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Right-Wing Media Smear Student Loan Relief With Deception And Distortion

Since President Joe Biden announced his administration’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for low-income and middle-class Americans, conservative media figures have launched a full-throated attack against loan forgiveness.

On Wednesday, the Department of Education released a statement that laid out its plan to relieve debt for both undergraduate and graduate borrowers. Americans annually making $125,000 or less or living in a joint household with an annual income of $250,000 or less are eligible to have $10,000 of federal student loan debt forgiven. Individuals who received the Pell Grant, which provides federal aid to low-income students, are eligible to have an additional $10,000 of student debt canceled. The Education Department also extended its pause on student loan repayment through December 31 and proposed that monthly repayments be capped at 5% of a borrower’s monthly income.

The amount of student debt in the United States has doubled in the last decade, and roughly one in five Americans have student loans. These loans represent drastic economic setbacks for borrowers as one of the greatest contributors to household debt. Over time, the overbearing stress associated with debt can also lead to negative psychological outcomes. On a wider scale, outstanding student loans can reduce consumer spending and diminish business growth. Canceling student debt aims to lessen these consequences and reduce wealth disparities among vulnerable populations most likely to borrow money for school such as nonwhite and first-generation students.

Despite these benefits, right-wing media figures have flooded online spaces and cable news with bad-faith takes and misleading commentary on student debt forgiveness. In reality, the cancellation of student debt marks a significant step toward closing wealth gaps and improving the lives of millions.

Right-wing claim: Loan forgiveness favors the rich

Reality: Most of the student aid relief will benefit those earning less than $75,000. The Biden administration’s plan to cancel student debt is targeted to assist largely low- and middle-income Americans struggling with debt. According to the Department of Education, “Among borrowers who are no longer in school, nearly 90% of relief dollars will go to those earning less than $75,000 a year.”

  • On Fox’s Outnumbered, former Trump White House press secretary and current Fox host Kayleigh McEnany said, “Make no mistake: This is a handout to the rich.”
  • Fox anchor Sandra Smith suggested that low-income Americans “are going to be on the hook” for the student debt of the upper class.
  • During the August 24 edition of The Five, Fox host Jesse Watters mocked loan forgiveness, saying, “I want to congratulate all the rich whites with graduate degrees who live on the coasts and are making six figures.” He also called Biden’s plan “reverse class warfare,” adding, “It's like you rob the poor to pay the rich.”
  • On Hannity, guest host Pete Hegseth and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) both framed debt cancellation as a “wealth transfer” that benefits the rich at the expense of middle America.

Right-wing claim: Inflation will be made worse by loan forgiveness

Reality: Any inflation caused by loan forgiveness is expected to be minimal and will be offset when debt payments resume in January. Right-wing media are largely reliant on a blog post for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), which argues that Biden’s decision will worsen inflation. According to the Roosevelt Institute, the CRFB purposefully distorted its deficit analysis, and the results actually indicate that any inflation from debt cancellation is not only minimal, but will be offset by payments restarting in January 2023.

Student debt cancellation is also more likely to allow recipients to either pay other debts or build savings, rather than increase spending. This will not impact inflation, but improve the immediate and future financial security of millions of Americans. This will allow longer-term benefits for the economy, as those individuals will be able to buy a house, have children, or start their own business.

  • During a panel on The Faulkner Focus, guest anchor Sandra Smith asked Fox News contributor Richard Fowler, “Doesn't this effort to forgive or cancel this student loan debt, doesn't it sort of undermine Congress' efforts to try to bring down inflation? Won't this government spending just lead to more high prices?”
  • Fox News contributor Brian Brenberg claimed that inflation reduction is “gone,” adding, “It wasn't true in the first place and it’s gone three times over now. So if you are one of those senators who made a deal because you wanted to promise the American people we will get some deficit reduction, guess what? You got run over by a truck. It was called student loan relief.”
  • Right-wing outlet Just the News published an article titled “Biden student loan plan expected to worsen inflation, benefit higher-income earners,” citing the flawed CRFB analysis.

Right-wing claim: Loan forgiveness is unfair to those without student debt

Reality: Forgiving student loans for those currently saddled with excessive debt is a small step in addressing a dire problem faced by millions — not a slap in the face to those who did not take out loans or already paid them back. As a column for the Los Angeles Times argues:

The truth, of course, is that in a healthy society government policy moves ahead by taking note of existing inequities and striving to address them. Following the implications of the “I paid, why shouldn’t you” camp to their natural conclusion means that we wouldn’t have Social Security, Medicare or the Affordable Care Act today.

Those programs were all designed to relieve Americans of what Franklin Roosevelt called “the hazards and vicissitudes of life.” Is it really sensible to say that we shouldn’t have them because before their enactment seniors were left to starve and suffer illness without assistance, and some families needed to buy health coverage in an individual market that was closed to those with medical conditions or grotesquely overpriced?

  • On America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Brian Brenberg rhetorically asked the anchors, “Why did you pay off your loans? How foolish are you to be responsible like this? This is the thing that sticks in your stomach, right? There is so much rank injustice here. If you paid off your loans, you are feeling like a fool.”
  • On Twitter, right-wing political commentator Matt Walsh claimed, “There is no such thing as student loan forgiveness. There is only student loan transferral, where the debt is transferred from the person who took out the loan to someone else who did not take out the loan.”
  • During America Reports, anchor John Roberts characterized loan forgiveness as something critics are calling “fundamentally unfair.” Fox contributor Joey Jones agreed, saying, “There is certainly a fairness element here that doesn’t pan out.” The network also displayed a tweet from Jones that read “I cannot believe I gave two legs for my tuition. What a dope I am,” alluding to Jones’ double leg amputation incurred during his service as a Marine.
  • On The Five, co-host Jeanine Pirro claimed, “My heart bleeds for the people who actually went out and paid for their loans, who went without things, whose families said, ‘I'm sorry, we can't afford your loans.’” She then revealed that her family paid for her education. “I didn't have to take out loans because they paid for them. But they worked hard for their money. This is a giveaway and it's disgusting.”
  • Fox contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier declared, “It took me about 10 years to pay off $300,000 worth of debt that I incurred through medical school,” before complaining that the plan to cancel student debt is “not fair, and it continues to widen that wage gap.”

Right-wing claim: Biden lacks the legal authority to cancel student debt

Reality: The Biden administration repeatedly outlined its ability to issue student loan forgiveness. In a document released by the Department of Education, officials argued that under the 2003 HEROES Act, the administration has the power “to waive or modify the rules on federal student loans during a presidentially declared national emergency, including the current pandemic.” Additionally, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice published a document that details the administration’s authority to cancel debt to alleviate financial hardship exacerbated by the pandemic.

  • On Fox’s The Five, co-host Jesse Watters deemed the cancellation of student debt “unconstitutional.” He also accused Biden of buying votes, saying, “You can’t raid the Treasury and cut checks to your favorite voters.” Watters asked, “Where did Biden get the power as the president to spend half a trillion dollars?”
  • During his Fox prime-time show, Watters claimed, “The president is just breaking the law and bribing voters and Congress doesn't care. … How is Joe raiding the Treasury behind Congress’ back and buying votes before an election not an abuse of power, not an obstruction of Congress?”
  • On Twitter, National Review senior political correspondent Jim Geraghty wrote, “The legal authority to do this just appeared out of nowhere magically!”
  • Fox host Laura Ingraham said that the loan forgiveness announcement adds “another example” to Biden’s “growing list of illegality.” A chyron during the segment read “Biden’s unconstitutional student loan scheme.”
  • Fox News contributor Karl Rove complained, “Where is the authority for the president to do this?”

Right-wing claim: Loan forgiveness will cost individual taxpayers an estimated $2,000 each

Reality: This is simply not how the U.S. tax system works. Conservative media are missing the context that the estimated figure is based on a report from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation that averages the estimated cost to taxpayers of all incomes over a decade. The report also notes that this figure “is not a perfect proxy for cost, however, given the U.S. tax code is progressive and tax burdens are not evenly distributed across households.” For low-income taxpayers, the report estimates the average cost will be much lower than right-wing media are suggesting: The estimated cost for those making $50,000 or less annually is $158.27, and the estimated cost for those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 is $866.87.

  • Fox Business correspondent Hillary Vaughn repeated the claim that loan forgiveness will amount to “about $2,000 per taxpayer,” citing the National Taxpayers Union Foundation without context.
  • Fox’s Jesse Watters claimed that loan forgiveness amounts to “a war on the working class,” stating, “This loan cancellation will cost the average taxpayer over two grand a year.” In actuality, the report referenced by Watters estimates the cost to taxpayers over the span of 10 years.
  • During an appearance on Fox & Friends, Fox Business contributor Dan Roccato also used the $2,000 figure, claiming, “One estimate I saw last night was about two grand or so for the average taxpayer over the life of this thing.”
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Fox News Lied About Critical Race Theory In 2021-- Over And Over Again

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Over the last year, conservatives spun “critical race theory” (CRT) into a key phrase in the national cultural and political landscape, marking a new battle in the unceasingculturewars. Right-wing media and hundreds of right-wing Facebook groups helped, using empty but dangerous and often racist rhetoric to depict CRT as a threat and energize the Republican base.

Critical race theory is a decades-old academic framework, typically taught in graduate-level courses, that explores how racism is structurally embedded in U.S. institutions. However, conservatives have co-opted the phrase to bash any discussion of systemic racism and racial justice efforts. In particular, right-wing activists have attacked curricula in K-12 classes, where critical race theory is not generally taught. Anti-CRT advocates instead push for children to be miseducated by a whitewashed version of history that ignores systemic racism and the culturally diverse history of the country, including contributions of Black people and other people of color. The push against CRT has also converged with anti-LGBTQ movements, with many of the same tactics used to attack LGBTQ inclusion and specifically target trans individuals.

Right-wing media’s manufactured hysteria about CRT has helped spawn bans on books and on teaching certain concepts in many states and school districts, undermining educational standards for American students. As of December, 29 states have introduced bills or taken other steps to limit how public school teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom, and 13 states have enacted such restrictions. This strategy is part of a long history of white backlash against racial justice movements in which right-wing media have gleefully led the way. Right-wing attacks on public education also dovetail with a larger conservative push to privatize K-12 schooling.

Republicans’ electoral strategy around CRT dates back to at least the 2012 election, when conservative media figure Andrew Breitbart tried to accuse then-President Barack Obama of embracing “anti-white” views by linking him with prominent critical race theory scholars. A decade later, GOP candidates in state and local elections in 2021 (sometimes successfully) embraced anti-CRT rhetoric to sow panic among their voter base and gain support for their campaigns. Hysteria over CRT has also triggered discord in school board meetings across the country, inspiring dozens of recall efforts and spurring anti-CRT figures to run for school board seats. In some cases, right-wing activists and parents have harassed and sent death threats to school board members and administrators, driving some to resign. Meanwhile, Fox News has already framed CRT as a “new hot-button issue” going into the 2022 midterm elections.

A feedback loop of astroturfing campaigns, cozy relationships between conservative activists and right-wing media, and online disinformation has spread lies that undermine public education and obscure the truth about structural racism in America.

Here are some examples by the numbers:

  • Fox News started its CRT narrative in the summer of 2020 and has been hammering it for nearly18 months. Fox News has hosted Chris Rufo, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and one of the primary drivers of the CRT panic, at least 52 times since July 2020. Rufo started ginning up controversy around critical race theory at the time of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. Earlier this year, he admitted that conservatives have opportunistically “appropriated” the CRT label for political purposes.
  • Fox News mentioned CRT over 3,900 times in 2021 — including at least 900 times in June alone.
  • Fox News mentioned CRT at least 260 times during the week of the 2021 election, October 31 to November 6.
  • Fox News has mentioned CRT over twice as much as MSNBC and CNN combined in 2021.

Here's How Fox News Turned CRT into a Boogeyman

critical race theory

Molly Butler / Media

  • Between March 1 and June 30, Fox News ran nearly 80 segments on anger over CRT in a single Virginia school district, amounting to 4 1/2 hours of airtime.
  • Fox News has also interviewed at least 15so-calledconcerned parents -- who are actually right-wing anti-CRT activists -- without identifying their political connections. These political operatives appeared on Fox shows at least 119 times in 2021 alone to talk about CRT.
  • Fox News filmed at least one choreographed campaign stop with a local right-wing anti-CRT politician, passing the segment off as a network correspondent meeting with regular people in a diner.
  • Anti-CRT group Moms for Liberty has appeared on or been favorably mentioned by right-wing media at least six times. Moms for Liberty's co-founder has attempted to derail desegregation efforts in a Florida school district, and the group recommends a book by a slavery sympathizer as a “helpful” text “when discussing the founding documents” of the U.S.
  • From June through October, right-wing network One America News (OAN) aired at least 15 attacks on local school boards nationwide related to CRT.
  • In the four days after the Justice Department announced it would offer assistance to local authorities aiding school board members who were facing increased threats due to the anti-CRT outcry, Fox News aired at least 60 segments on the news.
  • On its daytime programs from April 23 to April 30, Fox News ran at least 12 segments on a false claim that so-called woke administrators in Virginia were cutting advanced high school math classes as part of a confrontation over “controversial ideas surrounding equity and race.”
  • After Fox’s Tucker Carlson interviewed the founder of the anti-CRT group No Left Turn in Education, who has espoused blatantly toxic and bigoted views, the group’s Facebook page went from fewer than 200 followers to over 30,000 followers in just one day.
  • At least 116 Facebook groups specifically opposing CRT have amplified right-wing ideological agendas related to school policies and even organized protests at board meetings.
  • From the November 2020 election through May 17, nearly 90 percent of Facebook posts about CRT came from right-wing pages posting about U.S. political news.
Article reprinted with permission from Media Matters