts to a scare tactic devoid of relevant context.
On the August 15 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, hosts Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer suggested that the current figure of national debt is grossly underestimated. MacCallum claimed that, according to research by economist James Hamilton, "the true national debt is actually more like $70 trillion and that the government has been lowballing us for years." Hemmer then explained that the figure included Social Security, Medicare, and pension promises and claimed that "America could be in a whole lot of hurt."
The $70 trillion debt figure was also featured prominently in an article on FoxNews.com. According to the article:
Hamilton believes the government is miscalculating what it owes by leaving out certain unfunded liabilities that include government loan guarantees, deposit insurance, and actions taken by the Federal Reserve as well as the cost of other government trust funds. Factoring in those figures brings the total amount the government owes to a staggering $70 trillion, he says.
But according to experts, including liabilities in calculations of debt is inherently misleading.
The first problem is the way in which Fox misleadingly presents the figure as "debt." In an article responding to previous claims of debt being much higher than reported due to unfunded liabilities, The Atlantic's Derek Thompson explained that debt figures shouldn't include future liabilities:
Our $16 trillion in debt and our $87 trillion in "unfunded liabilities" represent two very different ideas: real past promises and projected future promises. Real past promises are, well, very real. We have to pay back our debt. Failing to do it would be an illegal and disastrous default. Unfunded liabilities are future promises, and, since they're not as real, we can change them whenever we want without destroying ourselves. For example, raising the taxable income ceiling and slowing the growth of benefits could reduce the Social Security gap to zero tomorrow.
Indeed, as Media Matters has previously noted, experts agree that citing unfunded liabilities typically amounts to nothing more than a scare tactic, mainly because, as the Congressional Budget Office explained, "no government obligation can be truly considered 'unfunded' because of the U.S. government's sovereign power to tax."
The second problem with Fox's promotion of the figure is that it removes important context, relying on a raw number instead of a relevant percentage. According to Hamilton's report, the bulk of the $70 trillion is due to obligations for Social Security and Medicare -- amounting to a total of $54.1 trillion. But while the figure may seem large, when expressed with relevant context, its gravity is greatly reduced.
In an interview with Media Matters, Josh Bivens, research and policy director at the Economic Policy Institute, explained that when compared with the size of the economy, the liabilities associated with Social Security and Medicare amount to roughly "one and a half percent of GDP." While the figure cited by Fox may be correct, omitting the size of liabilities relative to GDP unnecessarily stokes fears and misinforms viewers.
Furthermore, Bivens noted that other liabilities cited by Hamilton -- such as student loans, housing assistance, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. -- typically have assets directly attached to them that could generate revenue, a fact ignored by the report.
Fox News hosted a spokesman from an anti-gay hate group to continue the network's ongoing assault on a California bill that will allow transgender students to have access to school facilities and teams that correspond with their gender identity.
Following Gov. Jerry Brown's signing of a law that prohibits California public schools from discriminating against transgender students, Fox News invited Peter Sprigg, spokesman for the Family Research Council (FRC), to appear on the August 13 edition of America's Newsroom.
Sprigg - whose history of extreme anti-LGBT commentary includes suggesting that gay people should be exported from the U.S. - asserted that the law would ignore "biological reality" while pandering to students' "transient feelings and emotions":
Fox News host Martha MacCallum claimed that a "stand down" order was given the night of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi - an order that prevented U.S. troops from saving the lives of Americans stationed there. MacCallum's claim ignores the reality that no "stand down" order was ever given.
In the months following the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate, Fox hosts accused the Obama administration of ordering troops to "stand down" and not respond immediately to the attack. Media Matters analysis shows that on at least 85 different occasions Fox mentioned this accusation during segments in prime time.
On the July 26 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, MacCallum said, "My mind goes back to the order to stand down, and how none of this may have happened if that order to stand down had not been given. And we still don't know who gave that order, so that remains a really serious question here as well."
Even after a juror in George Zimmerman's trial for killing Trayvon Martin said that Florida's Stand Your Ground self-defense law influenced the outcome of the case, Fox News hosts and contributors continue to claim otherwise as a means to attack Attorney General Eric Holder for opposing such laws.
In advance of the increasingly likely event of filibuster reform, Fox News is repeating the GOP spin that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is only considering this "drastic" change because of pressure from unions.
Reid has announced that Senate Democrats will meet on Thursday in order to decide whether the unrelenting GOP obstruction of every facet of President Barack Obama's agenda - legislation, executive policy, judicial nominees, cabinet picks, agency leadership - requires changes to Senate rules so that this governing body can actually govern.
According to America Live guest host Martha MacCallum and Fox News personalities Chris Stirewalt and Stuart Varney, however, Reid's response to this "post-policy nihilism in which sabotaging the Obama agenda has become its only guiding governing light," as explained by The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, is merely political payback for unions that supported his last campaign against tea party candidate Sharron Angle, who bragged about her fundraising from "friendly press outlets" like Fox News. From the July 10 edition of America Live:
Due to an unprecedented decision issued by a currently rightward skewed appellate court, the president's last two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will have their legitimacy decided before the Supreme Court next term. Because of this legal challenge, in conjunction with a previous Court ruling that prevents the NLRB from functioning with less than three active members, the president has submitted three Democrats and two Republicans for confirmation so the NLRB can continue to mediate disputes between labor and management.
Fox News is correct that unions would prefer that the NLRB, the sole avenue of recourse for many labor disputes in accordance with federal law established over 75 years ago, not be nullified by filibuster as currently threatened. And if Reid is able to get his caucus to agree to eliminate the GOP's ability to block an up-or-down vote on nominations to the executive branch - the limited reform being floated - a simple majority in the Senate will indeed decide the fate of the NLRB.
But to pretend that this is the only impetus behind Senate Democrats' possible and reluctant change to the rules is ridiculous.
A "Watergate" style scandal alleging the State Department was responsible for a break in at a former employee's office completely fell apart after its progenitor was given a platform on Fox News. Fox guest Cary Schulman, a lawyer representing a former investigator at the State Department's Office of the Inspector General named Aurelia Fedenisn, was forced to confess he was only "joking" about allegations that the State Department was responsible for a break in at his office after admitting he had no evidence to back up his claims.
On June 10, CBS News reported on allegations of misconduct among State Department employees. Fedenisn, who is represented by the Dallas law firm Schulman & Mathias, provided the documents to CBS and discussed the allegations with Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
Schulman publicly questioned whether the State Department or supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have been responsible for a recent break in at his office in which a computer and box full of files were stolen. The Daily Caller, TheBlaze.com, and others quoted Schulman saying that "strongholds of support within the State Department" may have been involved.
On July 8, Schulman joined guest host Martha MacCallum on Fox News' America Live to discuss the break in. In a segment hyped as "'Watergate' Style Spy Claims," Schulman admitted he was "joking" about his allegations after acknowledging he possessed no real evidence to suggest the State Department's involvement in the break in. He concluded by warning that "we should take a hard look at" the State Department if they were to determine there was no involvement by State Department employees in the break in.
Fox News host Martha MacCallum attacked access to clinics offering abortions in Texas, taking issue with the fact that the clinics offer abortions at all, and not that a recently defeated state bill would have imposed so many new restrictions as to render most clinics legally inoperable.
During the July 1 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host MacCallum called into question Texas State Senator Wendy Davis' filibuster that defeated Texas' Senate Bill 5 (SB5) which, if passed, would have been one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws. Critics of the bill said it would have shuttered all but five of the 47 clinics that provide abortions in Texas. MacCallum attempted to discredit this claim, saying, "That makes you just wonder how many of these clinics are surviving on the fact that they are performing abortions, if so many of them would have to close if indeed it were able to pass":
MacCallum scoffed at the restrictions that SB 5 would have enacted, but medical experts in Texas oppose the bill. The Texas district of American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a statement against the bill, saying it "sets a dangerous precedent by legislating the practice of medicine and places women at risk by denying access to safe, legal reproductive health services."
ACOG added that the bill's requirement that clinics offering abortions must maintain the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers would create "additional standards that single out abortion services from other outpatient procedures."
MacCallum is not the only Fox News personality who has called into question Davis' fight to keep abortion accessible for women or the only one who has attempted to misrepresent support for her efforts. Fox contributor Laura Ingraham asked Davis on her radio program and via Twitter: "Which kids that you see on the playground shouldn't be there?" And a panel on Fox News Sunday attempted to depict SB 5 as having far more support than polls show in anticipation of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's promise to hold a July 1 special session of the state legislature to revive and pass the bill.
From the June 28 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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Fox News' America's Newsroom criticized a Hannity segment for "cross[ing] the line" of "civil society" after a frequent Hannity guest yelled for his female debate opponent to "know your role and shut your mouth." The daytime program wondered if this type of behavior -- not far from standard fare on Hannity and other Fox primetime programming -- damages the nation's ability to have serious discussions.
Radio host and frequent Hannity guest Bill Cunningham appeared on the June 20 edition of Hannity to debate Fox contributor Tamara Holder on the merits of claims that Attorney General Eric Holder mislead Congress while under oath. Out of the gate, Cunningham told Tamara Holder she was "one of the stooges of the left," pointing his finger at her while loudly shouting, "Sign the petition, Tamara! To call for the resignation of the chief law enforcement officer of this nation because he lied under oath when he criminalized journalism. And you know he did it but you refuse to do what's right." Holder replied that, "your finger does not prove your point," pointing back at Cunningham:
CUNNINGHAM: Whose finger's in my face right now?
HOLDER: Mine, because I'm telling you to shut up.
CUNNINGHAM: Wait a minute. You shut up. Know your role and shut your mouth.
HOLDER: My role as a woman?
CUNNINGHAM: Yeah. Yeah.
HOLDER: What is your obsession with stooges? Aren't stooges like little elves?
CUNNINGHAM: I'm sitting next to you. I'm sitting next to you. And you're a liberal stooge and an excuse-monger for the Obama administration.
HOLDER: Never mind. I --
CUNNINGHAM: What are you going to cry?
HOLDER: No! I'm not going to cry.
CUNNINGHAM: You're not going to cry?
The next morning, America's Newsroom dedicated a segment to whether Cunningham's behavior "crossed the line," concluding that conduct like this on Hannity stifled important public debate on national issues. Host Martha MacCallum appeared speechless after playing an excerpt of Cunningham's comments, asking, "Is this what we've come to? Is this civil society?"
Fox contributors Juan Williams and Mary Katherine Ham agreed that Cunningham's conduct was unacceptable, as Williams asserted, "He not only crossed the line, he obliterated the line ... I think it shut down the conversation. That doesn't help."
MacCallum shared the concern that personal attacks like Cunningham's damage the nation's ability to communicate, wondering, "What does this say, sort of, about our ability to communicate and you know, have a serious, respectful discussion on these things these days?" Williams replied, "What it does is, it makes it very difficult then to cross lines to have reasoned conversation."
Bill Cunningham has been crossing the line for years, and yet Fox continues to host him during primetime. Among his most egregious claims, Cunningham has declared President Obama "to be the beast. Six-six-six," and said that under the Obama administration "women are going to sell their bodies for pennies." He claimed the poor are in poverty "because they lack values, ethics, and morals" and advocated "beat[ing]" the hell outta" the homeless. Still, a Nexis transcript search finds Hannity has hosted Cunningham eight times so far in 2013.
Fox News host Martha MacCallum and contributor Byron York suggested that the President Obama may have scheduled his current trips to Europe and Africa to help his poll numbers even though both trips were scheduled as early as November 2012.
Obama is currently in Northern Ireland attending a G8 summit before embarking on a tour of Africa -- an effort to strengthen economic ties to the continent. On the June 18 edition of America's Newsroom, MacCallum and York were discussing the president's current job approval rating when MacCallum wondered aloud whether Obama was trying to "get overseas and do some traveling and draw the attention somewhere else" in an attempt to "turn the tide." York responded, "Well, he's trying that."
Both the G8 summit and the Africa trip were being planned as early as November 2012, according to the BBC and Politico respectively. At that time, President Obama had just won re-election and had a job approval rating of over fifty percent.