Early news coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign has tacitly allowed the GOP to disingenuously rebrand itself as a party of the middle class, despite the fact that the party's new rhetoric doesn't align with its policy positions that continue to exacerbate income inequality. When highlighting Republican rhetoric about the need to reduce income inequality, media should take care to hold the GOP accountable for its actions, not just its words.
Recent Gallup polling shows "two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S.," and Republicans have taken note. Prospective GOP presidential candidates have suddenly started talking about income inequality ahead of the 2016 elections, apparently heeding advice from the Republican National Committee's (RNC) post-mortem of the 2012 election, which warned that the GOP had been "increasingly marginalizing itself" and urged the party to improve its optics by recognizing the fact "that the middle class has struggled mightily and that far too many of our citizens live in poverty."
During the January 25 Koch brothers-sponsored Freedom Partners Forum, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Rand Paul (KY), and Marco Rubio (FL) each took the opportunity to bemoan income inequality and blame the Obama administration for a growing income gap. Mitt Romney claimed that "income inequality had worsened" during President Obama's time in office in a January 28 speech at Mississippi State University, while Jeb Bush's "Right to Rise" PAC has declared that "the income gap is real."
The Washington Post, Politico, USA Today, and Bloomberg Politics each reported on the 2016 hopefuls' Freedom Partners comments, highlighting the senators' statements lamenting income inequality and focusing on "issues such as the minimum wage ... [and] tax reform." The Wall Street Journal featured Republican policy proposals "aimed at boosting the middle class," and applauded Bush, Romney, Rubio, and Paul for "promoting or seeking ideas for shoring up the middle class." The Post's Post Politics blog and NBCNews.com's "First Read" emphasized Romney's recent focus on income inequality and poverty, pointing to speeches at the RNC and Mississippi State University.
These media outlets acknowledged the fact that Republicans are changing their rhetoric on inequality -- but it's actions and policies that count, not just rhetoric. Media cannot take GOP candidates at their word when their policies continue to exacerbate inequality and burden the middle and lower class.
Cruz, Paul, and Rubio all oppose recent calls to raise the minimum wage. At a January 25 private donor event, each of these senators argued that raising the minimum wage would eliminate jobs. Cruz claimed "the minimum wage consistently hurts the most vulnerable," while Rubio called focus on raising the minimum wage "a waste of time." During the same event, none of the senators "said they could stomach any tax increases," and Rubio called the ACA a "perfect example" of "cronyism," blaming health reform for halting job creation. Just this month, Cruz introduced a bill to repeal the health care law, while Paul echoed calls to repeal and suggested instead to "try freedom for a while." Such positions are consistent with the GOP's historic stances on these issues. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted, supposed Republican attempts to address income inequality, "in practice, ... apparently mean endorsing an agenda that cuts off unemployment benefits, slashes food stamps, cuts funding for public services, eliminates health care benefits, and rejects minimum wage increases."
Economists have often noted that wage stagnation has a profound impact on aggravating income inequality, and as the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has pointed out, raising the federal minimum wage just to $10.10 per hour by 2016 would "raise the wages of 27.8 million workers." The Congressional Budget Office has also reported on the "ripple effect" of raising the minimum wage, saying it would benefit 16.5 million workers and lift nearly one million people out of poverty. And according to a Center For American Progress report, a $10.10 minimum wage would cut food stamp participation and taxpayer expenditures by $4.6 billion annually. Support for anti-poverty government programs -- like SNAP, unemployment benefits, school lunch programs, and the like -- cut the country's poverty rate "nearly in half," according to research from the Institute for Research on Poverty.
Rather than alleviating income inequality, lawmakers have worsened inequality by consistently cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, according to a 2013 EPI study. Economist Larry Summers has emphasized the importance of "closing [tax] loopholes that only the wealthy can enjoy," noting that would "enable targeted tax measures such as the earned-income tax credit to raise the incomes of the poor and middle class more than dollar for dollar by incentivizing working and saving."
And despite countless Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health care law will reduce income inequality, boost the incomes of lower and middle-class Americans, and extend coverage to 15.1 million uninsured adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Media acknowledging the GOP's new talking points and mottos is one thing. But given the 2016 hopefuls' apparent commitment to policies that stand in contrast to their rhetoric on income inequality, media should make sure and hold these Republicans accountable for their actions, not just their words.
A Media Matters review of several major newspapers found that their coverage of congressional efforts to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has been missing an essential component of the story: the hundreds of millions of dollars that the fossil fuel industry spent in the midterm elections to elect members of Congress who support Keystone XL and other aspects of the oil industry's agenda. Of the newspapers reviewed, only The New York Times tied congressional support for Keystone XL back to the fossil fuel industry's campaign contributions.
The Wall Street Journal adopted the language of net neutrality critics to describe the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) net neutrality proposal, deeming the new potential rules an "intrusive regulation."
On January 30, the FCC announced that it would "introduce and vote on new proposed net neutrality rules in February." Although the official proposal has yet to be released, according to The Huffington Post, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler "suggested that Internet service... should be regulated like any other public utility."
In a February 3 article discussing the FCC's plans, The Wall Street Journal wrote that the proposed net neutrality measures would "subject" companies "to more intrusive regulation" (emphasis added):
The move would fully embrace the principle known as net neutrality, and if enacted, would bring a new definition to the economics of the Internet industry: Rather than regulating broadband firms lightly, as has been its practice so far, the FCC would treat them like telecommunications companies and subject them to more intrusive regulation, especially in areas relating to how they manage traffic on their networks.
But The Wall Street Journal's rhetoric is borrowed directly from net neutrality critics who oppose such measures. Later in the same article, a lobbyist for the wireless industry was quoted as calling such a move an "intrusive public utility regulation" (emphasis added):
Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO of CTIA--The Wireless Association, the Washington lobby for the wireless industry, said, "We have significant reservations with any approach that applies intrusive public utility regulation on mobile broadband for the first time, which is why Congress's consideration of net neutrality legislation is the best path forward to provide certainty to all stakeholders."
In contrast, The New York Times described the coming proposal as a move to regulate "Internet service like a public utility," noting that it will actually take a less intrusive approach than previous plans. The article explained that Chairman Wheeler "will advocate a light-touch approach" to net neutrality, "shunning the more intrusive aspects of utility-style regulation."
Some conservative media figures have touted the intensity of the recent blizzard that hit the northeast, some have claimed that it is no different than snow storms from the past, and others have deemed the blizzard much less severe than originally forecast. But the one thing they all agree on is that the blizzard somehow disproves the firmly established science of global warming.
Media outlets are falsely alleging that President Obama's plan for free community college will hurt the middle class because it makes changes to 529 college savings plans. In fact, those who use 529 plans tend to be wealthy, and the changes will help build a broader tax credit for college savings.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel is misinforming about a new fair-housing case under consideration by the Supreme Court, scaremongering that a decision to uphold half a century of civil rights precedent could force sellers, lenders, and landlords to establish policies that amount to "informal quotas."
On January 21, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Texas Department of Housing v. the Inclusive Communities Project, a fair-housing case that could make it more difficult for victims of discrimination to bring legal challenges against policies that reinforce decades of racial segregation, unintentionally or not. The Inclusive Communities Project argues that the way the Texas Department of Housing administered an affordable-housing plan had a discriminatory effect by entrenching racially segregated housing patterns in the Dallas area. This kind of lawsuit is known as "disparate impact" litigation, which has long been used under various civil rights statutes, including the Fair Housing Act (FHA). It does not require that intentional discrimination be demonstrated, rather that the challenged policies had an unjustified and disproportionate, negative impact on vulnerable groups protected by the FHA. Even though the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other fair-housing advocates have successfully relied on disparate-impact litigation for almost 40 years, Texas is arguing that lawsuits under the FHA should newly be required to provide evidence of intentional racial discrimination.
On the January 21 edition of the Journal's WSJ Live video series, Kissel used a hypothetical about the government forcing a bank to make mortgage loans to attack the logic of disparate-impact analysis. Kissel said in this scenario, "Effectively, the government is saying, 'We want informal quotas. You have to lend x to Hispanics, y to blacks, and z to whites.' That doesn't sound constitutional to me." Kissel then went on to say that the Obama administration had "used this theory to shake down banks for millions of dollars. Let's hope the justices actually read the text of the law":
Right-wing media have long objected to the use of disparate impact in fair-housing litigation, calling it a "dubious legal theory." In fact, every one of the 11 federal circuit courts that have considered the question over the last 40 years have reaffirmed that the amelioration of discriminatory effects is a core component of both the intent and text of the FHA, and Congress specifically amended the statute in 1988 in recognition of the fact. Such overwhelming consensus was unsurprising -- the need to begin the slow process of integration after centuries of residential apartheid was specifically designed to be a systematic task, and not a game of Whac-A-Mole aimed at individual bad actors. It was anything but a fringe theory, but rather the product of bipartisan efforts, including those of the Republican HUD chief George Romney in the Nixon administration.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board used a misleading comparison of graduation rates to attack community colleges as "inferior" to for-profit schools. In reality, for-profit schools have significantly higher costs and employ questionable business practices that translate to lower employment and earnings for their graduates.
In 2014, right-wing media attacked immigrants and immigration reform by pushing baseless claims, relying on debunked research, and using misleading statistics about immigrants and the impact of immigration on the United States. Here is a look back at the most absurd anti-immigrant myths of 2014.
In advance of the Federal Communications Commission's February vote on net neutrality rules, media have promoted distortions of the proposed regulations, suggesting net neutrality is an unpopular, "Orwellian" takeover of the internet that may stifle innovation, hurt the economy, and raise costs for consumers. In reality, net neutrality has broad bipartisan support, promotes competition, and has been the guiding principle behind Internet innovation since its inception.
Conservative media issued catastrophic predictions and myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2014, despite ample evidence that the health care law is working. Media Matters looks back at six claims about Obamacare that didn't pan out for the right-wing media this year.
Conservative media are praising Pennsylvania's fracking industry in order to criticize New York's recently announced ban on hydraulic fracturing, without mentioning the health impacts that it has had on Pennsylvania's drinking water and communities.
On December 17, New York became the first state in the country to officially ban the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration came alongside a long-awaited health study on fracking in New York state, which found "significant public health risks" associated with the process. Cuomo officials also stated that allowing fracking would bring "far lower" economic benefits to the state "than originally forecast."
In response, conservative media have been holding up the economy in Pennsylvania -- where fracking has been in practice for decades -- to question the Cuomo administration's decision. Both the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Caller touted statistics from the American Petroleum Institute, which claimed Wednesday that Pennsylvania's fracking industry has generated $2.1 billion in state taxes that have allegedly supported new roads, bridges, and parks. And on the December 17 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, correspondent Eric Shawn reported, "[Fracking] has been allowed in Pennsylvania and helped that state's troubled economy enormously." Co-host Heather Nauert agreed, lamenting, "When you go upstate in New York you see just how badly the jobs are needed up there":
But Pennsylvania may actually be more of a testament to why New York's health concerns surrounding fracking are warranted. Oil and gas operations have damaged Pennsylvania's water supply over 200 times since 2007, according to an investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and a recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that the state's drinking water is at risk from poor wastewater disposal practices. One Pennsylvania town, Dimock, has been dubbed "Ground Zero" in the battle over fracking's safety by NPR. The town has seen particularly high rates of water contamination, with a methane leak causing a resident's backyard water well to explode, tossing aside a concrete slab weighing several thousand pounds in one instance.
After relentlessly promoting several right-wing legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for over a year, The Wall Street Journal seems to have just now realized that the cases' potential to deny affordable health care coverage to millions of Americans is a catastrophe for the GOP -- even as it continues to downplay the human costs.
On November 7, the Supreme Court announced it would hear King v. Burwell, a lawsuit challenging the legality of the tax subsidies that the IRS provides to consumers who purchase health insurance over the federal exchange. The plaintiffs in King argue that, because one section of the ACA states that subsidies are available to consumers who enrolled "through an Exchange established by the State," the federal government isn't allowed to offer credits to people who live in states that refused to set up their own insurance exchanges.
This extremely literal reading of the ACA ignores other parts of the law that indicate the exact opposite and the overall context of the bill as well as the legislative history of its passage, but conservative media have nevertheless been boosters for the challenge. The Journal has been particularly supportive of King and related cases, suggesting that it "ought to be a straightforward matter of statutory construction" to rule in favor of the challengers. The Journal has rarely, if ever, acknowledged the human cost that would come with a Supreme Court decision striking down the availability of tax subsidies -- but in a recent editorial, the Journal seems to have discovered the devastating cost of its anti-ACA advocacy, at least for Republicans:
The time to define a strategy is soon, as King v. Burwell will be heard in March with a ruling likely in June. As a matter of ordinary statutory construction, the Court should find that when the law limited subsidies to insurance exchanges established by states, that does not include the 36 states where the feds run exchanges.
But in that event one result would be an immediate refugee crisis. Of the 5.4 million consumers on federal exchanges, some 87% drew subsidies in 2014, according to a Rand Corporation analysis.
In the GOP debate about how to respond, one side would prefer to wait for the judicial rapture to arrive. ObamaCare has never been popular, they argue, and if the subsidy foundation of the law is undermined, the rest will collapse of its own weight. And because ObamaCare's mandates and taxes are conditioned on the subsidies, more people will be helped than harmed if they are withdrawn.
This group is right about ObamaCare in the abstract, but the Treasury must comply with court orders 25 days after they're issued and such an abrupt policy shift will be a mess. The 17% of U.S. GDP that is health care has spent five years reorganizing to accommodate ObamaCare's dictates, and the watch-it-burn caucus is underestimating the economic, political and media blowback.
The White House could have avoided the problem by obeying its own law and not passing out illegal subsidies, but the public may not notice the difference once the press corps discovers a cancer patient or two who can't afford her ObamaCare plan without taxpayer support. This threatens to replay the "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" controversy in reverse, with Republicans accused of denying care to the sick.
Media coverage of an omnibus spending bill that rolled back key financial services regulations ignored the amount of money the financial services industry spent helping elect members of Congress in 2014. In fact, the industry lobbying to eliminate the regulation spent $436 million on federal candidates during the midterm elections.
Conservative media outlets both nationally and in California are campaigning against Gov. Jerry Brown's nominees for the state judiciary, attacking their political leanings and complaining about their "race, gender, or sexual orientation," in a baseless effort to suggest the nominees are unqualified and selected "strictly for reasons of affirmative action."
The recent round of attacks were given a national platform in a November 26 Wall Street Journal editorial, which, while questioning the lack of judicial experience of some of Brown's nominees, largely focused on whether the ideological leanings of Brown's nominees are similar to his own. The California Supreme Court was previously dominated by judges appointed under Republican governors, but Brown's picks, Journal columnist Allysia Finley complained, "have tilted the court left."
California media were more specific, and honed in on whether the nominees were from "the right racial groups," as San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer Marshall Kilduff put it. Ignoring the fact that multiple high court jurists had not previously served as judges before their appointments (such as current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and former Chief Justice and California governor Earl Warren), Kilduff also criticized Brown's nominees for a lack of experience with "sleepy jurors." But as The Los Angeles Times reported, Brown has no flat rule against trial or appellate experience with respect to his nominees -- similar to his choice for the San-Francisco-based appeals court, "Brown's picks for the Los Angeles-based appeals court were all sitting judges, suggesting he considers bench experience valuable."
The criticism of Brown's attempts to diversify the bench got uglier, however, after the Journal weighed in. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a Los Angeles legal newspaper, recently ran a column from Roger M. Grace, flatly concluding Brown's nominees were "bereft of credentials," and were "apt to be named ... strictly for reasons of affirmative action":
Surely, race should not be, ever, a factor in choosing judges.
It simply doesn't relate to a person's capacity to serve in a judicial role.
Yet, the reality is that to Jerry Brown, being a non-white is a huge plus for a seeker of a judgeship.
And so we return to young [Lamar Baker, former US Deputy Assistant Attorney General]. He is almost certain to be appointed to the state's intermediate appellate court--and would probably be under consideration for the Supreme Court were there any more vacancies. He, like [former U.S. deputy attorney general and current California Supreme Court nominee Leondra] Kruger, is an African American.
He has all the qualities that Brown is looking for in a justice.
And what he lacks -- the know-how and wisdom that can only be derived from experience -- is of no concern to the man once known as "Governor Moonbeam."
He's not called that anymore. But the lunar influences on him are as strong as ever they were.
Also apt to be named to the appeals court, strictly for reasons of affirmative action, is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin. He's openly gay. That, and his law degree from Harvard, are probably enough to cinch an appointment -- unless the governor views him as being too old (he's 55) or holds against him his judicial experience.
From what I've seen, Lavin is a result-oriented jurist, lacking in intellectual honesty. But that sort of thing would, of course, be of no interest to Brown.
The Supreme Court will soon hear King v. Burwell, a challenge to tax credits for consumers who live in states that refused to set up their own health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and instead relied on the federal version. Right-wing media have repeatedly insisted that the ACA can only have been written to deny Americans affordable health insurance, but experts call this argument "political activism masquerading as statutory restraint."