How Fox News Misleads Its Viewers

John Stossel's revisionist history of the Great Depression.

Last week, John Stossel gave a master class in how Fox News keeps its viewers misled and misinformed on economic issues, concluding with the bombshell "fact" that "think about the Depression. That was before there was any welfare state at all. How many people starved? No one."

Whoa, really? No, actually.

President Herbert Hoover declared, "Nobody is actually starving. The hoboes are better fed than they have ever been." But in New York City in 1931, there were 20 known cases of starvation; in 1934, there were 110 deaths caused by hunger. There were so many accounts of people starving in New York that the West African nation of Cameroon sent $3.77 in relief.

Also, breadlines. Also, an increase in the suicide rate. But before Stossel even got to that claim, he'd unleashed quite the load of right-wing economic messaging disguised as homespun folksy common sense.

The starting problem was the national debt, of course. Stossel opened with a man-on-the-street segment asking "what would you cut?" The people (all women, coincidentally or not) he showed attempting to answer were stumped. But of course the question needed to be challenged. What would I cut? I'd cut tax expenditures that favor the wealthy, but most people don't yet understand that exclusions from taxable income, itemized deductions, preferential tax rates on capital gains and dividends, and tax credits could be counted as government expenditures that could be cut as opposed to the dread "raising taxes." But even that aside, I'd also just plain raise revenue. That's not an option that exists in Stosselville. No, Stossel would start by cutting "whole departments. Why do we have a Commerce Department? Commerce. Just Happens. Agriculture, farmers do that, you don't need bureaucrats." One of the women on the street said don't cut education? Pshaw! "Almost all [education] has been done at the local level. Now they spend at the federal level almost $100 billion a year, scores haven't improved."

Let's look at that. The Commerce Department includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. You like knowing there's a hurricane coming? That's the Commerce Department, not that John Stossel wants you to know that. Agriculture? Well, if you like to know that the meat you eat has been inspected, that's the USDA. Also, too, food stamps and nutritional assistance for low-income mothers and their children. Not that Stossel probably approves of poor children being fed. And education? That number includes things like Head Start, school breakfast and lunch for low-income kids, Pell Grants, and more. Do you want to join Stossel in waving that all off as stuff that the federal government doesn't need to be doing because education can happen at the local level? Well, your answer doesn't really matter, because if you're getting your information from Stossel, you don't even know about all that.

Wait, though! Before Stossel even got to those cuts, he unleashed a version of the federal budget as family budget that we've all seen our conservative family and friends smugly post on Facebook. And oh, wow, the U.S. has debt and no family in the history of ever had any debt without it being because they were irresponsible deadbeats. There is absolutely no such thing as investing in your family's future through a mortgage or educational loan or small business loan, is there? Not according to John Stossel, there isn't.

Then there are the government benefits. Astonishingly, John Stossel found out he is eligible for 55 government benefits for things like being a stutterer. Even though he has a job and health insurance and is "doing well in life." Except, sort of in a parenthetical aside he admits that "I don't know that I would get all of them ... but according to this website I could try and I'm in the game, I bet I could get some." Because people, those soft-hearted, soft-headed people, think the government should be helping people. And that brings us back around to the end, with the zero people who starved in the Depression, back when the government didn't help anyone and it made us all stronger or something. Except the people who actually did starve, or committed suicide, or survived only by standing on breadlines getting help fromsomeone, even if it wasn't the federal government in the early days of the Depression, before Herbert Hoover and his view that the hoboes were really well fed were resoundingly kicked out of office.

Laura Clawson is the Labor editor at Daily Kos Labor, and a contributing editor at Daily Kos.