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.
Fox Business host Stuart Varney was visibly stunned as Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller dismissed concerns about 700 people dying in firearms accidents in the United States annually.
After Varney said that "There's an enormous number of problems with guns in homes, people getting shot and killed," Miller, who writes regularly on guns, replied, "No there's not." She added that it's "very rare" for people to be killed in homes with guns, stating that 700 people are killed annually in gun accidents. Referencing Miller's 700 deaths figure several times and stating "that poses a danger to 700 people," Varney appeared incredulous that such a death toll was so easily set aside.
From the March 13 edition of Varney & Co. on Fox Business:
During her appearance, Miller made a number of misleading claims to downplay the problem of firearm-related death in the United States:
Fox News reflexively attacked President Obama's forthcoming proposal to raise the salary threshold for overtime compensation, claiming the plan would hurt the economy and discourage hiring, though experts have previously promoted such a change as an opportunity to boost the economy and worker compensation.
Fox News host Stuart Varney expressed outrage at state governments that are attempting to mitigate federal food stamp cuts, equating expanding eligibility for food benefits to "buying votes."
On January 29, Congress passed a version of the farm bill that cut about $800 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. In an effort to alleviate some of the effects of the cuts, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania modified a program that ties food stamp eligibility to home-heating assistance, known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), to make more low-income households eligible for benefits.
On the March 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co- host Brian Kilmeade called the effort a "scam," and asked "if anything can be done to stop it." Varney claimed "what's really going on here is the government is buying votes. They keep [sic] churning out food stamps in return for votes. That's what's happening":
While Varney has frequently accused Democrats of buying votes through the food stamp program, this is the first time he has extended that accusation to a Republican. One of the states expanding benefits, Pennsylvania, has a Republican governor: Tom Corbett. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that Corbett's move would preserve benefits for about 400,000 Pennsylvania households:
In a move that surprised even his most cynical critics, Gov. Corbett on Wednesday night forestalled an estimated $3 billion in cuts to food stamps in the state over the next 10 years.
By doing so, Corbett became the first Republican governor in the country to prevent the cuts ordered by Congress, which is looking to slash $8.6 billion over the next decade to the food-stamp program, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
The governor's decision will preserve benefits for 400,000 Pennsylvania households slated to lose a monthly average of $60 to $65 each in benefits, amounting to $300 million a year, said Kait Gillis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Welfare.
"In these challenging and trying times," Gillis said, "our most vulnerable families may not have been able to absorb another hit."
In a statement to Think Progress, the National Energy Assistance Director's Association's Mark Wolfe predicted that other states would follow the three that have already expanded benefits:
More states could follow, according to Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Director's Association (NEADA). "Other states around the country will look at this and say, this makes a lot of sense. It's not a red-blue thing, it's a money thing," Wolfe told ThinkProgress. While preserving heat-and-eat benefits takes money away from LIHEAP programs, Wolfe said the directors understand that anti-poverty programs are a cooperative patchwork that serves the many of the same people.
"It's not so much a war between programs, it's more an issue of how to help families and how to use the scarce resource you have," Wolfe said. "Many of the people that run these programs work very closely with the people that run food stamps and Head Start, they know what those programs go through, they're trying to help the same families."
In recent months, conservative media figures have undermined efforts by labor groups to organize across the United States, demonizing labor unions in the process. These anti-union attacks are largely reliant on myths alleging negative side-effects of union participation.
Fox News hosts are attacking Apple for defending its green energy measures against right-wing activists. However, Apple is simply the latest business to realize the strategic value of sustainability -- a list that includes Fox's own parent company.
On Friday, the right-wing National Center for Public Policy Research urged Apple CEO Tim Cook at a shareholder meeting to pledge to end all environmental initiatives that didn't lead to a return on investment (ROI), complaining that Apple was concerned with the "chimera" of "so-called climate change." Cook responded that Apple's environmental efforts make economic sense, and that those who want Apple to blindly pursue profit regardless of societal impact should "[g]et out of this stock." Cook added, "When we work on making our devices accessibleby the blind, I don't consider the bloody ROI."
Cook's righteous indignation didn't sit well with Fox News and its sister network Fox Business, which accused him of putting "politics before profits" and "ideology ahead of the shareholders." Fox News host Sean Hannity even announced that he's going to drop his stock after Cook's announcement.
Hannity's bizarro version of the fossil fuel divestment movement would have to extend to Fox News' parent company 21st Century Fox as well. Chairman Rupert Murdoch has trumpeted FOX's efforts to "become carbon neutral" and the corporation touts sustainability efforts at Fox News and Fox Business.
Sustainability is not only smart public relations, but also key in long-term planning for businesses according to business leaders such as McKinsey and Co. A recent report by the investor group Ceres found that clean energy investments must reach $1 trillion a year (a "Clean Trillion") in order to have an 80 percent chance of avoiding global warming of more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) -- a measure deemed necessary by international governments at the Copenhagen climate conference to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. However, without greater commitments to addressing climate change, we face the potential of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) warming, which would severely disrupt global supply chains including food stocks. That is one reason why companies such as Apple are recognizing the risks climate change poses to their businesses and turning toward cleaner sources of energy.
This is not the first time Fox News has politicized voluntary corporate social responsibility measures. Earlier this month, Fox News criticized CVS for announcing it would stop selling cigarettes, asking if it was potentially illegal for the pharmacy chain to do so.
Fox News has repeatedly made the false claim that liberal states lose billions of dollars due to tax flight, but tax flight is a well-debunked myth, and the most recent study Fox cited only showed that income tax and state-to-state migration were correlated factors.
Conservative media are latching on to the climate change denial of Patrick Moore, who has masqueraded as a co-founder of Greenpeace. But Moore has been a spokesman for nuclear power and fossil fuel-intensive industries for more than 20 years, and his denial of climate change -- without any expertise in the matter -- is nothing new.
Fox wants to know whether the stimulus package signed by President Obama caused a recession.
In recognition of the five-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 -- commonly known as the stimulus -- Fox Business' Varney & Co. framed a segment around the question of whether it caused a recession.
Fox is just asking, and here is the answer in one simple chart. The most recent recession started in December 2007, over a year before the stimulus bill was signed into law. Since its passage in February 2009, the American economy experienced an immediate positive turn, culminating in more than four years of steady, gradual economic growth.
Fox's disregard for facts in its frantic push to disparage the president and his policies is nothing new, but the basic failure to understand that the economy has been recovering for the past five years marks a new low.
From the February 13 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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After loudly and falsely claiming that a new Congressional Budget Office study reported that the Affordable Care Act will "kill" more than two million jobs in coming years (it did not), Fox News talkers and the right-wing media industry quickly opted for a second (and equally phony) line of attack this week. They condemned the sad state of the American worker, suggesting they're shiftless and lazy and blamed the Obama administration is turning them into ungrateful sloths.
Focusing on the CBO projection that Obama's health care reform may prompt two million workers over the next ten years to voluntarily leave their jobs, or cut back their hours, Bill O'Reilly announced the administration is "creating a class of layabouts." Stuart Varney compared the worker choice trend to "extending the hand-out society." And Brian Kilmeade bemoaned how "the whole work ethic and self-esteem" thing was being undercut by Obama.
A miffed Greta Van Susteren was also deeply offended by the prospects of American workers choosing to work less in order to strike a better balance in their family lives without living in fear of not being covered by health care insurance. "Do you know anyone who has gotten successful by working less?" she asked Staples CEO Tom Stemberg, a longtime critic of Obamacare.
Why the anti-workout freakout?
After all, the key point here is that Obamacare will soon give a portion of workers a choice of whether they want to work or not (perhaps even temporarily) or whether they want to cut back the hours they work. Why the new choice? Because Obamacare will allow people in lower income brackets access to affordable health care coverage regardless of whether they're employed. So people who feel trapped in jobs that are used primarily as a way to obtain coverage will suddenly have options. (That workplace condition is known as "job lock," something Republicans had previously opposed.)
Millionaire Fox pundits might not realize it but most Americans, and certainly most young American families with two working parents, lead complicated lives as they juggle responsibilities that entail more than taping a 60-minute television show five times a week. (Bill O'Reilly earns approximately $80,000-per episode.) Flexibility for them is a good thing.
Still, the condemnation rained down.
It's a rather startling, judgmental attack when you consider that the employees in question might opt out of their jobs in exchange for early retirement, to better care for family members, or to start a company of their own. None of those scenarios would even remotely reflect poorly on the workers.