Economy

Issues ››› Economy
  • Wash. Post Highlights GOP’s Latest Attack On The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    A Washington Post column highlighted the latest attempt by congressional Republicans to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a longtime target of the banking lobby and right-wing media outlets intent on unwinding public protections put in place after the financial crisis.

    On April 21, Washington Post financial columnist Michelle Singletary called attention to an attempt by Republican lawmakers to block new protections from the CFPB that would give prepaid card users federal guarantees similar to those afforded to credit and debit card users. Prepaid cards, which are not attached to bank accounts, are often used by customers without access to financial services, but they currently offer few protections for consumers. Some of the new protections authorized by the CFPB include requiring institutions to investigate fraud charges, granting cardholders access to account balances, and mandating that fee information be “upfront and clear.” Singletary pointed out the absurdity of Republicans’ position that they “don’t think prepaid cards deserve the same protections” as credit and debit cards and chided their “ridiculous” complaint that fee transparency might help consumers reduce their costs. From the Post:

    On this issue, it comes down to this: Opponents of the new rules object to helping people who can least afford a whole bunch of fees so that card companies can make more money off them. It’s an example of putting business interests first and the interests of the nation’s most financially vulnerable consumers last.

    On April 21, the right-wing website The New American published a column by conservative commentator Veronique de Rugy slamming the new CFPB rules, claiming these basic protections are an attempt to strangle innovative products with “excessive regulation.” Similar attacks on the CFPB’s prepaid card rules were pushed by conservative think tanks the Institute for Liberty, Americans for Tax Reform and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

    On April 20, the Center for American Progress (CAP) reported that roughly 23 million Americans -- or one in 10 households -- used prepaid cards in 2015 for a total of over $270 billion in transactions and pointed out the danger of blocking protections for millions of consumers. CAP’s Joe Valenti noted how bizarre the GOP’s actions are, since many major prepaid card companies do not object to these new rules, and he said the only gains to killing these rules would likely be for “companies looking to evade regulation and profit from unsavory business practices.”

    The GOP’s attempt to block new public protections devised by the CFPB is the latest in a years-long assault on the agency by right-wingers hoping to curb necessary financial regulations and oust the agency’s director. These attacks have only increased with the GOP takeover of the White House, which left the CFPB as “one of the few adversaries of Wall Street” remaining in a Republican-dominated federal government

  • The Wash. Post Has A Lobbyist As A Writer; Here Are 12 Times They Didn't Disclose Conflicts Of Interest

    Editorial Page Editor Says The Post Wasn’t “Initially Clear Enough With” Ed Rogers “On Our Expectations” But Defends Paper

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    The Washington Post has repeatedly failed to inform readers about major financial conflicts of interest in pieces by opinion writer Ed Rogers. Rogers is a leading Republican lobbyist who has used his Post column to advocate for the interests of his firm’s clients without disclosure in at least a dozen instances since the beginning of 2016.

    Rogers writes for the publication’s PostPartisan blog. His columns also regularly appear in the Post’s physical edition and are syndicated across the country through its syndication service.

    The Republican lobbyist is the chairman of the BGR Group, which he co-founded in 1991. The firm is one of the country’s largest lobbying groups and had over $17 million in lobbying revenue in 2016.

    His Post credentials are touted to potential clients in his corporate biography, which states: “Since 2011, Ed has been an opinion writer for the Washington Post, where he writes about politics and the current state of affairs in Washington, D.C., from a Republican point of view.”

    Lobbying experts told Media Matters that the Post’s arrangement with a lobbyist of Rogers’ stature is “rare” and “highly unusual.”

    Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America and author of The Business of America is Lobbying, said that “It's pretty rare for a megalobbyist to have a gig as a columnist in such a prominent venue.”

    He added that while it’s hard to quantify how much the Post column helps his lobbying business since Rogers “has plenty of influence with or without his columns ... it almost certainly helps him. I can't imagine his gig as a Post columnist isn't part of his pitch to potential clients.”

    Tim LaPira, a James Madison University associate professor who studies lobbying, agreed that the Post’s “arrangement is highly unusual.”

    “Most lobbyists do not promote ideas in the public domain on their own behalf, under their own name,” LaPira said. “I doubt anybody has ever kept track of how common it is for lobbyists to write regular columns like this because it is so rare.”

    Rogers has repeatedly used his Post column to promote the lobbying interests of his firm’s clients over the years. Media Matters previously documented in 2015 how Rogers attacked environmental and financial regulations without disclosing his firm’s relevant clients. Rogers' columns subsequently included disclosures in some -- but not all -- pieces where he discusses environmental regulations.

    In addition to environmental issues, Rogers has numerous potential conflicts on both the domestic and international front. He and his firm's colleagues have registered as agents for foreign governments and have counted Saudi Arabia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as clients. Ukraine recently signed BGR to lobby for it as the country “seeks to strengthen its relationship with the United States.”

    Media Matters reached out to The Washington Post and sent examples of Rogers’ writings with conflicts of interests. Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt respond by saying the Post wasn’t “initially clear enough with Ed on our expectations” but defended the Post and Rogers, and disputed “some” of Media Matters’ examples:

    “We weren’t initially clear enough with Ed on our expectations. We do believe genuine conflicts should be disclosed, he is committed to doing so, and has done so numerous times. Some of what you flag here does not strike me as that kind of conflict. For example, we make no secret of the fact that Rogers is a conservative Republican whose firm lobbies for business interests; the fact that he would criticize Hillary Clinton for wanting to raise corporate tax rates I don’t think would surprise readers or strike them as stemming from a hidden conflict of interest. If he lobbies for a specific client or specific issue and then writes about that specific client or issue, I think readers should be made aware, and I’m confident Ed agrees.”

    BGR Group did not reply to a request for comment.

    Media Matters reviewed Rogers’ opinion pieces from the start of 2016 through today and found that the Post is failing to properly disclose when Rogers and his clients’ lobbying interests intersect. These disclosure violations include:

    • Praising President Trump for rescinding a fiduciary rule that protects investors without disclosing that BGR is lobbying to repeal the rule.
    • Criticizing the Dodd-Frank financial rule without disclosing his firm is lobbying on the issue.
    • Criticizing politicians for their attacks on the financial services industry without disclosing that he and his firm have been paid to lobby on behalf of financial services firms.
    • Praising the Tomahawk missile strike against Syria without disclosing that he lobbies on behalf of the missile maker.
    • Pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline without disclosing that BGR is lobbying for a firm that has been pushing for its implementation because it would financially benefit from its approval.
    • Pushing for environmental deregulation and a lowering of the corporate tax rate without disclosing his firm is lobbying on those issues.

       Here are 12 examples of how the Post is failing its readers:

      Department Of Labor Fiduciary Rule

      BRG Lobbied For MassMutual On “Legislation Related To The Proposed DoL Fiduciary Rule.” In 2016, President Barack Obama issued rules for the Department of Labor requiring that, as The New York Times noted, “all financial professionals who provide advice related to your retirement money must provide recommendations that are in your best interest.” President Trump has since delayed the rules. BGR’s lobbying disclosure for financial services company MassMutual stated last year that it lobbied on “legislation related to the proposed DoL fiduciary rule.” MassMutual has publicly criticized the proposed rule, claiming it “will hurt Americans.” BGR received $220,000 in 2016 from MassMutual to lobby. [The New York Times4/6/16; NPR.org, 2/17/17; Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, Boston Business Journal, 4/6/16; OpenSecrets.org, accessed 4/21/17]

      Rogers Praised “Rescinding President Barack Obama’s Retirement Account Advisory Business Regulations Before They Can Go Into Effect.”

      In just two weeks as president, Donald Trump has already taken some substantive measures on the economy, including his executive order generally reducing regulations and controlling regulatory costs; requiring pipeline projects to be completed using iron or steel products manufactured in the United States; revising Dodd-Frank; and rescinding President Barack Obama’s retirement account advisory business regulations before they can go into effect in April. Plus, Trump made Wilbur Ross, his commerce secretary nominee, one of the adults in charge of the NAFTA negotiations. In doing so, Trump defused a potentially ugly situation and sidelined some of his more bombastic advisers. The NAFTA overhaul is a critically important move, and it’s good that Trump has given Ross a powerful White House embrace. [The Washington Post2/6/17]  

      Dodd-Frank

      BGR Lobbied For MassMutual On Dodd Frank. BGR also lobbied for MassMutual on “Dodd-Frank regulatory implementation provisions relating to insurance companies” and “HR 5983, the Financial CHOICE Act of 2016,” which would roll back Dodd-Frank. [Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, 4/21/17; The New York Times9/13/16]

      Rogers Praised Effort To Roll Back Dodd-Frank.

      In just two weeks as president, Donald Trump has already taken some substantive measures on the economy, including his executive order generally reducing regulations and controlling regulatory costs; requiring pipeline projects to be completed using iron or steel products manufactured in the United States; revising Dodd-Frank; and rescinding President Barack Obama’s retirement account advisory business regulations before they can go into effect in April. Plus, Trump made Wilbur Ross, his commerce secretary nominee, one of the adults in charge of the NAFTA negotiations. In doing so, Trump defused a potentially ugly situation and sidelined some of his more bombastic advisers. The NAFTA overhaul is a critically important move, and it’s good that Trump has given Ross a powerful White House embrace. [The Washington Post2/6/17]  

      Financial Services Industry

      BGR Lobbied For Financial Services Companies. Rogers’ group collected $270,000 in 2016 lobbying on behalf of Franklin Resources in 2016. A 2016 lobbying disclosure report stated that BGR had provided “strategic advice and counsel on legislative and regulatory actions that are impacting or may potentially impact Franklin Resources and/or the financial services industry.” BGR also lobbied for financial services providers LetterOne Holdings, MassMutual, and PGP Investors. Rogers personally lobbied for Franklin and LetterOne. [OpenSecrets.org, accessed 4/21/17; Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, 4/21/17,  4/21/17, 4/21/17]

      Rogers: Hillary Clinton Should Defend The Financial Services Industry And Attack Sanders As Having “No Idea What The Financial Industry Does.”

      First, Clinton should do more — not less, more — live TV. Her net performance is pretty good during the debates and in interviews; she just has to do a better job of preparing for the tough questions. Clinton’s campaign is plagued by two big, corrosive questions. One, she needs to address the issue of her relationship with big banks and Wall Street. She and her family — and I say family because even Chelsea Clinton worked on Wall Street for a while, and her husband is a Goldman Sachs alumnus and currently runs a hedge fund — have been especially close to Wall Street, and it is painful to watch Hillary Clinton try to suggest otherwise. Perhaps Clinton could actually learn something from how Donald Trump unabashedly embraces his experiences. Rather than pretend she doesn’t know the big players on Wall Street, Clinton should use her familiarity with the financial services industry to suggest she knows how to corral them without killing them. Clinton should say, a la Trump, that “I know these people,” “Sure, I took their money” and “I know what they care about and how to make them get in line.” Clinton should argue that Sanders has no idea what the financial industry does or what its pressure points are, but as a former senator from New York, she can easily pinpoint its vulnerabilities. Clinton should look those who question her Wall Street ties straight in the eye and bluff them into silence. [The Washington Post2/8/16]

      Tomahawk Missile Strike Against Syria

      BGR Lobbies For Tomahawk Missile Maker Raytheon. Rogers personally lobbies for Raytheon, which manufactures the million-dollar Tomahawk missiles used in the recent Syria strike. BGR received $120,000 in 2016 for lobbying on “Defense and communications procurement; Defense appropriations and authorizations.” [Media Matters4/11/17]

      Rogers Praised Trump’s Handling Of Syria.

      I don’t want to jinx anything, but President Trump may be experiencing the best sequence of events since he became president. Just this week, he received bipartisan support for his military strike in Syria, secured Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court, had impressive meetings with both King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi of Egypt, caught a break with the Susan Rice scandal, and it appears he has walked away from a successful encounter with Chinese President Xi Jinping — all without knocking it off the rails with a wayward tweet. And it’s not just me saying that, no less than Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass wrote that this was “arguably [the] best of Donald Trump’s still young presidency, from [a] successful strike in Syria to confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee.” Imagine that, decisive and poised presidential action from the president himself.

      The president is receiving mostly positive coverage as a result of the strike in Syria, but even Trump’s critics are talking about him in a serious way. There has been no discussion of chaos during the strike or wild tweets and off-key chatter that diminished the significance of the action that was taken. Most analysts and political commentators are describing the attack as a calculated, level-headed decision by a president whose foreign policy disposition has been ambiguous. And oh, by the way, it doesn’t hurt that Trump did something so adverse to Russia in Syria. It showed that Trump is perfectly capable of acting with brutal hostility toward a vital interest of Vladimir Putin’s.

      […]

      In politics, just like in golf, luck counts. The fact that Trump launched an attack against Syria while his Chinese counterpart was present and able to witness the aftermath in the media was a powerful stroke of good luck for the White House. In case Xi needed any reminding of just how serious Trump may be about taking action in North Korea, the Syria attack couldn’t have been a better example or come at a better time. By all accounts, expectations for their meeting were low. But reports indicate that Trump and Xi had substantive, mostly positive conversations, perhaps leaving the Chinese president with a lot to think about. It looks like he may have walked away with a better impression of how Trump thinks and how his administration functions. [The Washington Post4/8/17]

      Keystone XL Pipeline

      Rogers’ Firm Lobbied For Caterpillar, Which Said It Would Financially Benefit From Keystone XL Pipeline’s Approval. A 2016 form for BGR stated that it lobbied for Caterpillar to “provide counsel and strategic guidance on federal activity regarding infrastructure improvements.” Caterpillar stated on its government affairs website that “has an interest in” the Keystone XL pipeline’s approval because “Caterpillar pipelayers, excavators and track-type tractors are used in the North American pipeline business.” BGR received $310,000 in 2016 for its lobbying work. [Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17; Caterpillar, accessed 4/21/17; OpenSecrets.org, accessed 4/21/17]

      Rogers Criticized Sen. Bernie Sanders For His “Wacky” Position On The Keystone XL Pipeline.

      It is safe to say that presidential campaigns are mostly about peace, prosperity and the character of the candidates. In none of these categories does Clinton approach the court of public opinion with clean hands. Most voters do not want an Obama third term — yet in order to get through the primaries, Clinton has had to embrace all things Obama. She has had to embrace the weakest economic growth of any postwar recovery and the first recovery where the economy did not grow at least three percent in any year following the end of the last recession.  She has had to temporarily disassociate herself from longtime Clinton family allies and benefactors on Wall Street and in the business community while espousing Obama’s anti-business mantra. Not to mention, she has had to swing to the left to adopt Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wacky positions on the minimum wage, trade, the Keystone XL pipeline and whatever else. [The Washington Post6/3/16]

      Rogers Dismissed Liberals’ Concerns Over The Keystone XL Pipeline. (The Post piece did disclose that Rogers’ firm “represents interests in the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries” but made no mention of Rogers’ ties to a company that “has an interest in” the pipeline being built).

      The left’s opposition to Tillerson will largely be grounded in the fact that he comes from an oil company. Let’s face it: The people who don’t want the Keystone XL pipeline or the Dakota Access pipeline, who oppose drilling or fracking anywhere and who think that de-carbonizing the economy is possible are the same people who will lead the fight against Tillerson’s confirmation. There is almost nothing Tillerson can say that will satisfy these people. Many among the global warming alarmist crowd approach the topic of climate change with a near-religious zeal. [The Washington Post1/5/17]

      Environmental Regulations

      BGR Group Lobbies For Numerous Energy Companies. In 2016, BGR lobbied for Chevron, JKX Oil & Gas, Nuclear Energy Institute, Southern Co., and WEC Energy Group. Rogers personally lobbied for JKX Oil & Gas and Southern (JKX's registration start date with BGR was September 1, 2016). [OpenSecrets.org, accessed 4/21/17; Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, 4/21/17; 4/21/17]

      The Post Has Been Inconsistent In Disclosing Rogers’ Anti-Environmental Conflicts. Rogers frequently criticizes environmental regulations in his Post writings. In some instances, Rogers included a disclosure noting his firm’s clients, writing: “Disclosure: My firm represents interests in the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.” In several instances, Rogers did not include such a disclosure. This piece only takes issue with those that do not, which are noted below. [The Washington Post1/5/17]

      Rogers Attacked Liberals For Promoting “Policies, Often Under The Guise Of Environmental And Global Warming Activism, That Suppress Development, Growth And Good, Middle-Class Jobs.”

      The party of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton doesn’t like free enterprise or those who associate with it. They like social activists more than they like American workers. The national Democratic Party is composed of a circle of self-reinforcing members, including academics, feminists, environmentalists, government unions, Hollywood, minority and LGBT activists, trial lawyers and a host of financiers like Tom Steyer. What do they all have in common? These groups tend to have a parasitic relationship with private enterprises that actually employ people, particularly people who work in a trade. Democratic insiders promote policies, often under the guise of environmental and global warming activism, that suppress development, growth and good, middle-class jobs. The failure of the Obama economy speaks for itself. [The Washington Post5/18/16]

      Rogers Criticized Obama For Running “A Punitive Regulatory Regime Enhanced By A Pointless Passion For Global Warming Initiatives” And Having An “Anti-Business Bias.”

      The president and the Democrats are either oblivious or dishonest when they talk about their “economic success.” In what will probably be Obama’s most lasting legacy, he has run up the national debt by $10 trillion — more than all our other presidents combined — leaving future generations weighed down by the Obama debt. He has stifled small businesses with excessive taxation, perpetuated a punitive regulatory regime enhanced by a pointless passion for global warming initiatives and acted with anti-business bias that has all amalgamated to slow growth and spread discontent across the country. [The Washington Post6/23/16]

      Rogers: Democrats “Obsess[ing] Over Climate Change” Helped Them Lose The Election.

      If you’re still confused about why Democrats lost the election, look no further than the issues they prioritize. Instead of focusing on jobs, the economy and national security, the Democrats obsess over climate change, bathroom breaks and, curiously, sanctuary cities. Now is a good time for the Republicans to pick some fights, and the issue of sanctuary cities is a prime target. It’s a perfect reminder of what Democrats have become. As my old boss Lee Atwater used to say, “Never kick a man when he is up.” And right now, the Democrats are down, divided and in disarray. [The Washington Post12/8/16]

      Rogers Criticized Obama’s Global Warming Policy.

      To make matters worse, Obama has capitulated to and strengthened enemy regimes in Iran and Cuba. He scrambled our international priorities and declared global warming to be one of our most significant national security problems, requiring billions to be spent to lower carbon emissions in the United States at the expense of American businesses while giving China a pass. [The Washington Post12/29/16]

      Corporate Tax Rate

      Rogers’ BGR Group Lobbies On Corporate Tax Cuts. BGR lobbied for pharmaceutical company Amgen Inc. on “corporate tax reform.” Amgen CEO Robert Bradway reportedly said the company would be “a clear beneficiary” of lowering the corporate tax. BGR listed “tax reform” as a lobbying issue for other clients such as Southern and Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce [Senate.gov, accessed 4/21/17, 4/21/17, 4/21/17; FiercePharma, 1/10/17]

      Rogers Praised Trump For Pledging To “Cut The Corporate Tax Rate From The Current 35 Percent Rate To 15 Percent.”

      Obviously, Trump’s able advisers had a hand in crafting what is a solid, Republican plan. I have said for years that we don’t have many problems that wouldn’t be solved by a few years of 4 percent economic growth. Well, the plan that Trump laid out yesterday calls for at least 3.5 percent growth per year — which, considering the anemic growth under President Obama, would be an economic boom. He also wants to cut the corporate tax rate from the current 35 percent rate to 15 percent, and his plan eliminates both the death tax and the carried-interest loophole. Much of this is standard Republican fare that the Democrats and the usual suspects among their apologists will instantly criticize. But that’s okay, because finally, this campaign will be getting around to having arguments about policy.

      […]

      I’m not ready to say Trump would be a good president, but this a good plan. [The Washington Post9/16/16]

      Rogers Attacked Clinton For Saying She Would Make Corporations “Pay Their Fair Share.”

      As I read the economic policy speech Hillary Clinton gave in Michigan yesterday, as a partisan Republican, I was enthused by the prospects. Her economic plan isn’t even Obamanomics 2.0; it is Obamanomics 1.5. For those of you who haven’t read the fact sheet that the Clinton campaign released along with the speech, I encourage you to read it. Here’s the link. It’s a parody of what a real fact sheet should look like. And the tired, pedantic language Clinton uses is cringe-worthy. She wants to tinker around the edges with just more of the same: Raise taxes, spend more, send more money to Washington and give away more money here and there. One of my favorite lines is “Hillary will make sure that corporations and the most fortunate play by the rules and pay their fair share.” Gee, that’s a bold position. The way she sets up her positions to supposedly contrast with those of Donald Trump reads like a Goofus and Gallant page from Highlights magazine. [The Washington Post8/12/16]

    • 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.

    • TV News Scrutiny Of Ivanka Trump’s Conflicts Of Interest Spurred By New Bombshell

      Trump Apologists Continued To Deflect Concerns Over Conflicts And Corruption In The White House

      ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

      Broadcast and cable news programs heaped additional scrutiny on Ivanka Trump in the hours after The Associated Press broke a bombshell report that the lifestyle brand she owns had secured valuable trademarks in China before she met with the Chinese president for dinner at her father’s private Mar-a-Lago resort. News of the glaring conflict of interest between Trump’s role as a White House adviser and her private business empire was carried by the major broadcast networks --ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS -- as well as CNN and MSNBC. Fox News ignored the issue entirely during its evening and prime-time programming, and longtime Trump apologist and former Fox host Greta Van Susteren actually defended Trump during her program.

    • STUDY: Cable News’ Sporadic Coverage Of Trump's Hidden Tax Returns

      Nearly Half Of Cable News Discussion Of Trump Tax Returns Since Inauguration Occurred Within A Week Of Rachel Maddow’s Tax Exclusive

      ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

      A Media Matters study found that between President Donald Trump’s January 20 inauguration and Tax Day, April 18, evening cable news has dedicated only sporadic coverage to Trump’s failure to release his tax returns. And of the 110 segments spread out over three months, nearly half came within a week after MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow revealed two leaked pages of Trump’s 2005 tax documents. This inconsistent coverage comes as pressure mounts from activists and Republican lawmakers for the president to release his tax returns, and highlights the media’s inability to consistently report on this story.

    • Media Fall For And Reinforce Trump’s Spin On “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order

      ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

      Multiple media outlets and figures uncritically reported on President Donald Trump’s planned executive order promoting policies that encourage the federal government to “buy American” and “hire American” wherever possible. These outlets and figures did not note that the executive order only calls for a review of current policy, and does not meaningfully change it, and some other outlets buried those crucial details in their reporting.

    • Fox Echoes Trump’s Attacks On Tax March: “The Election Is Over!”

      Trump Apologists Cannot Understand Why Protests Aimed At Trump’s Tax Returns Would Coincide With Tax Day

      Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

      Fox News echoed the insults and attacks President Donald Trump leveled against tens of thousands of Americans that took part in over 180 rallies and events in 48 states over the weekend in protest of the president’s refusal to disclose his tax returns.

      On April 15, the day that federal tax returns are typically due to be filed, organizers in Washington, D.C. and across the country led Tax March demonstrations in protest of Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns to the public. Trump attacked the protestors in a series of tweets the following day, complaining that his “tax returns are being brought up again,” diminishing the nationwide demonstrations as “small organized rallies,” and suggesting that demonstrators were paid to oppose him. Trump concluded by exclaiming “the election is over!”

      Taking their cue from Trump, Fox News media personalities proceeded to blast the Tax March. On the April 17 edition of Happening Now, co-host Jenna Lee questioned “the timing of this” and wondered if the protests were a distraction given “everything that’s going on in the world.” Guest Adam Goodman, a Republican strategist, agreed with her assessment adding that “for many, as I think you can now see, the campaign isn’t over, it’s never over.”

      The April 17 edition of Fox’s Outnumbered led its segment bashing the protesters by displaying Trump’s tweet calling for the protestors to be “looked into” and co-host Meghan McCain deflected criticism of Trump’s unprecedented refusal to disclose his tax information because he was not legally required to release it. Guest Guy Benson, political editor of Townhall, complained that the Tax March and other protests against Trump’s presidency made him feel “fatigue,” and wondered “why this issue, why a giant protest now?” Later that evening, on Fox Business’ Kennedy, host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery piled on the criticism, calling the protesters “a collection of free wheeling leftists” who are “bored” with the Trump administration and disgruntled Clinton supporters who have not gotten over the election.

      Fox continued to mock the protesters and playdown the importance of Trump releasing his tax returns into the following day. On the April 18 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox contributor and the Trump campaign’s deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, falsely claimed “the American people don’t care” if Trump discloses his tax returns and that the marchers were “paid professional protesters.” Later that morning, on Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano acknowledged Trump’s taxes were an important issue during the campaign but reiterated Trump’s talking point that “the campaign is over” and “this is no longer relevant.” Host Stuart Varney, however, admitted that the tax returns might reveal Trump could make “enormous” gains from the tax cuts he campaigned on.

      While Trump’s devotees and apologists at Fox regurgitated his rhetoric, investigative reporter and tax specialist David Cay Johnston -- who had previously obtained a copy of Trump’s 2005 tax returns -- explained on the April 18 edition of MSNBC’s MSNBC Live that complete tax disclosure remains important in rooting out conflicts of interest and understanding how much Trump would benefit from his tax agenda:

      Fox News defended Trump hiding his tax returns throughout the 2016 election season and seems poised to continue. The network has repeatedly held Trump to a different standard than other presidents and politicians.

    • With Tax March Looming, Watch Fox’s Absurd Defense Of Trump Hiding His Tax Returns

      ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

      Donald Trump broke with decades of precedent in 2016 by refusing to release his tax returns in the midst of his presidential campaign, a stubborn refusal he has maintained since taking office in January. On April 15, the day tax filings are traditionally due, Americans will march in over 100 cities around the country to demand that the president fully disclose his tax and financial records. Before the Tax March, take a look at some attempts by Trump's team of Fox News sycophants to defend his unprecedented refusal to disclose his tax returns.