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Fox News "Food Stamps Special" Blames Victims, Ignores Hunger
“Tour de Force of Half-Truths, Distortions, and Outright Lies” and
“Broadcast Could Win the Pulitzer Prize … for Fiction,”
Says Advocate, Featured in Show
Point-by-Point Rebuttal Demonstrates Fox Fakery
The statement below is from Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, in response to an hour-long Fox News special which aired Friday, August 9th,“The Great Food Stamp Binge," in which he appeared. Berg’s statement is followed by a point-by-point factual rebuttal of the broadcast (which used the older term “food stamps” to refer to the federal program now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or “SNAP”).
“Once again, Fox News is blaming the victim, claiming that low-income families – who are victims of the continued collapse in the U.S economy and the failure of the U.S. political system to fix it – are somehow to blame because they need temporary help from SNAP benefits to feed their families. That’s like blaming those who drowned on the Titanic for the ship’s faulty design and reckless piloting. Ignoring the fact that most SNAP participants are working, or are senior citizens, children, people with disabilities, and veterans, the show repeatedly gives the false impression that the program encourages laziness instead of work. Even though there are 47 million Americans now receiving SNAP benefits, the show focuses on one individual – yes, one – who abuses the system.
Predictably, Fox all-but-ignored the issue of hunger in America, and refused to report the massive evidence supporting the main reason that SNAP rolls grew under both PresidentsBush and Obama: the economy was – and is – weak. The show did not so much asinterview a more typical hungry family, nor did it visit one of the nation’s tens of thousands of food pantries or soup kitchens, most of which are faith-based, and where they would have seen long lines of families desperately in need of government help because charities are not able to provide enough food to meet growing demand.
As our point-by-point rebuttal proves, the Fox show is a tour de force of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies. In fact, were it not for the half-truths, the report would have no truths at all.
Only two SNAP supporters, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and I, were included in the broadcast, and each of us was only given brief moments to make our case out of an hour-long show.
Even though I sat down with Fox’s Bret Baier for more than an hour, and refuted each of his accusations with hard facts, the show included virtually none of my rebuttals. They pointedly cut off one of my quotes before I mentioned that host Bret Baier attended a university at which the majority of students received student aid and that Fox News President Roger Ailes graduated from a state-run university, thereby making the pointthat most Americans, including the leadership of Fox News, were dependent upon government at some key points in their lives. The report characterized me as “one of America’s most energetic proponents of food stamps.” That may be true, but theypurposely failed to include the parts of my interview in which I repeatedly said that I supported decreasing the need for SNAP benefits by creating jobs and raising wages.
On July 17, Fox News contacted me for a follow-up interview to answer their remaining questions. I enthusiastically and immediately responded that I would very much like to provide this second interview in order to correct inaccuracies about SNAP they hadrecently broadcast on other shows. They never contacted me again to schedule the interview.
All-in-all, the spurious guilt-by-association in this report is the worst sort of anti-poor people McCarthyism. This show was about as fair as a North Korean propaganda film and about as balanced as a fight between a sumo wrestler and a mouse. They may win a Pulitzer Prize, but it would be for fiction.”
Point-By-Point Rebuttal to Fox News Special, “The Great Food Stamp Binge”:
Fox News claim: SNAP participation doubled from 2008 to today.
The Facts: Participation did rise in those years due to the weak economy – from 28 million to 47 million participants – but that increase is far short of “double.”
Fox News claim: The broadcast implied that Obama was President in 2008 when the SNAProlls, which had previously been increasing steadily under President Bush, truly started to soar.
The Facts: George W. Bush was President for all of 2008, and for 20 days of 2009, when theSNAP rolls began to soar due to the collapsed economy.
Fox News claim: Republicans pushed for a Farm Bill without a nutrition title in order to reduce spending.
The Facts: The broadcast failed to report that Farm Bill that did pass the House was a veritable festival of deficit-busting corporate welfare. Said Chris Chocola, President of the conservative Club for Growth about the bill: “It’s hard to understand how anyone in the House who calls himself a conservative could support this…With the federal debt and deficit we have, to be subsidizing millionaire farmers makes absolutely no sense.”
Fox News claim: The report implied that SNAP was fraud-ridden and that the main reason for increasing caseloads was that President Obama had supposedly loosened application rules.
The Facts: Fraud in the program is only about one percent of all money spent and the main reason for increasing caseloads was the poor economy. See http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/snap-rolls-theyre-elevated-for-a-reason/ and http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/economic-intelligence/2013/05/16/facts-show-food-stamp-program-has-a-strong-record-of-efficienty.
Fox News claim: The broadcast implied that the sole SNAP recipient in the broadcast, Jason, was somehow representative of all 47 million Americans who use the program.
The Facts: As Media Matters has documented, Jason is wildly uncharacteristic of SNAPparticipants: http://mediamatters.org/blog/2013/08/09/foxs-shameless-misrepresentation-of-snap-recipi/195338. As Joel Berg argued in an e-mail to Fox months before the broadcast aired,“Is it fair and balanced for you guys to focus on one extreme case out of tens of millions of people in the SNAP program and use that one case to imply broad criminality in the program? I don’t think that’s fair, any more that it would be fair to imply that every Fox News employee is a criminal merely because some top execs of News Corps have been arrested for felonies.” Berg repeated this assertion in his on-camera interview, but of course, they failed to include it on-air.
Fox News Claim: Discussing Jason, the unemployed rock musician that was the sole SNAP recipient in the broadcast, the show quoted a conservative pundit saying, “Jason has cousins in every town in America.”
The Facts: Jason’s story itself is highly suspicious since Fox never indicated how Jason pays for rent, utilities, clothing, guitars, etc., none of which can be purchased with SNAP. Fox implied that SNAP was Jason’s only source of support, but that seems improbable. But even if Jason’s story is entirely true, Fox produced not a shred of evidence that cases such as his are common, or that people like him exist in “every town in America.” In fact, as noted above, the facts provethat Jason is very dissimilar from the vast majority of SNAP recipients.
Fox News claim: The report claimed that the main reason eligible people don’t obtain SNAP benefits is that they purposely “refuse” to apply because they don’t want government help.
The Facts: Numerous studies prove that the main reasons that eligible people don’t apply are barriers to access such as: long wait times at government offices, often requiring that they take time off work to apply; massive application and reporting paperwork; and low benefits levels.Many others don’t apply because they falsely believe they are ineligible because they are working or because they are senior citizens. Few Americans purposely “refuse” to accept government Social Security or Medicare benefits when they are eligible and allowed to apply. Even the vast majority of the most conservative “Tea Party” libertarians obtain such benefits when they are eligible to do so. Likewise, the majority of low-income people do want to access SNAP benefits once they learn they are eligible for such help to supplement their work incomes,so they can better feed their families.
Fox News claim: The show implied the only reason that the Food Stamps Program switched from paper stamps to electronic cards was to reduce stigma.
The Facts: When the program switched from paper to electronic cards, not only did it reduce stigma, but it also reduced fraud and cut down on administrative expenses of the government.
Fox News Claim: The main reason SNAP participation increased in Ashe County, NorthCarolina was that people were told they could use their benefits for seeds.
The Facts: The main reason that participation increased in that county, as it did in most of the country, was the poor shape of the economy. The broadcast failed to report that the ObamaAdministration actually predicts lower SNAP participation in the future as the economy continues to recover, due to the counter-cyclical nature of the program, meaning participation increases when the economy suffers and decreases as it improves.
Fox News Claim: The broadcast claimed that, due to increased SNAP participation, mills andrestaurants in Ashe County, North Carolina are unable to find people willing to work to fillempty jobs.
The Facts: The April 2013 unemployment rate in Ashe County, which measures only people actively looking for work, was 11.0 percent, which is far higher than the national average.
Fox News Claim: The modern Food Stamp Program was created by President Lyndon Johnson.
The Facts: Congress authorized the modern Food Stamp Program under President Dwight D.Eisenhower and the program was then implemented by President John F. Kennedy. It wasexpanded under President Richard Nixon, and was later further bolstered with strong support from certain conservative Republicans like then-Senator Robert Dole, from Kansas. Fox purposely tried to associate the program with one of modern history’s most famous liberals, ignoring the roles of both the centrist Democrat Kennedy and Republicans like Nixon and Dole.
Fox News claim: The poverty rate decreased faster before the War on Poverty, than after it.
The Facts: The federal government only started measuring poverty in 1959. Given that PresidentKennedy instituted some key anti-poverty initatives as early as 1961, it is impossible to measurewhether poverty increased or decreased before the War on Poverty.
Fox News Claim: The broadcast implied that the War on Poverty was a failure.
The Facts: President Kennedy initiated some anti-poverty measures from 1961 to 1963. Poverty efforts were later expanded under President Johnson from 1963 to 1969, and were further bolstered or continued by President Nixon until 1973. Between 1960 and 1973, the poverty ratein America was cut in half, with 16 million Americans leaving poverty and entering the middle class. The War on Poverty was actually a huge success before the nation stopped fighting it.
Fox News Claims: The broadcast claimed that their own Fox News poll showed that 57 percentof the public thinks that SNAP goes mostly to people “not truly in need.”
The Facts: Other polls have reported far more support for SNAP. A June 2012 poll by the mainstream publication, National Journal, found: “Asked what caused the (recent SNAP/food stamps) increase, 45 percent of respondents attributed the sharp rise to the recession and slow recovery, while only 12 percent chalked it up to loose eligibility requirements or fraud.” A May 2013 poll conducted by Hart Research Associates, on behalf of the Food Research and Action Center, found that “seven in 10 voters say that cutting food stamp funding is the wrong way to reduce government spending.”
Fox News Claim: USDA’s own research proves that SNAP benefits increase obesity.
The Facts: A wide variety of studies by USDA and by non-governmental entities have found conflicting evidence as to whether SNAP decreases, increases, or has no impact at all on obesity.
Nine Other Key Facts Provided to Fox But Which They Failed to Include in Their Show
#1: Hungry families may be your neighbors. While many equate hunger with homelessness,the vast majority of hungry Americans aren’t homeless; they just earn too little money to afford all the nutritious food they need. Hungry families live in urban and rural areas – and increasingly even in the suburbs. And most hungry families are white.
#2: Most hungry Americans are low-wage workers, children, senior citizens, or people with disabilities. USDA has found that, out of families with children suffering from food insecurity and hunger, 68 percent contained at least one adult working full-time, 10 percent had at least one adult working part-time, 7 percent had an unemployed adult actively looking for work, and 7 percent were headed by an adult with a disability. The main problem is low wages and few jobs, not laziness.
#3: One of the most effective ways to reduce U.S. hunger is to increase participation in federal feeding programs. SNAP, the National School Lunch Program, the National School Breakfast Program, the National Summer Food Service Program, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program all work quickly and effectively to get food to those who need it most.
#4: History proves that federal anti-hunger programs have worked spectacularly well. As late as the 1960s, teams of doctors were able to find pockets of third world-style hunger and malnutrition in America, which generated significant media reaction and political attention at the time. In response, Presidents and Congresses worked together in a bipartisan fashion to expand the Food Stamp Program and federal summer meals programs for children from relatively small pilot projects into the large-scale programs we know today. They also created the National School Breakfast Program, as well as the WIC Program, which provides nutrition supplements to low-income pregnant woman and their small children. These expansions succeeded remarkably in achieving their main goal: ending starvation conditions in America. In 1979, when investigators returned to many of the same parts of the U.S. in which they had previously found high rates of hunger and even starvation, they found dramatic reductions in hunger and malnutrition, concluding: "This change does not appear to be due to an overall improvement in living standards or to a decrease in joblessness in these areas...The Food Stamp Program, the nutritional components of Head Start, school lunch and breakfast programs, and...WIC have made the difference."
# 5: SNAP prevents serious hunger for tens of millions of American families and boosts the economy. SNAP provides vouchers – available electronically on cards similar to bank credit or debit cards – that enable low-income families to shop for the food they need at private grocery stores and markets. Because SNAP creates U.S. jobs for those who grow, pick, process, manufacture, ship, warehouse, wholesale, and retail food, every dollar spent on the program generates $1.84 in U.S. economic activity.
#6: Most of the people who receive SNAP are children, seniors, working parents, and people with disabilities. About half of all SNAP participants are children and nearly 10 percent are seniors. Most of the rest are working parents and people with disabilities. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for benefits and even many legal immigrants, including many with full-time jobs, are also ineligible.
#7: SNAP benefits that are illegally sold constitute only about one percent of all SNAP benefit dollars, proving that there is less fraud in SNAP than in most big businesses, nonprofit groups, or defense contracts. Due to increased oversight and improvements to program management by USDA, the illegal trafficking of benefits has fallen significantly over the last two decades, from about four cents on the dollar in 1993 to about one cent today.
#8: According to USDA, in 201, 50 million Americans, including nearly 17 million children, lived in households that couldn’t afford enough food. That means that one in six Americans – and one in five of the country’s children – lived in homes that directly face, or lived at the brink of, hunger in 2011.
#9: Despite increasing SNAP participation, many Americans that are eligible for benefits still don’t get them, and eligible working families have the lowest participation rates. In 2010, a quarter of eligible households, and a third of eligible working households, did not receive the SNAP benefits to which they were entitled. There many reasons that eligible people do not apply for – or ultimately enroll in – the program, including: misconceptions about whether they can get SNAP and how much in benefits they can obtain; lack of time to travel to a government office, wait in line, participate in an interview that often feels like an interrogation, and submit a large amount of documents; and stigma, fear, and embarrassment.