Fox News hosts absurdly claimed that the opportunity to register to vote while applying for food stamps entrenches voters in a "cycle of dependency." But most food stamp participants remain on the program for limited periods of time, and the voter registration inclusion is a national policy that has been in place for decades.
On March 22, Fox hosts Stuart Varney and Steve Doocy used a discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, to forward the Republican myth that the program generates a culture of dependency that locks liberal governments into positions of power. Discussing the use of SNAP benefits in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, both hosts mocked the voter registration option on SNAP applications, ignoring the fact that it has been national policy since 1993 to allow the opportunity to register to vote at state offices that handle public benefits.
DOOCY: Extraordinarily, a third of the people in that entire city, a third, are on food stamps. And what's happened now, the cycle of dependency, first the people were relying on the food stamps and now the businesses rely on the people with the food stamps. So without the food stamps, the businesses would go belly up.
DOOCY: And Stuart, Rhode Island is a very liberal state. We know that, we've talked about that before. [...] You were telling me about when you apply for a SNAP card, what do they do?
VARNEY: Well, the mayor of Woonsocket, this Leo Fontaine, his honor, he held up the food stamp application forms and he went through it, he showed them it; this is what you get when you apply for food stamps. And then he turned to the back of the package of papers, there is a voter registration form.
DOOCY: Of course!
VARNEY: So you sign up to vote at the same time you sign up for food stamps.
VARNEY: And you are encouraged thereby, I believe, to go out and vote for the party, vote for the politician that continues the food stamp program.
DOOCY: Complete circle.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, the SNAP program has proven successful at stabilizing families during tough times, and helps facilitate the transition to self-sufficiency. The USDA also reported that half of all new participants leave the program in under nine months.
Additionally, the USDA has reported that "41 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings," and "for most of these households, earnings were the primary source of income." According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CPBB), in 2010, more than three times as many SNAP households worked as relied solely on federal benefits for their income. The share of SNAP families with children and an earned income has remained stable during the recession, and the program's number of participants is projected to decline in the coming decade. The SNAP program also includes a special work requirement for adults who are able to work and are without dependents.
Fox News is pointing to one struggling solar company to suggest that the solar industry is "tanking our economy," ignoring rapid growth in the clean energy sector that has helped, not hurt, our economy.
SoloPower, a California-based solar panel manufacturer, recently announced it will lay off workers in order to cut costs. The company received a federal loan guarantee but has been unable to draw down on it as it has not met the requirements. Fox News seized on SoloPower's difficulties as evidence the solar industry "might be tanking our economy" during a Fox & Friends segment called "Who's Ruining the Economy?" that regularly attacks green energy investments.
In fact, solar industry jobs grew more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy between 2003 - 2010. While some solar manufacturers have struggled to compete with heavily subsidized Chinese competitors, falling solar panel prices are driving record installations and putting solar energy on track to become cost-competitive with fossil fuels within a decade.
Experts note that it is common for an industry to consolidate as it matures, as some companies are out-competed or bought out by larger companies. But Fox News has repeatedly pointed to individual companies in order to smear the entire clean energy industry. This segment was no exception, featuring a graphic purportedly showing the Obama administration's "failed" clean energy investments, most of which have not actually failed.
While Fox News claims solar power is "tanking our economy," it campaigns for policies that could actually inflict severe harm on the economy such as Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan, which would impose severe spending cuts while possibly raising taxes on the middle class.
A trio of Fox Business commentators attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) advocacy for an increased federal minimum wage by wildly mischaracterizing comments she made during a Senate committee hearing. In addition to incorrectly implying that Warren is advocating for a $22 per hour minimum wage, the panelists dismissed the need for any increase in the minimum at all by relying on misinformation and distorted arguments.
At a March 14 hearing on the ties between economic growth and the federal minimum wage, Warren said that if minimum wage had been pegged to productivity as it had increased from 1960 until now, "the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour."
On the March 19 edition of Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney and two guests, Fox Business contributor Charles Payne and Fox Business reporter Sandra Smith, mischaracterized Warren's statement to claim she was advocating for raising the minimum wage to $22 per hour. For instance, Smith claimed that Warren is "fighting for you to make $22 an hour."
Payne also misleadingly suggested Warren's numbers were incorrect by comparing the $22 figure -- which is tied to worker productivity -- to the unrelated metric of inflation.
In fact, as the Huffington Post noted, Warren was not making the case for raising the minimum wage to $22, but was in fact referring to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) that supports her position that an increase in the minimum wage is overdue. According to the CEPR study, "Between the end of World War II and 1968, the minimum wage tracked average productivity growth fairly closely. Since 1968, however, productivity growth has far outpaced the minimum wage. If the minimum wage had continued to move with average productivity after 1968, it would have reached $21.72 per hour in 2012 - a rate well above the average production worker wage."
Payne also claimed that the minimum wage is not meant to support a family and is usually earned by teenagers, saying: "This is a stepping stone. This is not something that -- it was never designed for people to live on, per say." But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over half of all workers receiving the federal minimum wage in 2011 were aged 25 and above For her part, Smith also repeated the myth that raising the minimum wage will kill jobs, but numerous studies show that's not true.
From the March 18 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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Fox News is promoting a Wall Street Journal column by Bjorn Lomborg to claim that electric vehicles are "even worse" for the environment than conventional gasoline cars. But experts say Lomborg's assumptions are out of step with reality and that the environmental benefits of electric vehicles will only grow in the near-future.
Lomborg, a prominent critic of environmentalists, claimed that because producing an electric car is more carbon-intensive, it could produce more carbon dioxide over its lifetime than a conventional car, citing a study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology:
If a typical electric car is driven 50,000 miles over its lifetime, the huge initial emissions from its manufacture means the car will actually have put more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere than a similar-size gasoline-powered car driven the same number of miles.
Fox News hosted Lomborg on Wednesday to expose what it called the "dirty little secret" of electric vehicles. Seizing on Lomborg's figures, Fox Business' Stuart Varney claimed that "the battery powered cars are just as bad for the environment as your average sedan -- even worse!" And Fox Business host Gerri Willis suggested electric cars are not "contributing less to global warming" than conventional cars:
But Lomborg's assumption of a 50,000 mile lifetime "seems too low," according to University of California at Los Angeles' Dr. Deepak Rajagopal, an environmental economist who focuses on life cycle assessments. Indeed, the study Lomborg cites "assumes almost twice that lifetime," according to co-author Guillaume Majeau-Bettez. It estimates a 20-24 percent reduction in emissions from electric vehicles driven 90,000 miles and powered by average European electricity. The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, the two most popular electric cars in the U.S., both have 100,000 mile battery warranties.
And as the Natural Resources Defense Council's Max Baumherner noted, the study used estimates for production emissions that are three times higher than those from Argonne National Laboratory, which perhaps explains why other studies have found greater environmental benefits from electric cars. A life-cycle analysis overseen by Dr. Rajagopal found that battery-electric vehicles (BEV) powered by California's electricity mix produce significantly fewer emissions compared to conventional vehicles (CV):
Fox News distorted President Obama's comments on the federal budget to advance the myth that debt is an immediate problem facing the U.S., ignoring that experts agree that growth, not debt, is the pressing problem.
In a Tuesday interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Obama said that his main concern when it comes to the economy is growth, not a "balanced budget just for the sake of balance." Obama pointed out that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt. In fact, for the next ten years, it's gonna be in a sustainable place."
Discussing Obama's interview, Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed that in contrast to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), "who is deliberately going after deficits and the debt and wants to balance [the budget] in ten years," Obama's priority is "growth by spending more government money." He added: "The president says spending and debt, probably sustainable. But Paul Ryan says, No, it is definitely not."
Experts agree with Obama's assessment. Joel Prakken, a senior managing director at the forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers, explained that limiting debt over the long term could be essential to maintaining economic health, but cautioned that it is not immediately necessary, as quoted by The New York Times:
"Over a long period of time, you'd have a higher standard of living if you moved to a balanced budget and stayed there," said Joel Prakken, a senior managing director at Macroeconomic Advisers, a forecasting firm in St. Louis. "But you suffer some short-run pain, and you don't want to inflict that when the unemployment rate is already high, the economy is still recovering from the legacy of the Great Recession, and the Federal Reserve has used up most of what's in its quiver."
Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has long argued that focus on debt is misguided, and that recent increases in debt were essential to preventing another recession. Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has asserted that the focus on deficits and debt distracts from the more pressing problems of sustained high unemployment and a weak economy.
Fox News ignored the facts on food stamps to praise Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) proposed budget for supposedly returning work requirements and time limits to the program, and for adding measures aimed at reducing food stamp enrollment. In reality, the food stamp program already requires work and has time limits for benefits, and enrollment in the program is projected to decline as the economy improves.
On March 12, Ryan released a budget proposal that called for giving states block grants of funds for food stamps -- known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and for "time limits and work requirements" for SNAP participants to be implemented over time.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney praised the Ryan budget's changes to SNAP, particularly for resolving problems Varney mistakenly thought existed with the program, including the lack of a work requirement and time limits for benefits and keeping people in poverty. Varney made the following claims on Fox & Friends the day after Ryan released his budget:
VARNEY: Here's what Paul Ryan wants to do. Number one, he wants to return the work requirement and the time limit. In other words, you can't just sit back take the food forever. Can't do that. Got to get out there and work for it. Number two, he would give block grants to the States. And say here, you run the food stamp program. Here's how much money you're going to get and here's what -- do with it what you like. I think, number three, most important, he would return morality to the food stamp program because he would use it as a way to get people out of poverty as opposed to locking them in. I think that's a very moral position to take.
Contrary to Varney's claims, SNAP already has a work requirement and a time limit. The United States Department of Agriculture's website explained that those who are:
[B]etween 18 and 50 who do not have any dependent children can get SNAP benefits only for 3 months in a 36-month period if they do not work or participate in a workfare or employment and training program other than job search. This requirement is waived in some locations.
With some exceptions, able-bodied adults between 16 and 60 must register for work, accept suitable employment, and take part in an employment and training program to which they are referred by the SNAP office. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in disqualification from the Program.
SNAP also contains measures to incentivize work and seek higher incomes. A recent Center on Budget Policy and Priorities (CBPP) report explained that:
For every additional dollar a SNAP recipient earns, her benefits decline by only 24 to 36 cents -- much less than in most other programs. Families that receive SNAP thus have a strong incentive to work longer hours or to search for better-paying employment.
Furthermore, an April 2012 Congressional Budget Office report found that SNAP participation will decline in the next decade as the economy improves:
SNAP participants are mostly low-income workers, children, and seniors. According to the CBPP report, the majority of non-disabled adult participants have a job. The CBPP added that nearly "70 percent of SNAP participants are not expected to work, primarily because they are children, elderly, or disabled."
Finally, SNAP helps keep people out of poverty. The CBPP found that the program "kept 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, including 2.1 million children" and that it "lifted 1.5 million children above 50 percent of the poverty line in 2011, more than any other benefit program."
After downplaying the effects of the government spending cuts known as sequestration, right-wing media are now claiming that President Obama is trying to maximize sequestration pain.
From the March 7 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre appeared on Fox Business' Varney & Company to falsely claim that a legislative proposal to require a criminal background check on almost every gun sale would create a national gun owner registry and possibly lead to firearm confiscation.
LAPIERRE: It is a huge waste of money. It's going to be selectively enforced. It's going to be abused. And the worst thing, you're creating a registry of all the law-abiding people in the country that own firearms. I know the politicians say, "Hey, we'll never use that list to confiscate." That's a pretty darn tall order to believe a promise from people in this town right now.
The list that LaPierre referenced does not exist and would not be created under a proposal to strengthen the background check system.
In fact, federal law prohibits the creation of a gun owner registry and the proposal to expand background checks would not subject gun buyers to any record-keeping requirements that do not already exist for transactions conducted at a gun store. As gun advocate Dave Kopel explains on the NRA's website, "the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) ... prohibited the creation of a registry of gun owners."
The FBI, which administers the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), destroys identifying information about gun owners within 24 hours in order to comply with this law.
Under current law, licensed firearm dealers are required retain a copy of the ATF Form 4473, the form used to complete the background check, as a sales receipt. Under legislation proposed to improve the background check system, a federally licensed firearms dealer would oversee firearms transactions between private individuals by running a background check on the purchaser. The 4473 form used in that transaction would be kept in the dealer's records, just as records are kept for individuals who buy from the licensed dealer directly. The current legislative proposal would exempt transfers between immediate family members and temporary transfers for hunting or self-defense from the background check requirement.
Conservative media are in the middle of a concerted push to claim that a government report confirms their longstanding claim that the federal government wastes tax money on employees whose sole duty is "union work," but ignore key content of the report in question that undermines their misleading narrative.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney made that claim on the February 28 edition of Fox & Friends. But Varney's oversimplified version of the conservative case ignores the content of the report in question, and the more sophisticated version of the case made elsewhere falls apart under minimal scrutiny of the evidence these outlets offer.
During a discussion on federal expenditures for union activity, Varney said that the recipients "worked full-time on union business," and "did not work for the taxpayer." When host Steve Doocy noted that's not how private-sector unions tend to work, Varney replied "Well I don't want to be cynical, Steve, but you've never worked for the federal government, now have you?" Watch:
The report Varney cites from the Office of Personnel and Management directly contradicts his blanket assertion that this money goes to full-time union reps in the introduction. OPM explains that "voluntary membership in Federal sector unions results in considerable reliance by unions on the volunteer work of bargaining unit employees, rather than paid union business agents." In the next paragraph, OPM adds that these hours of pay go to "Federal employees performing representational work for a bargaining unit in lieu of their regularly assigned work. It allows unions to satisfy their duty of fair representation to members and non-members alike."
Varney's presentation of this misinformation on a flagship Fox News program may prove an inflection point for a piece of misinformation that's percolated through other, smaller conservative media outlets since the OPM report came out in mid-February. On February 19, Fox Nation hyped a Washington Post story that noted some of the contextual information OPM provided. That same day, a Washington Examiner editorial writer highlighted the report. RedState.com put its own write-up on the front page on February 21, beneath an image of brass knuckles atop a pile of cash. On the February 27 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox Business' Liz MacDonald made the same set of claims, and numerous other op-eds and blog posts from conservatives have accused the government of this same misspending of taxpayer dollars. Conservative gripes about "official time" expenditures are not new, however, as this 2011 Heritage Foundation testimony on the subject indicates.
Many of these other instances cite Freedom of Information Act requests by the conservative Americans for Limited Government to back their claims. According to ALGFOIAFiles.com, the group requested information from four departments on employees who perform "official time" labor representation work full-time. All four -- the Environmental Protection Agency, National Labor Relations Board, Small Business Administration, and the Department of Transportation -- responded between September and November of 2012. While conservatives like Trey Kovacs, a labor analyst for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, point to the EPA (which found 17 full-time union reps) and DOT (which found 38) responses as proof of a widespread "problem" whereby taxpayers fund work that does not benefit them, the reality of these four FOIA responses is not nearly so convenient for conservatives.
The data expose this claim for what it is: ideology masquerading as empiricism. As the table below shows, according to the most recent data available the four departments ALG successfully FOIA'd have as many as 0.19 percent of their employees doing union representation work full-time. And those employees do not account for all of the billed "official time" hours in any department, confirming that there are indeed many public servants (in the conservative sense of the phrase) who pitch in to bargaining and other representational efforts as needed.
Fox News figures are reviving the myth that the Head Start education program is a failure, in light of reports that the program may lose funding. In fact, research shows the program benefits disadvantaged children in that it has a positive impact both early and later on in their lives.
Right-wing media are downplaying the economic consequences of across-the-board spending cuts. In fact, economists agree that those cuts - known as the sequester - would lead to thousands of jobs lost and decreased economic growth.
Conservative media voices have insisted that an increase of the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $9 would harm the economy. However, a wealth of economic evidence disputes the claims that minimum wage hikes are job killers, that the minimum wage is already high, and that it only applies to jobs held by relatively young workers.
Fox News dismissed universal preschool education as a government handout and cast doubt on its effectiveness, despite studies showing that it helps children.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney pilloried this proposal, concluding that it is designed to "hand out the goodies" to future voters. Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy questioned whether children will benefit from preschool education past childhood.
Research shows that preschool education has a positive impact on child development. A September 2008 Brookings Institution research brief on state preschool programs found that they "have positive impacts on children's cognitive skills, including both pre-reading and pre-math skills" and that preschool programs effectively improve a child's "readiness to learn." And, while all children gain from preschool education, the Brookings research brief stated that "the impacts are largest among disadvantaged children," with disadvantaged children participating in preschool programs experiencing larger gains in math and reading skills than the rest of the children that attended these programs.
The Center for American Progress noted that without preschool or like programs disadvantaged children are:
- 25 percent more likely to drop out of school
- 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent
- 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education
- 60 percent more likely never to attend college
- 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime
Additionally, according to the Economic Policy Institute, preschool education "would have a substantial payoff in the future as such a program would ultimately reduce costs for remedial and special education, criminal justice, and child welfare, and would increase income earned and taxes paid," despite high upfront costs. And according to Scholastic, "[e]conomists say that the return for every dollar invested in preschool can be anywhere from $2 to $17 when you total the drop in special education, grade repetition, and crime, and add the value of a more productive workforce."
The Children's Learning Institute provided the following chart depicting the efficacy of various forms of government childhood investment, showing preschool education to be the most effective: