Craig Harrington

Author ››› Craig Harrington
  • Right-Wing Media Push Absurd Pizza Lobby Claim That Franchises Are Burdened By Basic Food Labeling

    Pizza Franchises Are Lobbying Trump To Kill Another Public Protection Enshrined In ACA

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    A pizza industry lobbying campaign against food labeling requirements mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has gained momentum in recent weeks as right-wing media promote exaggerated complaints that it would be “costly and burdensome” to require chain restaurants to display calorie information on menu items. Conservative outlets are urging President Donald Trump to rescind the long-delayed implementation of certain food labeling requirements, while completely ignoring that the long-term benefits of such public protections vastly outweigh the short-term costs.

    On the April 19 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Domino's franchisee owner Chris Reisch asked Trump -- who is an obsessive Fox & Friends viewer -- to stop a rule that was passed as part of the ACA and goes into effect on May 5, requiring chain restaurants to display the calorie counts of items on their menus. Reisch preposterously claimed the food labeling requirement would force him to “have a book at the counter” to display the calorie count of the 34 million topping combinations of Domino’s pizza and promoted the openly ridiculous claim that kitchen staff might face jail time for putting too many toppings on a pizza:

    During his interview, however, Reisch did not disclose that he was recently on Capitol Hill lobbying against food labeling, overtime pay, and labor rights on behalf of the American Pizza Community (APC) -- the lobbying arm of the pizza industry.

    According to The Washington Post, the APC is leading “a desperate push” to curb food labeling standards before they go into effect, “more than seven years after [the ACA] was signed into law” and years after most other chain restaurants already complied with the new standards. Having already gone to Congress with its complaints, the pizza industry may have hoped to reach the president directly via Fox & Friends, which culminated a month-long chorus of right-wing outlets slamming the rule on the industry’s behalf.

    In the past few weeks, right-wing outlets and fringe conservative sites have assailed the ruling, citing its supposedly onerous costs and bemoaning the confusion it could cause for customers. Since March 22, The Washington Free Beacon, PJMedia (twice), the National Review, NewsBusters, Investor’s Business Daily, CNS News, and FoxNews.com have promoted varying arguments that the rule would be “costly and burdensome,” that it “lacked common sense,” and that it amounted to little more than “pizza shaming.” CNS News hyped a report from the food services industry that incorrectly estimated the cost of compliance at $1 billion in its first year and NewsBusters questioned if the government should have any role in mandating that companies disclose nutritional information to the public.

    In reality, the actual ACA rule requires restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to display the calorie counts of all standard menu items, and has exceptions for temporary items. When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its food labeling standards in November 2014, it estimated that the industry-wide costs would be roughly $1 billion over a 20 year period -- a sum that pales in comparison to the $767 million profit Domino’s earned in 2016 alone. Overall, the FDA estimated that the benefits of Americans eating healthier because of the additional nutritional information would exceed the total cost of implementation by over $8 billion:

    Reisch’s claim that the rule would be too costly loses steam in light of the FDA’s findings but it is even more bizarre considering he admitted that Domino’s already has this information and posts the calorie counts of its pizzas and toppings online. On April 17, MarketWatch reported that pizza companies are opposed to displaying calorie counts on menus even though “Americans are paying more attention to food ingredients” and polling showed up to 68 percent want chain restaurants to post calorie information. On her Food Politics blog, nutrition and public health professor Marion Nestle pointed out that the fierce pushback against posting calories on menus, regardless of the low cost and outsize health benefits, shows that these companies “would rather you did not have this information.” This attitude makes it that much more important for government to protect consumers access to this knowledge.

  • Wash. Post’s Reporting On Social Security Disability Insurance Is Hopelessly Flawed

    A Longform Foray Into SSDI Echoed Conservative Misinformation, Was Replete With Data Errors

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Disability advocates hammered a faulty feature article published last month in The Washington Post that portrayed disability insurance as a form of long-term unemployment insurance in rural communities and claimed that as many as a third of people in those communities received disability assistance. Advocates analyzed the article’s data and found that the Post had vastly overstated the number of people receiving assistance on the program, prompting the paper to issue a correction. That correction, however, ignores the article’s more devastating flaws.

    The Post’s March 30 article titled, “Disabled, or just desperate?” followed Alabama resident Desmond Spencer and his family as they struggled to make ends meet and narrated his unease about applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The piece cited data purportedly provided by the Social Security Administration to argue that Spencer’s condition was typical of working-aged adults in rural communities around the country. A Media Matters analysis of the actual content found that it was filled with tropes, gimmicks, and dog whistles frequently promoted by right-wing opponents of SSDI. Disability advocates questioned the portrayal of a single anecdotal account as representative of millions of Americans, and Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress (CAP) slammed the Post for creating a “dystopian portrait” of an SSDI system “riddled with rampant abuse.”

    A week after publishing the initial report, the Post’s editorial board cited the flawed article as part of its case in favor of unnecessary “reforms” of the disability insurance system that would add even more restrictions to SSDI. Media Matters again criticized the Post for mischaracterizing the program and peddling myths about the social safety net common in conservative media. Economist Dean Baker also browbeat the editorial for targeting a program that helps provide basic living standards at a time of rampant economic inequality.

    The core argument forwarded by the initial Post report was that as many as one-third of working-age adults in rural communities are reliant on SSDI for most or all of their monthly income. Yet, the paper did not acknowledge whether or not these people are actually disabled. Instead, the article wove a narrative of low-income Americans struggling to find gainful work who end up on disability as a form of long-term unemployment. An April 13 blog published by CAP outlined how analysts attempted “to replicate [the Post’s] analysis” only to find that “their numbers are flat-out wrong.” After a careful inspection, CAP discovered that the Post’s numbers overcounted the number of children and working-age adults receiving SSDI, and failed to correct for the double-counting of roughly 1.3 million people. CAP even uncovered that the paper was missing data entirely for nearly 100 of the “rural counties” the article was supposed to be analyzing. In response to the these revelations, the editors responsible for the Post’s report issued a lengthy correction to the article and updated it throughout to remove and amend data.

    In an April 18 blog post, the team at CAP noted that the fixes still didn’t go far enough since more accurate data actually disproved the Post’s core argument. The revised and corrected report is still built on questionable data and it continues overcounting the number of working-age adults reliant on disability insurance. Most importantly, the core claim that disability checks are a primary source of income for “as many as one-third of working-age adults” in rural communities encompassing “large swaths of the country” appears to be completely false; CAP’s team could find only one county -- out of 3,143 -- that fit the Post’s dystopian description of disability. From the Center For American Progress’s TalkPoverty.org (emphasis added):

    Even using The Post’s flawed methods, they were only able to find one county—out of more than 3,100 counties nationwide—where the story’s central claim that “as many as one-third of working-age adults are receiving monthly disability checks” holds up. Not a single other county even comes close. In fact, The Post’s own analysis—which it has now made available in a public data file next to the story, yields an average rate of about 9.1 percent of working-age adults receiving benefits across rural counties—just three percentage points higher than the national average.

    And yet the article is framed as follows: “Across large swaths of the country,” the article still reads, “disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults are receiving monthly disability checks.”

    If by “large swaths” and “scores of… rural communities” The Post means McDowell County, West Virginia, population less than 21,000 residents—and nowhere else in America—then sure.

    But the fact is there’s a word for using data this way: cherry-picking.

  • Wash. Post Profile Of Disability Insurance Recipients Borders On Poverty Shaming

    The Post Is Just Asking -- Are Millions Of Americans Legitimately “Disabled, Or Just Desperate” For Work?

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    A Washington Post profile of a struggling low-income family painted what the Center for American Progress called a “dystopian portrait” of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and its recipients. The negative framing of the disabled echoed misleading portrayals commonly promoted by right-wing media.

    The in-depth March 30 article used a low-income family in rural Alabama as a proxy for rural communities around the country that have become increasingly dependent on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program over the past two decades. Unfortunately, the Post’s profile of the state of disability in the United States pushed a number of misleading characterizations of SSDI and its recipients that are commonly peddled by right-wing media outlets when they target the social safety net:

    • The article stated disability usage “has surged … from 7.7 million to 13 million” since 1996, failing to provide context for how SSDI recipients compare to a population of well over 320 million while glossing over the predictable demographic trends responsible for the uptick.
    • The Post neglected to mention that only 13 million out of more than 53 million American adults living with a disability actually receive benefits from SSDI.
    • The article highlighted the raw amount of money the federal government projects to spend on SSDI this year ($192 billion) without contextualizing that sum as a proportion of overall federal spending (less than 5 percent).
    • The article manufactured a false dichotomy between “the severely disabled,” who obviously cannot work for a living, and supposedly “murkier” cases where enrolling in SSDI “is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether” by an otherwise able-bodied person.
    • The article followed a man, Desmond Spencer, who suffers from chronic pain resulting from on-the-job injuries accumulated through a career in manual labor, but it focused on the shame he feels at the thought of applying for SSDI without considering if he might actually qualify for assistance.
    • The article continually juxtaposed Spencer’s difficulty in finding gainful employment with his struggle over applying for SSDI, even though being unemployed for nonmedical reasons is not a criterion for the program.
    • The article scrupulously detailed unhealthful daily habits of several SSDI recipients -- smoking and drinking soda -- that are typical behaviors for tens of millions of Americans but often portrayed as wasteful when they are done by individuals receiving government benefits.

    Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress chided the Post for creating a “dystopian portrait where Social Security disability benefits represent out-of-control government spending riddled with rampant abuse.” Vallas wrote that qualification for the program is actually “incredibly hard” and linked to July 2014 testimony from the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, which explained that aging Baby Boomers, natural population growth, and women entering the workforce are primarily responsible for increased disability usage. Most importantly, Vallas concluded her response by noting that narratives similar to that published by the Post have been used in the past by conservative opponents of safety net programs.

    A response from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analyst Kathleen Romig hit the Post’s write-up of SSDI for focusing so intently on “an atypical case: a young applicant in a county with an unusually high share of disability beneficiaries.” Romig also noted that it’s misleading to conflate absence of local job opportunities with a spike in disability cases because applicants must “prove that they can’t earn substantial wages anywhere across the economy — regardless of whether such work exists where they live.”

    A March 31 statement from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) added even more critical context missing from the Post’s report, including statistics detailing the strict standards for SSDI, the high likelihood that recipients are dealing with a terminal illness, and the fact that the number of people receiving benefits through SSDI has “level[ed] off and is projected to decline further in the coming years.”

    The pitfalls and blind spots bedeviling the Post’s foray into disability coverage are nothing new. In 2013, NPR’s Planet Money and All Things Considered and WBEZ’s This American Life promoted an error-riddled story using anecdotal evidence to portray disability recipients as grifters gaming the system. Months later, CBS News’ 60 Minutes aired a similarly misleading report, which falsely claimed SSDI is “ravaged by waste and fraud” and promoted biased research produced by partisan opponents seeking to gut the program.

    The Post’s mischaracterization of SSDI as a seemingly simple way for low-income Americans to secure a source of income is the kind of misinformation disability advocates have come to expect from Fox News, which has spent years attacking the program and its recipients.

  • Trump's Manufacturing Policy Could Destroy Many Times More Jobs Than Were "Saved" At Carrier

    Research Shows Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts Would Undermine Successful Manufacturing Jobs Programs

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    In the weeks after Election Day, media outlets tirelessly amplified President Donald Trump’s misleading claim that he personally saved hundreds of jobs at a facility operated by Indiana-based appliance manufacturer Carrier. Will those outlets devote the same zeal to covering widespread program cuts outlined in Trump’s budget proposal that would undermine a public-private partnership supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the United States?

    Mainstream and conservative media outlets alike heaped praise on Trump for his supposed role in brokering a deal to keep Carrier jobs in the U.S., and national news spent months hyping Trump’s mythical dealmaking skills after he claimed credit for other companies investing in the American economy. In fact, a Media Matters analysis of broadcast and cable news coverage of the economy found that Trump’s misleading boasts about brokering deals to create a handful of American jobs dominated economic news coverage in the last three months of 2016.

    On March 16, the Trump administration produced a budget outline for the 2018 fiscal year that attempts to offset an unnecessary $54 billion increase in military spending by drastically reducing all remaining nondefense discretionary expenditures.

    Among the programs set to lose funding is the Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) -- a public-private program dedicated to improving manufacturing efficiency. Washington Post reporter Danielle Paquette described the MEP as “a modest operation that exists solely to help small and medium-size companies create and maintain good-paying American manufacturing jobs” and noted that it has “long enjoyed bipartisan support.” And recent analyses of the program from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and the Center for American Progress (CAP) unveiled the extent to which cutting the MEP could imperil American workers.

    According to a March 3 report from Upjohn, the MEP directly supports about 86,000 jobs nationwide, including 2,100 in Indiana. The total jobs number stretches to roughly 142,000 if you account for positions indirectly supported by MEP grants. Most importantly, more than 27,000 of the jobs directly and indirectly supported by the MEP are in the manufacturing sector -- an industry Trump has claimed his policies would help revitalize.

    A March 27 analysis of the Upjohn report by CAP's associate director for economic policy, Brendan Duke, revealed that roughly half of the more than 80,000 jobs directly supported by the MEP could be in jeopardy if companies lose access to federal grant money in the wake of Trump’s budget cuts.** More than 11,000 of those jobs would be lost in Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- manufacturing-heavy swing states that went for Trump in 2016:

    As CAP demonstrates, the number of jobs that could be lost thanks to Trump is many times more than the 800 he “saved” in the vaunted Carrier deal last December. Following the logic in CAP’s analysis, the loss of MEP funding could cost the state of Indiana roughly 1,000 jobs -- meaning the federal budget cut would cost the state at least as many jobs as it saved through a generous taxpayer-funded kickback to the appliance manufacturer:

    Professional economists from across the political spectrum have slammed Trump’s economic policy vision for months and warned that his policies are more likely to harm the job market than revitalize it. Some outlets seem to have caught on to the fact that the president’s boasts about his role in making deals and creating jobs cannot be taken seriously. But their willingness to tackle the disastrous consequences of the Trump administration’s policy priorities is still developing.

    **The Center for American Progress' analysis focuses only on the jobs directly supported by the MEP, according to the Upjohn Institute report, and does not include 4,161 jobs affected by MEP grants in Puerto Rico.

  • Did News Outlets Finally Learn Their Lesson About Trump’s Exaggerated Jobs Announcements?

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Since his election, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed credit for private businesses’ decisions to invest in the United States. His flimsy and misleading boasts have been routinely amplified by compliant media outlets before the claims eventually collapse under scrutiny. Yet the response from mainstream journalists to the president’s latest jobs boast seems to indicate that perhaps some outlets have “caught on” to Trump’s exaggerated pronouncements and have stopped taking them at face value.

    On March 27, The Detroit News broke the news that the Ford Motor Co. has announced an investment of “$1.2 billion in three Michigan facilities” and that most of the investment was brokered in 2015 as part of the company’s contract with the United Auto Workers union. Roughly $350 million of that total investment represents new money, but Ford is expected to “add or retain” only 130 jobs -- a marginal amount compared to the 201,000 people the company employs worldwide.

    Trump moved early the next day to take credit, tweeting that Ford would announce an investment “in three Michigan plants” and that “car companies [are] coming back to the U.S.” before concluding, “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!” Later in the day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer pointed to the Ford announcement as proof that “the president’s economic agenda is what American businesses have been waiting for.”

    In the past few months, Media Matters has chronicled dozens of occasions when outlets stumbled over themselves to credit Trump for creating new American jobs based on his misleading claims of playing a role in private sector business decisions that he had little to do with. (See: Alibaba, Carrier, Ford, SoftBank.)

    Trump’s tweet about Ford seemed poised to inspire more of the same media fawning, but journalists who covered the news largely downplayed Trump’s role rather than falling for his boast. The Washington Post, USA Today, Bloomberg, and Reuters all reported that the majority of the Ford investment plan far predated the Trump administration and was part of the company’s long-term restructuring plan for its American factories.

    New York Times columnist and MSNBC contributor Steven Rattner noted that “The big news ended up being only 130 jobs” and asked of the president, “When will he stop misleading [people]?” CNBC reporter Jacob Pramuk reported that the “White House on Tuesday promoted a Ford investment in American plants” even though “most of [the money] was part of a plan the automaker first announced in 2015.” Vox senior correspondent Matt Yglesias highlighted that CNBC article on Twitter and commented that reporters were “catching on” to Trump’s game. Washington Post reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee pointed out that the Ford investment “had nothing to do [with] Trump’s election.” Meanwhile, New York Times correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum mocked Trump by writing that the president’s tweet contained “three more exclamation points … than the number of new jobs that Ford created today.” In his write-up of Trump’s announcement, CNNMoney senior writer Chris Isidore added that “Ford isn't bringing any work back to the United States from Mexico, or any other foreign country” -- a blow to Trump’s claim that automakers are “coming back to the U.S.”

    In contrast to the sober reporting from mainstream media, right-wing outlets that are aligned with Trump continued to promote his unsubstantiated role in creating jobs for American workers. The “alt-right” website Breitbart.com promoted the Ford story under the banner “TRUMP JOBS BOOM CONTINUES” while the sycophants at Fox News called the investment deal “another win for American workers” and Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy hyped the investment plan by stating, “Oh, it’s so much winning.” From the March 28 edition of Fox & Friends:

    As the White House has become embroiled in scandal and legislative failure, Trump has flooded the news cycle with lies far more outrageous than his attempt to take credit for jobs he didn’t create. Journalists, therefore, still need to be mindful of the administration’s attempts to build up the myth of Trump as a unique dealmaker and economic leader.

  • Journalists, Experts Agree Trump's Tax Reform Agenda Will Be Even Harder Than Repealing Obamacare

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    After President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) failed to garner enough support to pass legislation that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Trump declared he had moved on to refocus his legislative priorities on tax reform. In light of Trump’s inability to get the Republican-led Congress to vote with him on health care changes, which had been a major campaign promise of virtually every elected GOP official, journalists and experts are beginning to question if Trump is capable of wrangling his caucus to tackle substantive conservative tax reform proposals that have been stagnant for decades.

  • Will Fox News Finally Take The Debt Ceiling Seriously?

    Fox Spent Years Urging Republicans To Default On The National Debt To Hurt President Obama

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011, Fox News personalities have urged them to use the threat of defaulting on the sovereign debt obligations of the United States government as a means of winning political concessions. With Republicans now in full control of Congress, will the talking heads at Fox finally come to terms with this monumental threat to the global economy and urge the GOP to raise the debt ceiling?

  • Experts And Media Observers Stunned By Trump’s Budget Proposal

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Economic policy experts, advocacy groups, and media outlets scrambled to respond to President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, which includes $54 billion in new defense spending to be offset by dramatic cuts to the entire non-defense discretionary budget. Many observers were quick to point out that the president’s so-called “America First” budget will worsen the suffering of at-risk communities, including many low-income regions that supported his election and are kept afloat economically by federal spending programs.

  • On Cue, Adoring Pro-Trump Outlets Fawn Over February Jobs Report

    Right-Wing Media Sycophants Are Apparently Done Nitpicking The Monthly Jobs Data Now That Trump Is President

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Right-wing media reacted with predictable enthusiasm to a better-than-expected February 2017 jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which they attributed to President Donald Trump’s unique leadership. In reality, the economy is currently enjoying a 77-month streak of job creation that began under President Barack Obama -- whom the same outlets routinely blasted for leading a sluggish economic recovery.

    On March 10, the BLS released its monthly jobs report for February 2017 showing that the economy added approximately 235,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained little changed at 4.7 percent. After accounting for minor upward revisions to data from December and January, the economy has produced an average of 209,000 jobs per month over the past three months.

    As Politico’s chief economics correspondent, Ben White, pointed out, the positive report is “a continuation of a good, long trend” and shouldn’t be attributed directly to Trump. White also noted that it is hard to see a “Trump bump” in the February jobs data, which look “nearly identical” to those of February reports from the past two years. Economist Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) explained this phenomenon at greater length in a March 10 blog, pointing out that Trump “inherited an economy that was already making steady progress towards full employment”:

    Today’s jobs report, which showed the economy adding 235,000 jobs in February, is notable for being the first BLS report of the Trump administration. It may be tempting for today’s policymakers to claim credit for this solid employment growth, but credit is only truly deserved when the economy grows faster than expected. It’s important to remember that President Trump inherited an economy that was already making steady progress towards full employment.

    The jobs data are certainly strong -- and they undermine Trump’s claim that he inherited a “mess” from his predecessor -- but not everything in the report was good news. Bloomberg financial columnist Conor Sen pointed out that the February report showed a drop in employment for workers without a high school diploma, and University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson noted that labor force participation for men actually declined slightly while participation rates for women increased.

    These measured responses from expert journalists and professional economists were not echoed by Trump’s cohort of right-wing media devotees, who trumpeted the jobs report as a major victory for the administration. Under a headline proclaiming that the American economy was “GREAT AGAIN!” Breitbart economic editor John Carney -- who was hired to shepherd the fringe website out of the alt-right fever swamp -- absurdly claimed that job creation last month was “jaw-dropping” and that the “jobs market is sizzling.” On Twitter, the right-wing Drudge Report also proclaimed the report showed America was “GREAT AGAIN.” On Fox Business’ Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney stated that we could be witnessing a “Trump expansion” after 77 months of job creation -- 76 of which predate Trump:

    On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, the co-hosts joined Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich in lauding the report. Co-host Pete Hegseth stated that Trump is simply “winning everywhere” while Gingrich suggested that “you're seeing the beginnings, I emphasize ‘beginnings,’ of a potential Trump Economic Era”:

    Media Matters pointed out last month how quickly Fox News had shifted from nitpicking the jobs reports to lauding them after Trump’s inauguration -- so quickly, in fact, that the network incorrectly credited a January expansion to the new president. New York Times reporter Sopan Deb mocked Trump and his right-wing allies for suddenly embracing positive jobs data that they spread conspiracy theories about just months ago, while New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait questioned why no outlets were reporting the more than 90 million people who are currently out of the labor market -- a favorite right-wing media misrepresentation during the Obama administration. As FiveThirtyEight chief economic writer Ben Casselman pointed out, no president deserves singular credit for monthly job creation in the vast American economy.

  • Apparently The Jobs Report Is No Longer A Massive Conspiracy?

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump immediately retweeted right-wing media praise for a strong February 2017 jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which showed above-average job creation and a steady unemployment rate last month. Trump’s willingness to embrace the BLS monthly jobs report is at odds with his past approach -- at least over the last four years -- of slamming the number as “phony” and as merely a political tool of the Obama administration.