Fox Guest: Refugees "Are Exploiting Their So-Called Political And Economic Persecution Status" For "Welfare"
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In Fact, Report Shows SNAP Beneficiaries Have Similar Purchasing Habits To Non-SNAP Shoppers
A recent article in The New York Times grossly misinterpreted the findings of a government review of nationwide grocery purchases by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps.” The article incorrectly portrayed the study as showing that “a disproportionate amount of food stamp money is going toward unhealthful foods,” when in reality it showed that Americans across the board purchase similar items and that overall, everyone could be eating in healthier ways. The suggestion that SNAP recipients are somehow guilty of wasting money on frivolous food purchases is a tired right-wing media attack, and the Times’ sloppy handling of the recently released data is sure to embolden opponents of federal anti-poverty programs.
On November 18, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the federal food security program, released a report analyzing purchases at “a leading grocery retailer” in 2011. A key finding in the data was that “food purchases, consumption patterns, and dietary outcomes among SNAP participants and higher income households are more similar than different.” Recipients of SNAP benefits spent slightly more of their grocery budget on meats and “sweetened beverages” (which include many juices and soft drinks) while non-SNAP households spent slightly more on vegetables and “high fat dairy” items. Overall, “differences in the expenditure patterns … were relatively limited” across all major grocery categories:
According to the USDA’s summary of its findings, households that receive SNAP benefits and households that do not receive benefits have similar consumption habits, including the habit of purchasing food items like “sweetened beverages,” “soft drinks,” “salty snacks,” and other junk foods that “may not be fully consistent with” preferred dietary guidelines. Indeed, according to the full November 2016 report, the seven most common grocery purchases of SNAP and non-SNAP consumers are virtually the same, with “soft drinks” ranking first for SNAP households and second for all other customers and “bag snacks” ranking fourth for SNAP households and fifth for others:
However, The New York Times published a headline that seems to condemn low-income Americans for buying soft drinks -- “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda” -- and its piece noted that advocates of healthy living “have called for restrictions so that food stamps cannot be used to buy junk food or sugary soft drinks.”
Rebecca Vallas and Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress slammed the article in a blog for Talk Poverty, noting that the misleading article was accompanied by an image “of a grocery cart overflowing with 2-liter bottles of soft drinks and a store aisle that is nothing but a wall of soda.”
Talk Poverty cited several examples of research refuting the Times’ stance along with experts who “took to social media to highlight the study’s actual findings”:
Aside from missing the point of the USDA study, the Times’ report has several other issues. From the outset, the article defines SNAP as a “$74 billion food stamp program,” which makes the program sound extremely large even though it actually comprises a relatively small piece of the $3.6 trillion federal dollars spent in 2011. Reporting incomprehensible raw numbers in this way is not informative, it’s a scare tactic, and The New York Times publicly committed in October 2013 to improving its reporting on exactly this issue.
Furthermore, by promoting the misleading premise that SNAP users are wasting tax dollars on junk food, the Times provided ammunition to political interests set on destroying the program. Right-wing media outlets have spent years demonizing SNAP and other food assistance programs based on the premise that these outlets know better than the recipients themselves what the latter should be eating. This misinformation campaign has already impacted public policy, spurring Republican lawmakers in several states and in Congress to pursue unnecessary restrictions that hurt working families.
Finally, buried in the eighth paragraph of the Times piece, the paper quotes a USDA spokesperson who points out that the question “Are we consuming too many sweetened beverages, period?” can be applied to “all households,” not just SNAP recipients.
Even after admitting 15 paragraphs down that “food stamp recipients and other households generally made similar purchases,” the Times pivoted back to claiming the data are “deeply troubling” to public health experts focused on the pervasiveness of a sugar-rich diet on obesity. The Times quoted obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig, who called for restrictions against using SNAP on food items “that are demonstrably going to undermine public health.” The article chose not to cite an April 2014 report by public health experts affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which found that childhood access to food stamps in their current form actually already contributes to “a significant reduction” in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes later in life.
If the Times wanted to tackle the problems created by the traditional American junk food diet, the paper could have followed the example set by comedian and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, whose excellent October 25, 2014, takedown of the sugar industry addressed the issue without targeting a single low-income family.
**CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this post questioned the Times' inclusion of New York University professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health Marion Nestle's claim that SNAP expenditures on soft drinks are "a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry." Media Matters cited a November 2016 USDA report which indicated that the amount of SNAP funds going toward soft drink purchases equaled $357.7 million, not billions of dollars. Dr. Nestle's office reached out following the publication of this piece to contend that if the $357.7 million figure in the USDA report, which was based off figures provided by a "leading grocery retailer" in 2011, was representative of nationwide SNAP use, total expenses on soft drinks would amount to roughly $3.8 billion annually. We have removed reference to Nestle's comments in response to her office's feedback.
With that said, Media Matters stands by its conclusion that the article poorly informed readers about the nutrition assistance program and may have misled readers into believing soft drink consumption levels among SNAP recipients are uniquely inflated by the program -- a conclusion shared by The New York Times' public editor, who argued that the article "didn't do much to advance the discussion."
Tweet Could Encourage "More Hostile Views Toward Government Programs To Assist Black People"
The Daily Caller included racial imagery in a story and accompanying link to a post entitled “Republicans Hint At Food Stamp Reform But Stop Short Of Calling For Overhaul” featuring an image of two black people holding “replicas of food stamps” in front of a Shepard Fairey-style poster of President Obama.
— The Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) December 7, 2016
TV One’s Roland Martin took on the racially offensive tweet, noting they tweeted a food stamp story and show “two Black people & Obama poster. I see y’all @TuckerCarlson!”
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) December 7, 2016
The Daily Caller has routinely used racially charged headlines such as “White man overruns indigenous peoples with superior technology,” which was later changed, and “Barack Obama, Wife Beater," used in a gallery of images of the President where a sleeveless shirt was visible underneath his shirt and tie.
Vox’s Dylan Matthews reported on the problematic use of racially charged imagery in stories about government programs by highlighting a book by Princeton professor Tali Mendelberg which found images associating black people with poverty led study participants to “express significantly more hostile views toward government programs to assist black people,” and specifically that “the effect on their expressed racial views was stronger than the effect on their expressed opinions on welfare.”
The Daily Caller is owned by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who was previously also the site’s Editor-in-Chief, a role he resigned in order to begin hosting Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News. Since the show’s debut three weeks ago Carlson has already used his prime-time platform to defend the racist past of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL) by attacking the “totally discredited” NAACP, claim that “the American Nazi Party and the KKK don't really exist in a meaningful [way],” and allow a guest to proclaim that “there is very little evidence of classic racism anymore.” Carlson has recently come under fire after lecturing The New York Times about tweets from Times reporters he deemed crossed the line while ignoring the hateful rhetoric coming from his own news outlet.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) new series of proposals -- released June 7 in a report commissioned by House Republicans titled “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” -- aims to restructure federal anti-poverty programs, but they heavily rely on myths commonly promoted by right-wing media outlets that mislead about poverty and shame the poor. On June 6, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released its own plan to reform and restructure anti-poverty programs in the United States, offering an example of what serious proposals look like when informed by serious economic research, rather than by right-wing media myths.
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The African-American and Latino communities were badly underrepresented in climate change discussions on the network Sunday shows last year, according to a new Media Matters analysis, despite being among those who are most vulnerable to climate impacts.
Of the 33 guests invited onto the major broadcast networks' Sunday news shows to discuss climate change last year, only 12 percent were non-white. The climate change conversations on the Sunday shows, which often set the media and political agenda for the week, included only two African-Americans, one Latino, and one Asian-American. This is a gross underrepresentation of the African-American and Latino communities in particular. African-Americans and Latinos made up 6 and 3 percent of the Sunday show guests who were asked about climate change, respectively. According to the most recent U.S. Census, African-Americans comprise 13.2 percent of the country's population and Latinos comprise 17.4 percent.
Moreover, two of the four non-white guests -- including the only Latino -- were Republican presidential candidates who are also climate science deniers: Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. In an April 19 interview on CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer allowed Rubio to question the "percentage" of climate change that is "due to human activity," failing to point out in response that the vast majority of climate scientists say human activities are the primary factor in climate change. And on the February 8 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Carson to respond to criticism from "some Democrats" that "there are some elements in the Republican Party, both candidates and voters, who deny science, whether it is vaccinations, or climate change or evolution." Carson did not address climate change in his response, and then Wallace moved on to a discussion of "politics."
The other African-American guest was American Meteorological Society president Marshall Shepherd, who was invited on Face the Nation on December 13 to discuss the landmark international climate agreement reached in December at a United Nations conference in Paris. The Asian-American guest was Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden, who appeared on a Fox News Sunday panel discussion of the Paris climate agreement, also on December 13.
Looking at the results by show, two of the four non-white guests -- Shepherd and Rubio -- appeared on CBS' Face the Nation, comprising one-third of Face the Nation's six total guests who were asked about climate change. The other two non-white guests, Carson and Tanden, appeared on Fox News Sunday, which hosted 18 total guests to discuss climate change in 2015. Neither ABC's This Week nor NBC's Meet the Press hosted a single non-white guest to discuss climate change in 2015.
The African-American and Latino communities were largely left out of the climate change discussion even though climate change affects them disproportionately. The NAACP has noted that African-Americans are particularly at risk from climate impacts such as rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths because they are more likely than whites to live in urban and coastal areas. New Hispanic immigrants are also more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to the National Climate Assessment, due to "[l]ow wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing."
Furthermore, minority communities have the most to gain from the shift away from dirty fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council found that low-income communities face disproportionate health impacts from fossil fuel pollution, and that shifting to low carbon energy sources can lessen these impacts. In 2014, a report from the NAACP found that nearly three-quarters of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. African-Americans are three times more likely than white Americans to die from asthma-related causes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Hispanic children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Hispanic whites.
This may help explain why African-Americans and Hispanics in the U.S. overwhelmingly support acting on climate change, according to multiple polls. And why prominent civil rights organizations have expressed support for the the Obama Administration's flagship climate policy, the Clean Power Plan -- including the NAACP, The League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Council of La Raza, and many more.
The lack of minority voices in the Sunday shows' climate coverage is in line with a broader lack of diversity on the Sunday shows that Media Matters has continued to observe. According to a new Media Matters study of diversity on the Sunday shows in 2015, the percentage of guests on the four network Sunday shows -- and CNN's State of the Union -- who were people of color ranged from 17 percent on Face the Nation to 25 percent on Meet the Press. And no more than a quarter of the guests on any of the Sunday shows were people of color in 2014, either.
Civil rights and environmental justice advocates have previously spoken out against the underrepresentation of communities of color in the media. Prominent advocates for the nation's Latino community have highlighted how the media's nearly complete lack of Latino representation ranges from the dearth of Latino voices and perspectives included in English-language news to the absence of substantive coverage of issues that matter most to Latinos.
As Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of the environmental justice organization Uprose, has explained to Media Matters, "understanding the intersectionality" between climate change and social justice is "really important. We can't pick, we can't choose. It all matters to us, all of these issues."
Yeampierre further wrote in The Guardian:
Those of us from low-income communities of color are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. US cities and towns that are predominantly made up of people of color are also home to a disproportionate share of the environmental burdens that are fueling the climate crisis and shortening our lives.
*This post has been updated to incorporate the newly-published study of diversity on Sunday shows in 2015.
Republican Legislators Around Country Are Pushing Restrictions That Mirror Fox News' "Food Stamp Surfer"
Fox News has spent years pushing the myth that food stamp recipients dine on steak and lobster with their meager food assistance benefits, leading to a string of Republican-sponsored bills attempting to bar recipients from buying certain "luxury food items," the latest of which comes out of the New York state Senate.
The Washington Post reported on February 23 that New York state Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-48) introduced a bill to restrict the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits -- commonly referred to as "food stamps" -- that closely resembled Republican proposals in Kansas and Missouri last year. The bill seeks to stop the purchase of "luxury food items," such as steak and lobster, with SNAP benefits. Ritchie claimed in a statement that the bill is intended to "protect taxpayers from abuse of a program that's intended to help those who have fallen on hard times." From The Washington Post:
If the bill introduced by Sen. Patty Ritchie passes, families participating in the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be restricted from purchasing "luxury food items" like steak and lobster.
The proposal falls in line with a decades-old conservative fear that people use government assistance to purchase high-end foods. A strikingly similar proposal popped up last year in Missouri ... and another was signed into law by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) in April.
"The goal of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is to help low-income consumers make wise and healthy food choices -- however in New York State, SNAP beneficiaries are able to use their taxpayer-funded EBT cards to purchase things like soda, candy, cake and other types of junk food and luxury items," the statement [from Sen. Ritchie's office] says, referring to electronic benefit transfer cards.
The state of New York already restricts SNAP benefits to unprepared foods -- prohibiting non-essential items including alcohol, cigarettes, pet food, and other non-food items -- but Ritchie's bill would go further, banning foods that are deemed "expensive." The Huffington Post, New York magazine, and others pointed out that the food stamp restriction is really meant to stop recipients from purchasing "steak and lobster" -- a mythical abuse of taxpayer dollars promoted by Fox News.
On August 9, 2013, Fox News aired an hour-long special titled "The Great Food Stamp Binge," highlighting a single Californian named Jason Greenslate, whom the network labeled "the new face of food stamps." During the special, Greenslate detailed his refusal to find gainful employment and discussed his purchases of sushi and lobster using his EBT card from the state. Fox distributed the special, which shamelessly misrepresented millions of struggling Americans who rely on nutritional assistance, to Republican members of Congress during heated budget debates, and the GOP responded by voting for massive cuts to SNAP.
Fox's shameless attempt to characterize SNAP recipients as freeloaders did not stop with the Republican-led budget cuts in 2013. In April 2014, Fox host Neil Cavuto and network legal analyst Andrew Napolitano hyped a single instance of fraud, a couple receiving SNAP benefits while living on a $1.2 million yacht, Napolitano implied the government "willy nilly gives this money away without verifying who's receiving it." In reality, SNAP achieved a historic low for waste and overpayment in 2012. In early 2015, Republican lawmakers in Kansas and Missouri introduced bills seemingly inspired by Fox News restricting how much money food stamp and welfare recipients could spend and what they could purchase, specifically prohibiting "steak, seafood, soda, cookies, chip[s], and energy drinks." In May 2015, during a House Committee on Agriculture hearing, Republican members of Congress pushed for additional SNAP cuts and restrictions by repeatedly referencing the "surfer out in California living on food stamps and eating lobster" as evidence of food stamp abuse.
Fox's narrative that millionaires are receiving benefits and surfer dudes are dining on lobster at taxpayer expense is directed at curbing access to food assistance for low-income Americans, and Republican elected officials continue to oblige. Republican leaders including Paul Ryan are attempting to refurbish their party's reputation on poverty, but they continue promoting policies based on right-wing media myths that actually harm the poor -- a fact not lost on the American public.
A February 18 editorial by the Las Vegas Review-Journal encouraged Nevada and other states to replicate Maine's food assistance program work requirements. But reports find the requirements could hurt many of the state's most vulnerable people.
New polling from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of Americans viewed the Republican Party as favoring the rich, compared to 26 percent who see Republicans as favoring the middle class, and 2 percent who see them as favoring the poor. This huge disparity in public perception of Republican policies is often lost on media outlets that fall for lofty GOP rhetoric claiming to care about low- and middle-income Americans.
A Media Matters study of network evening news found that the evening news has failed to report that 1 million low income Americans are at risk of having their food assistance benefits severely restricted following 22 states' reinstatement of work requirements as a condition of eligibility on January 1. While the cuts are aimed at able body adults with no dependents, experts agree these individuals are "very poor" and qualify for very few alternative means of assistance.
In his final State of the Union address on January 12, President Obama mentioned Speaker Paul Ryan's renewed interest in tackling poverty. Ryan's poverty focus was most recently in the spotlight a few days earlier at the January 9 Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity, which he co-hosted with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). But time and time again, Ryan's expressed commitment to alleviating poverty has turned out to be just rhetoric -- including proposals that would actually hurt Americans in poverty -- and media have let him get away with it.
Let's review: Ryan has repeatedly proposed drastic benefit cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would leave millions of Americans without the help they need to put food on the table for their families. Experts have slammed his past budget plans as gateways to creating "more poverty and less opportunity." His tax proposals would give more spending power to the wealthiest than they would the middle class and working poor. And his opposition to providing a living wage, affordable health care, and federal paid family leave to all Americans (except himself) flies in the face of expanding opportunity for parents and their children.
That hasn't kept the Beltway press from doting on Ryan's supposed anti-poverty plans, giving him and other right-wing political and media figures room for a fact-free, rhetoric-heavy, "populist" rebrand of the Republican Party just in time for 2016.
The Kemp Foundation's so-called "poverty forum" was filled with feel-good calls from Republican presidential hopefuls to "lift people up" and out of poverty, embrace Americans' right to "rise up," and exhortations about our country's "moral imperative" to create opportunity for all.
To American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, it was just the reboot conservatives needed in an election year where Republicans' commitment to American economic security is under heightened scrutiny.
Many in the media fell for this image reboot hook, line, and sinker. Soon after the five-hour event, headline after headline credited Speaker Ryan for bringing a "dose of Kemp optimism" to the 2016 cycle and turning the race toward "a forgotten issue." Others cast the congressman as a "star" for "deftly prodd[ing] GOP presidential candidates" on their plans.
But scratch beneath the glossy surface of Saturday's rosy, revivalist rhetoric and you'll find nothing but age-old right-wing media myths about the face of the American poor, along with supposed policy "solutions" that would throw millions of Americans back into poverty.
At the center of the forum was a portrait of America's poor that comes straight from the Fox News and Rush Limbaugh playbook -- a portrait that is completely unrepresentative of the actual realities of poverty in America today. Ryan, Scott, and the GOP candidates in attendance consistently conflated poverty with dependency, drug addiction, temptation to engage in criminal behavior, a lack of moral conviction, and an unwillingness to work.
These discussions echo the poor-shaming and vitriolic rhetoric that have become emblematic of right-wing media's discussion of the poor. Channeling countless Fox hosts' flawed assumptions that the poor are work-averse, the candidates called for more work requirements as a means to lift up those "who are completely dependent on government."
What these demonizing portrayals ignore, however, is the truth. The working poor, the elderly, and the disabled make up 91 percent of safety net and social insurance beneficiaries.
There was also no shortage of single-motherhood-shaming and fearmongering about out-of-wedlock births, especially from former Fox News employees and current presidential candidates former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and Ben Carson. Huckabee's Fox-honed habit of smearing unwed mothers reared its head as he promoted marriage as a key to eradicating poverty, despite the fact that there are more married parents living in poverty than never-married parents.
No questions were asked -- even from MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, who interviewed the event moderators and organizers -- about what candidates would do about marital poverty.
In addition to irresponsibly misrepresenting the poor, the summit's participants also dangerously distorted the impact of programs created during the "War on Poverty."
Despite their presidential aspirations, many of the candidates rejected the idea that the federal government should play an active role in alleviating poverty in America. Some, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, falsely suggested that these programs -- which have actually kept millions out of poverty -- have only given Americans "the choice of earning more money on the couch than getting a job." This off-hand dismissal of federal programs' success has also been a go-to tactic among right-wing media for years.
In reality, the social safety net has lifted millions of people out of poverty. In 2014, Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP, and federal housing subsidies together protected more than 40 million Americans from poverty. But that didn't keep many speakers at the Kemp Forum from unfairly labeling such programs -- including SNAP and other nutritional assistance programs -- as failures.
The candidates also uniformly opposed raising the federal minimum wage, despite consistently demanding that more well-paying jobs be created. This counterintuitive stance is based on easily debunked fearmongering -- straight from the right-wing media noise machine -- that raising the minimum wage would kill jobs. In fact, study after study has shown that raising minimum wages has a positive or neutral impact on the job market and employment overall.
The evidence is clear that Speaker Ryan and his conservative colleagues haven't changed their positions on poverty -- they are simply rebranding tired and ineffective policies in an effort to convince voters that their party "cares" about the poor.
Media planning to give this effort more airtime should remember that the right's new talking points on this issue are only part of the story. They must also look at the reality of their policies -- which history has shown would turn the War on Poverty into a war on the poor.
On January 9, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will host a presidential candidate forum in Columbia, South Carolina focused on poverty. As media outlets prepare to cover the event, will they remember that despite Ryan's gentler language, he has a history of promoting budget and fiscal policies that would harm Americans struggling with poverty?
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Fox Host Claimed Childhood Hunger Was "A Total Lie" And Attacked "Derelict" Parents For Living In Poverty
On the October 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly falsely claimed that childhood hunger in the United States is "a total lie" and blamed purportedly "derelict" parents for allowing their families to live in poverty, which he implied was a form of child abuse. When guest Kirsten Powers pushed back on O'Reilly's poor-shaming narrative, he challenged her to "produce one" example of a poor family struggling with hunger in the United States today, shouting "you can't." On October 8, TalkPoverty.org interviewed four mothers whose life stories fly in the face of O'Reilly's denial:
As Bill O'Reilly apparently does not know a single family straining to make ends meet, we did his homework for him and asked four mothers who have experienced hunger to tell us what they think about his comments:
Bill O'Reilly said show me hunger and I say, "Here I am." My children have lived through a lot of adverse situations; we have been homeless and have relied on shelters. Without food stamps, my children would starve. When is it okay for children to starve in this country? When is it okay to actively ignore starving children in your country? -- Asia Thompson, Pennsylvania
He hasn't experienced poverty but Bill O'Reilly should know that poverty can happen to anyone. When my twin sons were 9 months old, my husband lost his job and we had to go on WIC to feed our children. This program provided support and the food was one less thing we had to worry about. And as a Head Start teacher, I see firsthand how kids can't focus in school because they're so hungry. - Mary Janet Bryant, Kentucky
I used all of these programs for my children, and I am a success story like thousands of other parents. My oldest daughter is in her fourth year of college studying stem cell biology on her way to a PhD. I beg to differ with Bill O'Reilly's opinion, as he doesn't have firsthand experience with hunger and poverty. - Vivian Thorpe, California
I think it's easy to miss the signs of child poverty and hunger in our society because people often look better than they feel. I was less hungry as a kid because my family benefited from WIC, SNAP, and school lunch. I also graduated from high school, college, and graduate school. I have worked hard for 25 years in the TV business and I am the social safety net for my family now. To my way of thinking, Bill O'Reilly is seeing the emperor in a fine new suit of gold-threaded clothes but that emperor is naked. - Sherry Brennan, California