Rep. Paul Ryan's poverty proposal, which would in part punish impoverished Americans for not getting themselves out of poverty on a specific timeline, is based on the conservative myth pushed by right-wing media that blames poverty on individuals' "spirit" and personal life choices. Experts say poverty is the result of systemic inequality and lack of opportunity.
Fox News hosts read directly from Walmart's official corporate script to defend the company against a critical New York Times op-ed that indicated the retailer's role in perpetuating the need for government assistance programs.
On June 19, The New York Times published an op-ed calling Walmart "a big part of the problem" of rising economic inequality in the United States. Citing data from multiple sources, opinion columnist Timothy Egan noted that the average "associate" at Walmart makes between $8.81 and $11 per hour, frequently relying on government anti-poverty relief to fill income gaps. Egan noted that Walmart claims its average employee makes "at least $12 per hour," but that "these numbers are skewed by higher pay for management." Egan cited a recent exposé by Fortune senior editor Stephen Gandel detailing how the company could easily give a 50 percent raise to more than one million employees without hurting its stock value or profitability:
No matter the exact figure, there's no dispute that Walmart's business model forces thousands of hard-working people to look for outside help just to get by.
And under that model, Walmart has made a fortune -- $17 billion in profits last year, executive compensation for one man at the top in excess of $20 million a year, and a windfall making the six heirs of the founding Walton family worth at least $150 billion.
Walmart could make life easier for its 1.4 million workers, without diminishing its stock value. Writing in Fortune.com, Stephen Gandel concluded that Walmart could give workers a 50 percent raise without hurting shareholder value.
On the June 23 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy and Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney dedicated a segment to supposedly fact-checking the Times, pulling pushback directly from Walmart's officially sanctioned corporate response.
Varney called the Times op-ed "utter nonsense," and an attempt to "demonize Walmart." Ignoring that Egan acknowledged the dispute over Walmart's average hourly wage in the op-ed, Varney stated that the author "got it wrong" as he recited Walmart's more palatable average wage claim. Doocy and Varney uncritically agreed that the data supplied by Walmart was "all true" before pivoting to place blame for economic inequality at the feet of the Obama administration:
Despite Fox's unabashed foray into corporate public relations, Timothy Egan's statement holds true: "No matter the exact figure, there's no dispute that Walmart's business model forces thousands of hard-working people to look for outside help just to get by."
Fox News is ignoring economists' warnings that record student debt is a drag on the economy and attacking President Obama's plan to provide an avenue for student debt relief as a "distraction" that Fox claims will leave taxpayers "footing the bill."
Fox News brushed aside the value of Environmental Protection Agency research grants for clean cooking and heating technologies, saying that the dangerous indoor pollution from dirty stoves is only "a mere contribution" to 4.3 million deaths, and fearmongered that the EPA would soon come after American stoves. However, even Fox News' "favorite" environmental pundit has said that the fact that millions are dying from dirty cooking stoves -- more deaths than from AIDS and malaria combined -- is an "immediate problem."
Fox News' Stuart Varney dishonestly hyped new data on the number of Americans receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to accuse beneficiaries of committing fraud to avoid finding a job. But experts agree that fraud in the SSDI program is low and there is no evidence Americans are faking their disabilities.
A May 21 Drudge Report headline proclaimed a "Record 10,999,447 On Disability and linked to a CNSnews.com article announcing that the total number of disability beneficiaries in the U.S rose in April "setting a new all-time record":
On Fox's America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed the "explosion" in disability beneficiaries showed "America is becoming increasingly a welfare state. " Varney accused SSDI beneficiaries of committing fraud by taking the "disability option" supposedly where able-bodied individuals who can't find a job use SSDI "almost as an insurance policy against no income or no job":
VARNEY: During the Obama years we've gone from eight million people, just about eight million people claiming Social Security disability payments all the way up to nearly 11 million. That is a huge explosion in disability payments. Now a lot of people are taking what's called the disability option. They can't find a job. So they take -- they treat disability almost as an insurance policy against no income or no job. So you have got this explosion in disability payments. And Martha, we can't afford it.
Two points, number one, if we go on like this the Social Security disability trust fund, totally runs out of money by the end of 2016. That is not that far away. Number two, there's been an expansion in who qualifies for disability payments. Mental disorder is now acceptable. Mood disorder, or back pain. Now, that kind of opens the door to fraud because you can't really prove a lot of that. And plus, once you get disability, you're on it for a very long time because the virtually very little inspection process to figure out who is off the disability, who has recovered. So pretty much payment for life. We can't afford this
Fox & Friends misrepresented the findings of a new report on the increase in low-wage jobs during the economic recovery to attack President Obama, failing to mention that the report cites cuts to public sector employment -- not Obama's economic policies -- as a major culprit for the post-recession net job loss.
On the April 28 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox host Stuart Varney distorted the findings of a new National Employment Law Project (NELP) report as "the left pointing out the failures of President Obama's economic policies." Co-host Steve Doocy described the report as "an eye-opener" and falsely claimed that The New York Times, which reported on the NELP study, is "turning on the White House":
The newly released NELP study found that since the economic downturn, low-wage jobs have replaced higher-wage positions in the private sector. According to NELP, "lower-wage industries accounted for 22 percent of job losses during the recession, but 44 percent of employment growth over the past four years." The report explained the growth of low-wage jobs during this recovery:
One year into the recovery, we noted that slow growth in higher-wage industries was likely the result of specific drivers of the Great Recession, including the housing bubble collapse and financial crisis, as well as a continuation of the long-term decline in durable and nondurable manufacturing and telecommunications. Three years later, mid- and higher-wage industries are adding jobs; albeit, not at a fast-enough rate to fill employment deficits in many cases (see Tables 1 and 2 in the Appendix). Nevertheless, four years into the recovery, growth remains strongest in low-wage, service-providing industries (e.g., retail, restaurants, and temporary help) and industries less affected by recessions (e.g., health and education).
Contrary to Varney's claims that this report is a "critique from the Left," the NELP report does not address the president's economic policies in any way. The only mention of economic policy in the report addresses budget cuts, specifically at the local level, as a "driver of unbalanced growth":
Over the past four years, private sectors gains have been partially offset by public sector job losses resulting from budget cuts at the federal, state, and local levels. Net job losses totaled 627,000 across all levels of government during the recovery period. Employment declines were particularly severe at the local level, where education absorbed nearly three-quarters of the 378,000 net job losses over the past four years. (emphasis added)
Fox has previously championed budget cuts and falsely blamed the Obama administration with harming the economic recovery. Fox has also attacked the president's calls to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, a cause firmly supported by NELP and numerous other groups. Fox's apparent interest in NELP's work only emerges when it fits with the network's obstructionist anti-administration narrative.
Fox News often promotes myths about student loan debt in the United States, misinforming about everything from the lack of protections borrowers receive, to the unsubtantiated claim that student loans drive up college costs, to the myth that struggling borrowers are taking a government handout. As the two-year anniversary of student debt surpassing $1 trillion takes place this week, here is a sample of the network's past student loan misinformation.
From the April 23 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Right wing media hid the reasons for the Obama administration's decision to delay consideration of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline while pending lawsuits and investigations progress, denouncing the move as purely "political."
From the April 18 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Right-wing media outlets are trying to gin up outrage over a change in how the U.S. Census Bureau reports insurance status, claiming the agency is making an adjustment to deliberately hide the effects of the Affordable Care Act. But the change will still measure the impact of the ACA's first year, and the new system will provide better tools for tracking insurance status.
On the last day to file federal taxes, Fox host Stuart Varney complained that the wealthiest Americans "already pay for almost everything," ignoring the fact that tax rates for the richest Americans have steadily declined in recent decades mirroring rates paid by most Americans.
On the April 15 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer highlighted a Congressional Budget Office report finding that the top 20 percent of income earners in the U.S. pay over 90 percent of federal income tax money. His guest, Fox Business host Stuart Varney, wondered whether it was fair:
VARNEY: You hear it all the time, don't you? Tax the rich some more because they can afford it. Well you may be surprised to hear that wealthier people already pay for almost everything. Let me repeat the number you just gave. 20 percent - the top 20 percent of income earners pays over 90 percent of all the federal income tax money.
Do you think that's fair, Bill? If I may ask you a question. Do you think it's fair that that minority pays for everything for the vast majority?
Right-wing media hyped a misleading apples-to-oranges comparison to claim that the U.S. is at a "tipping point" in the "relationship between welfare and work."
On April 15, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed new statistics showed that "the number of people living on the government dole outnumbered full-time working women." Fox Business host Stuart Varney then claimed "welfare is replacing work" because in 2012, 46 million people collected Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) and 44 million women worked full time. Varney cited SNAP benefits as "the classic example" of an "explosion in welfare payments outgoing from the government to individuals and a decline in work," which he attributed to the Obama administration "buying votes." Meanwhile, Fox displayed this graphic:
Other right-wing media sources highlighted the same supposedly "telling" numbers. CNS News posted a graphic comparing the number of women working full time to total SNAP beneficiaries and the Drudge Report also hyped the connection:
But these numbers can't be compared, as many working women fall into both categories.
In fact, because the majority of recipients are working-class Americans with jobs, senior citizens, or children, an increase in SNAP beneficiaries is an extremely unreliable predictor of the number of full-time workers, let alone evidence of a tipping point before a decline in overall employment. A 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the "overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so" (emphasis original):
The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP -- and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children -- more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.
The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has been rising for more than a decade, and has more than tripled -- from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011. The increase was especially pronounced during the recent deep recession, suggesting that many people have turned to SNAP because of under-employment -- for example, when one wage-earner in a two-parent family lost a job, when a worker's hours were cut, or when a worker turned to a lower-paying job after being laid off.
A separate report from the USDA pointed out that in 2012, "75 percent of all SNAP households, containing 87 percent of all participants, included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled nonelderly person. These households received 82 percent of all SNAP benefits."
This latest attempt to cast the SNAP program as spurring unemployment ignores current economic reality. SNAP enrollment has risen as a result of the economic downturn. The Economic Policy Institute noted that "SNAP swelled because the economy entered the worst recession since the Great Depression and remains severely depressed even 18 months after the official recovery began." According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP enrollment is projected to decline as the economy recovers:
The number of people receiving SNAP benefits will begin to slowly decline at the end of fiscal year 2014, CBO expects, reflecting an improved economic situation and a declining unemployment rate. Nevertheless, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits will remain high by historical standards, CBO estimates. That is partly because of a growing U.S. population and thus a greater number of potential SNAP participants.
Fox News continues to reverse the success of the federal clean energy loan program by cherry-picking from a small minority of failures, magnifying the trend of mainstream media distorting the program's success.
In an April 11 segment titled "Who's Ruining the Economy?" Fox & Friends denounced the Department of Energy's (DOE) low carbon vehicle program despite its success. Fox Business host Stuart Varney pointed to a few companies that received government assistance and later filed for bankruptcy, saying "they thought they could pick winners. They picked losers." He went on to decry the announcement that the DOE will revamp their advanced technology vehicles manufacturing (ATVM) program, saying "they're not reversing course at the sight of failure, they're actually speeding up down the same road":
Fox News' myopic view of the loan program is a lie by omission -- 98 percent of the funds in DOE's clean energy loan programs have been successful. Of the 31 ventures awarded DOE loans, only four have been discontinued -- a far greater success rate than that of venture capital investments, which typically consider three in ten successes to be a successful portfolio.
Determined to undermine positive news about successful enrollment in health coverage through the Affordable Care Act, Fox News drastically downplayed the number of previously uninsured Americans who have gained coverage through the ACA.