This American Life's report on kids and disability claims riddled with factual errors

A couple weeks ago, I listened to Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America an interesting program on the supposed rise in disability claims produced by Planet Money and aired on This American Life (where I heard it). The program raised some interesting points about the inaccessibility of certain kinds of less-physical jobs to large numbers of people, but it also aired a lot of supposed facts about the way that parents and teachers conspired to create and perpetuate disability classifications for kids.

Many of the claims in the report are debatable, and many, many more and simply not true. A Media Matters report called This American Life Features Error-Riddled Story On Disability And Children systematically debunks many of the claims in the story, which NPR has modified slightly since posting online (though NPR and Ira Glass continue to stand behind the story).

FACT: Medical Evidence From Qualified Professionals Is Required To Determine Eligibility

Government Accountability Office: "Examiners Rely On A Combination Of Key Medical And Nonmedical Information Sources." A Government Accountability Office report found that disability determination services (DDS) examiners determined a child's medical eligibility for benefits based on a combination of school records and medical records, and that if medical records in particular were not available, they were able to order consultative exams to review medical evidence:

DDS examiners rely on a combination of key medical and nonmedical information sources -- such as medical records, effects of prescribed medications, school records, and teacher and parent assessments -- in determining a child's medical eligibility for benefits. Several DDS officials we interviewed said that when making a determination, they consider the totality of information related to the child's impairments, rather than one piece of information in isolation. Based on our case file review, we estimate that examiners generally cited four to five information sources as support for their decisions in fiscal year 2010 for the three most prevalent mental impairments.


If such evidence is not available or is inconclusive, DDS examiners may purchase a consultative exam to provide additional medical evidence and help them establish the severity of a child's impairment. [Government Accountability Office, 6/26/12]

The Media Matters report cites high-quality sources like the GAO throughout, and makes an excellent case for a general retraction of this report by NPR. I hope that they, and Glass, will reconsider their endorsement of this report.

This American Life Features Error-Riddled Story On Disability And Children (via Naked Capitalism)


      1. A lot of their writers are from ExiledOnline, a site where it was a good idea to add “NSFW” when you linked to it. I think that, along with the anti-corpratist agenda, is why they chose the name.

        The site’s actually SFW.

  1. I think its worth noting that the majority of the report was not on Children & Disability, but on disability and adults. I’d be curious to see fact checking on that part of the report.

    I’ve been a longtime planet money listener and have enjoyed the reporting. Mistakes like this cause me concern about what I’ve “learned” in the past, but I still hold the show in high regard.

    1. You should be wary of anything you “learned” from Planet Money.  The show is deeply conflicted as its main source of funding is Ally Bank (formerly GMAC, which took $17 billion from taxpayers in the tarp bailouts).  Planet Money toes the neoliberal line very strictly, and performs important propaganda work in that its audience, which is largely progressive, has more respect for the opinions expressed than they should.  Davidson and his ilk take lots of money from the industry they purport to report on, which is a complete conflict of interest and should subject them to harsh scrutiny and even censure from the honest journalistic community (a small and ever-diminishing group these days).

  2. There’s a great discussion going on under the linked article. Some good facts being shared.

    I think the story did a good job of doing what it intended to do, which is get people aware of how many people are on the program and whether this the best way for us to help them and help our economy.

    1. Actually, the show concluded with the bizarre claim that 

      “Kids should be encouraged to go to school. Kids should want to do well in school. Parents should want their kids to do well in school. Kids should be confident their parents can provide for them regardless of how they do in school. Kids should become more and more independent as they grow older and hopefully be able to support themselves at around age.The disability program stands in opposition to every one of these aims”

      This is nothing but very dangerous conservative BS.  SSI is a program that helps the absolutely most needy in America: poor families who have children with, in many cases, devastatingly serious and costly medical needs.  It is very difficult to qualify for the program, and it ultimately provides very little money to beneficiaries.  Attacking a program that helps *disabled children* and saying that it “stands in opposition” to any worthy goal is just about the lowest, most immoral position I can imagine.

      1. I think the piece had flaws; but I also think it raised some good points about whether this program is the best way to help people who are unemployed and may be capable of working less labor intensive jobs. I felt like they were saying, a part of the jobs picture that isn’t getting painted right now is this bit about disability and here’s some issues to discuss. That I felt it did well.

        1. The problem with the statement “whether this program is the best way to help people who are unemployed and may be capable of working less labor intensive jobs” is that low-wage jobs almost universally require quite a bit of physical effort.  There are almost no desk jobs available to people without a college education, and even those require skills that people with back or hand problems cannot do.  I listened to the piece, and it smacked of concern trolling by  those who want to see the SS disability programs reduced or eliminated, and who have no idea (and don’t really care) what would replace them.

        2. Chicle, thanks for the thoughtful reply.  My comment was directed to the program for children, however — which is the topic of the BB article and the MM article. The NPR program did a terrible job on that particular topic, which actually has nothing to do with “the best way to help people who are unemployed and may be capable of working less labor intensive jobs”  — unless you are saying that children should be working.  

      2. Well, I think they just worded that bit poorly, but I don’t believe they were trying to say that the disability program, “‘stands in opposition’ to any worthy goal,” merely that it stands in opposition to this particular set of goals. They’re saying that we can make it better by changing some of the incentives. And maybe they should have spent more time talking about all of the good that the program does, but saying that a program provides useful benefits does not mean that it can’t be criticized on other fronts.

        1. But their assertions with regard to SS disability for children were just plain wrong.  Did they lie?  I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter.  They performed shoddy research and stated many things that are simply not true.  And the fact that the program was underwritten by a private disability insurance company makes the shoddy research appear more as just plain lying than any kind of ignorant mistake.  Its just too convenient.  This is yellow journalism, plain and simple.  But its effective because they couch it in a fashion that liberal-minded folks will respond to.  Frankly, I am deeply insulted by the way they twisted facts to suit their narrative and manipulated the opinions of those who actually want these programs to exist.

      3.  I have a friend who is on disability.  She absolutely can work and lives in fear of making too much from the odd consulting job she gets because…you guessed it…no disability check.  So yes, this does exist.

        I also have a friend who probably wouldn’t survive without his disability check.  If he didn’t get the check, I’d give him the money.

        Every government program has its abusers but that doesn’t mean those programs shouldn’t be audited and claimants unverified.

        1. This BB article, the MediaMatters article, and my comment all relate to *children* on disability.  I am willing to concede that there is anecdotal evidence of some adults who get SSDI fraudulently.  But are you arguing that there are *children* who should are on disability but “can work?”   And if so, what type of work should they be doing?

          More importantly, are you aware of the lengthy process and yearly interrogations that families with kids on SSI already endure?  What makes you think that those audits and verifications are not sufficient?  What makes you think that even more verification and additional audits, on top of the ones that already exist, will uncover children who are defrauding the precious funds of the federal government?  Do you even have any evidence whatsoever of even one child who receives SSI but is not disabled?  

          The fact is: getting SSI for a kid is nothing like getting it for an adult, so all of these anecdotes about adults are totally irrelevant to the topic of the story.  

        2.  My dad was on federal disability for a massive back injury in the 1970s. He could work for weeks at a time and then be laid up for months, semi-randomly. He couldn’t take a job even when he could work because if he worked any paying straight job for someone, he could lose his disability and the next time he was laid up, he’d be out on the street. So, the system incentivized him to work off the books, hustle, etc. instead of getting a job (which he actually wanted to do) because of the repercussions.

  3. A good rule of thumb, I’ve found, is that if Media Matters is criticizing it, it is very possibly solid reporting.

    1. What?  Media Matters has a point by point takedown of the entire piece on SSI disability for children, based largely on information from well-respected GAO studies, and actual facts about how the program works.  I guess you don’t belong to the fact-based community if you think the errors in this case come from Media Matters and not the Planet Money staff that take their funding directly from private firms that stand to profit from a reduction/elimination of disability programs.  You and Bill O’Reilly dislike Media Matters.  You keep good company.

    2. Good rule of thumb: when you find yourself agreeing with Rush Limbaugh, maybe you should reconsider your position.

      1. Good rule of thumb: when you find yourself agreeing with Rush Limbaugh, maybe you should reconsider your position have a tall, frosty glass of drain cleaner.


  4. I listened to the This American Life episode and read the the written version on NPR. The Media Matters article reads more as a general defense of disability benefits for children than as a factual correction of the episode. Many of the supposed “Myths” and “factual errors” outlined by Media Matters were never actually stated in the episode, at least not expressly. 

    For instance: 

    MYTH: Disability Benefits Encourage Families Not To Work

    The episode DOES NOT claim that the benefits for children make the parents avoid work. It expresses the concern that the disability benefit system creates perverse incentives, meaning that low-income families can lose the benefit money that they rely heavily on if the children overcome their disability or improve dramatically in school. Even the excerpt from the show in the Media Matters article is directed to this issue!

    However, the Media Matters article does not address that claim. It instead cites research showing that disability benefits for children do not decrease parental employment. The article then states the following fact:

    FACT: Disability Benefits Incentivize Work

    As far as I can tell, almost all of the other myths listed in the Media Matters article are also bizarrely unrelated to claims actually made in the episode.

    1. Agreed.  They seem to be opposed on a philosophical angle and miss TAL’s general points.

      For instance they rebuke this “Children Who Only Perform Poorly In School Can Receive Benefits”.  They rebut with comments about how they must meet SSA standards and medical verification.  The show however never said that was the issue, the issue has always been that the standards that they have to meet are so broad and so easy that almost anyone could meet them.  Even high-blood pressure could be used as sufficient cause to go on disability for adults.

      1. After reading through the comments in the Media Matters article, it is apparent that other readers have identified similar failings. The article makes a number of valid points in defense of disability benefits for children generally, but it does not expose the This American Life episode as perpetuating myths or stating incorrect facts as it claims. Quite the opposite, the many mischaracterizations of the This American Life episode suggest that the Media Matters article is itself in need of fact checking. 

        Cory, I would suggest you caution your BB readers that the article you have linked to is rather suspect.

        1. I think Cory should retract this headline a lot more than I think TAL should retract the original story. The Media Matters piece is a clever little piece of misdirection, and while it does raise some interesting points in support of the disability system, I don’t see a single “factual error.”

          1. If you don’t see a single factual error you didn’t read the MM article.  As I pointed out elsewhere, one example is this bald-faced lie: “”When you are a kid, a disability can be *anything* that prevents you from progressing in school.”

            That lie alone justifies the BB headline.

      2. The show explicitly stated that “When you are a kid, a disability can be anything that prevents you from progressing in school.”  That statement is a flat-out lie.  

        1. It is certainly a vague and poorly worded statement. However, that statement is characterized in the article in the following manner:

          MYTH: Children Who Only Perform Poorly In School Can Receive Benefits

          The episode does not state that merely performing poorly in school entitles children to benefits. It states that anything that prevents a child from progressing (which I read to mean doing well academically), entitles children to benefits. Those are two separate things. 

          The This American Life episode is saying that there has to be something that causes the poor performance. Poor performance alone is not sufficient.

          I’m not attesting to the accuracy of the This American Life Episode. I’m just saying that the Media Matters article is problematic.

          1. That statement is a lie.  To characterize it as “vague and poorly misworded” is ridiculous.  It is a simply not true, in any sense, that “When you are a kid, a disability can be *anything* that prevents you from progressing in school.”  For instance, this statement — and your response — would indicate that a kid who performs poorly at school because of truancy or child abuse would qualify as “disabled.”  That’s not the case.

            I heard the NPR story when it aired, and I thought the reporter was just remarkably uninformed.  This is one example of where she just made shit up.  She thought it made sense that since adult disability is determined based on whether you can work, childhood disability must be determined based on how well you do at school.  The problem is, that statement — which is completely unsourced in her report — is totally wrong.  Childhood disability is determined based on physical, medical criteria.  You don’t even need to have a learning disorder to qualify. 

            The point of SSI for children is totally different than the point for adults — for children, it is about helping families who (a) have little money and (b) have a child with a “severe”  medical impairment.  I don’t know why NPR is against helping those people, and it dismays me that they are convincing other people to question the program too.

          2. As I said, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the TAL story. I have no expertise in this area and therefore no idea whether the statement is or is not a lie, but I can conclude, on its face, that it is vague and poorly worded. I don’t think that is a “ridiculous” characterization as you say.

            My point is simply that many of the criticisms on the Media Matters site do not correspond with statements actually made in the TAL story. That, in my view, raises concerns.

            Your criticism of the reporting in TAL may be valid, but it is NOT the criticism specifically made by Media Matters.

          3. @Martin, basically the statement is “vague and poorly worded” in exactly the same way that “Obama is not a citizen” is vague and poorly worded.  Or “1+1=3.”  Vague and poorly worded.  Or, as I like to call it: wrong.

          4. @dan7000, you’re argument is nothing more than misdirection. You’ve failed to in any way address the main point of my initial comment. What’s worse, you’ve resorted to what are effectively ad hominen attacks, drawing comparisons to ignorant “birthers” and the mathematically illiterate.

          5. @Martin:twitter , are you seriously maintaining that it is a true statement that you can get SSI for a kid for “*anything* that prevents you from progressing in school.” I think I did address this issue — repeatedly.  And I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to compare believing that statement is true to believing Obama is not a citizen – both are totally contrary to the facts.  

        2. I’m not sure that’s not how some states interpret federal guidelines. My state allows parents to pull their kids out of public school and gives them a stipend for a charter school if a child is classified as disable. So certain state lawmakers (::cough:: ::cough:: Republican but not always) have reason to make that classification as broad as possible.

          My son has a slight speech impediment. When our public school signed him up for speech therapy, we had to sign a waiver saying we wanted to keep him in his school. So, because he could say his r’s, he was considered by the state as disabled.

          1. I think you are referring to IDEA which involves identifying children in need of educational help, and is totally separate from SSI.

            Also, if your state is pushing kids out of public schools based on disability, they are breaking a number of federal laws.  You should contact a special education lawyer in your community.

            Finally, charter schools cannot charge for admission.  So if they are giving stipends to attend a charter school, there is something else fishy going on.

          2. Shoot… you’re going to make me do actual research.

            The program in my state I was referring to is a scholarship to a private school. So, one point for you on the charter school issue.

            However, my state uses the Social Security administration for disable which is as follows:

            Social Security has a strict definition of disability for children under the SSI program. A child under age 18 is disabled if he or she:

            •Is not working at a job that we consider to be substantial work; and

            •Has a physical or mental condition (or a combination of conditions) that results in “marked and severe functional limitations.”  This means that the condition(s) very seriously limits his or her activities; and

            •The condition(s) has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 1 year or is expected to result in death.


            So, is “When you are a kid, a disability can be anything that prevents you from progressing in school” a “flat-out lie” or just an over-simplified, but accurate statement?

          3. Special ed track is not the same as disabled. If you had a genuinely disabled child, you would already know that.  

            Speech therapy is not, in any measure, enough to qualify you or your child for federal disability benefits.  Don’t believe me, just go try to file and see how fast you get shut down.  

            You may be confused because the school system does get some extra money to help defray the cost of special ed, but that funding to schools is not the subject of any of the articles mentioned here. 

          4. Uh, no. I signed a waiver for a disability scholarship to a private school because of the speech impediment. It was not special ed.

            And funny thing is, I can hire plenty of lawyers to sue for SSI benefits for speech disorders.

            Here’s one…


            The reality is that I doubt saying “r’s” would classify him as “marked and severe functional limitations” and it definitely hasn’t kept him from progressing. But what would keep a parent from finding a doctor to diagnose ADHD if they want to send him or her to a private school?  

          1. Yeah, thanks for the link.  I’m sure that you noticed that in order to qualify under this classification, you have to establish that (a) the child has a medically documented history of persistent impairment; and (b) the child has a fine motor (for infants) or cognitive (for other kids) functioning at no more than *half* his or her age level. 
            In other words, you only qualify as a 10-year old if your cognitive functioning is at the 5-year or less level.  I think most people would call that disabled.

            It’s funny that you pulled out #A.10, without mentioning that such a diagnosis is *not* sufficient, by itself, to get disability — you also need the qualification under section B.  It’s even funnier that you added, of your own initiative, the parenthetical “(e.g. ADD diagnosis).”  I assume you have some citation or experience to back up your claim that ADD is sufficient to get disability benefits?  In fact, if you read the guidelines, it’s not sufficient – you also have to have the cognitive functioning of no more than half your age.  

            If you search the web you will find numerous sites that explain that it is extremely difficult to get SSI for a kid who just has something like ADD — the ADD has to be so severe that it severely affects the child’s functioning.  

    2. I saw the same thing.  The “debunking” is bizarrely unrelated to the actual content of the NPR piece. The “myths” are not things that the segment actually said.  They discussed a perverse incentive for some kids not to work or do well in school, and the ambiguity that created in families- the “criticism” is about parental employment, which was not remotely mentioned in that context.  Similar fallacies of misdirection and non-sequiters riddle the Media Matters criticism. It’s as if Media Matters lacked basic reading comprehension.

      I did not take the TAL piece as in any sense a criticism of the basics of a social welfare system or of disability payments- but rather to be critical of an economic system that now provides few options for many citizens.  i.e. minimum wage with no health care, vs. disability and qualifying for medicare.  And the important point that states have an incentive to move people from welfare- which is on the state budget- to SS Disability- which comes from the Federal budget.  

      This criticism did not really call out factual errors, and is itself a patchwork of logical errors, misdirection, and failed comprehension- it did not deserve a link on Boing Boing.  

  5. The thing I walked away with from that episode is that states are committing a sort of welfare fraud by pushing people from state welfare onto federal disability, and hiring private companies to expedite the change.  That GOP run places like Missouri are doing this should be HUGE news.  

    1. I did not understand why NPR was saying that it’s bad to help disabled people apply for the benefits that they actually qualify for.

      Applying for disability benefits is extremely difficult. It requires high-level cognitive skills. It is not surprising that people who are too mentally ill to work are also too mentally ill to apply for disability. I know a number of people who have been unable to apply for disability because they are too disabled. It would be GREAT for my state to hire companies to help people apply for disability.

      NPR presents ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE that the people Missouri is helping apply for disability are not really disabled. And when people showed NPR that that the applicants ACTUALLY ARE DISABLED, NPR dishonestly
      pretended that it hadn’t implied that the states were committing fraud
      by helping people apply for disability.

      Like Tim H, I picked up the fact that NPR was insinuating — without saying — that the applicants aren’t really disabled. Now they want to pretend their reporting is accurate because they didn’t directly say that the applicants aren’t disabled. Sorry, NPR. When you strongly insinuate something that’s false, your reporting is misleading.

  6. Here in America, we have this ideological aversion to a “welfare state” that results in our having to declare someone permanently unable to work before we can give them the basic support necessary to keep them from rioting in the streets and maintain social order.  It would be better for all of us if the government could give a lot of these people support without medicalizing it and permanently removing them from the workforce.

  7. The largest of factual errors in the piece that I don’t think that media matters picks up on is that the rises in disability can almost entirely be encapsulated within the demographic shift in the USA via the baby boom as well as the increase of women in the labor force. They nevery couched the phenomena of increasing disability insurance in the very real changes to the US population and workforce. More women in the workforce = more women who could get disability, more older people = more individuals elligible for disability.

  8. “Riddled With Factual Errors?”

    The Media Matters report doesn’t actually show that. The title’s assertion is unsupported by its supposed supporting documents.

    But hey, lets not let facts get in the way of HEY EVERYBODY FREAK OUT THE MEDIA IS FULL OF LIES.

    1. Actually, the very premise of the show itself, that disability claims and rates of enrollment have ballooned massively over the past two decades (they claim something like a 7-fold increase) is just patently untrue.  The Media Matters piece has some charts that show the lie for what it is.  From 2000 through roughly 2010 disability enrollment rose from roughly 800,000 to 1.2 million.  And that rise is largely due to the massive financial crisis that has decimated the availability of jobs for those with disabilities.  In other words, many disabled Americans lost jobs they could perform and could not find new jobs that didn’t conflict with their disabilities, so they became new enrollees.  The NPR program painted a very different picture from this reality.

  9. So, we can call Ira Glass a liar now just as he did to Mike Daisey for getting the city wrong were Foxconn poisoned it’s workers and combining the stories of some workers as a narrative device. Fair is fair. 

  10. If you want a policy and data analysis critique of the TAL piece, please see Harold Pollack’s interview with the Washington Post (Pollack is a professor at the University of Chicago):

    The LA Times also has a really decent round-up of what was wrong with the TAL piece:,0,1163341.column

    1. I want to add this article to those, even though at first it appears unrelated: Ian Urbina, “As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester” (NYT, 3/31/13, p. A1).

      The reason I want to add it is that, coincidentally, the NY Times reporter also went to a town where a disproportionate number of people are on disability, and he found something that the Planet Money piece left out: a town whose major employer is non-union and refuses to even try to comply with OSHA safety regulations or even their chemical supplier’s recommendations, a company where everybody who works on the assembly line for more than two years ends up with substantial nerve damage to their spine and extremities from inhaling toxic solvents. They get away with it because the unemployment rate there is so high that there’s a steady stream of people who voluntarily sacrifice their mobility, for the rest of their lives, for two years’ worth of $9 per hour.

      One question that isn’t even vaguely addressed in the Planet Money hit-piece, one that doesn’t even come up, is, “Are we injuring more of our workers than we used to?” As assembly lines speed up, as production lines are told to do more with less, as OSHA has been further defunded every year by almost every administration since Reagan, as more and more work places lose the shop steward position that used to be in charge of preventing injuries, I think there’s every reason to think that the answer is “yes.”

      1. Wow. I read the NYT article and I have no words… I know our concern for workersʼ lives is terribly reflected in OSHAʼs lack of funding and power, but I donʼt like to think of the consequences.. Is there a fund to donate to for the victims with nerve damage? So they can eat and send their kids to college and all that?
        *deep breath*
        I was pretty unhappy with the TAL piece. Particularly the lies about children on SSI. Honestly it is hard for me to be objective here, because nearly every time the issues of disability fraud/overclaiming and perverse incentives (quite a real problem!) are raised, theyʼre used to undermine the entire system. I know several adults on SSI and claiming benefits is a months-long process, and not exactly within reach of your average adult with ADHD or tension headaches or whatever. Benefit cutoffs definitely seem to keep people out of work (especially with cyclical or unpredictable disabilities), but right now itʼs more an issue of there not being enough suitable jobs in the first place, and no healthcare outside the benefits system (unless you can find decent compensation).

  11.   As a caveat, I’ve not had a chance to listen to the TAL piece, so I can neither criticize nor comment, however, I might be able to add my own anecdotal experience from participation in the health care and mental health care ‘welfare’ system of my state.
      For starters, I’ve never heard anyone use the term welfare that wasn’t rich and on TV or radio.  In fact, I’ve never even seen the term in any documentation.  When people need assistance they are trying to get a ‘check’ or if they have mental health issues, a ‘crazy check’.  The first issue most people have is with medication or medical expenses.  If you don’t have a job with benefits, you probably aren’t gonna be able to afford or even be eligible for a pay-for-play insurance company.  This means that you need the state or federal gov’t to do the magic hand waving that gets a 500 dollar bottle of pills to become a more reasonable 15 dollar bottle of pills.
      Acceptance into the system isn’t easy, it requires a forest of dead trees, doctors, lawyers, bureaucrats, and time, time, time.  It’s almost de rigeur for a first time application to be denied.  The median application and review time is probably 9 months to a year.  But it could be longer.  So by the time your second application goes through you could have been in the system for at least 18 months.     
      Working in your county, at this minute is a small army of social workers, therapists, clerks, secretaries, etc. who spend all their days making sure that each of these claims are processed and that people who need money and care are getting it. (most of these people are amazing; amazing women, actually)  The people who need it are almost always with little to no education, have physical or mental issues that bar them from working in a normative environment and generally come from families or backgrounds that were more of the same.  
      In my poor, rural state a single individual, with no dependents, on disability will recieve about 700 a month.  This can be bolstered by a food stamp program, which may add another 50 to 100.  Additionally, in emergencies, there are usually philanthropic organizations that will give assistance for power or water bills.  Remember, that in cases of individuals that have life threatening illnesses or chronic medications this wouldn’t make a dent in the healthcare coverage.  Yes, I’m sure there are some individuals who milk the system and I assume that they belong to the same circle of hell which waits for fraudulent CEOs. 

    sorry for the TL, hope this might be informative.

  12. Actually, the NPR piece claims that if children do better in school they can lose their benefits.  This is the main basis for their claim that there are “perverse incentives” in the childhood disability program.  Unfortunately this is completely false.  As Media Matters notes, the main criteria for receiving disability for children is medical need, not poor performance in school.  If you read the Media Matters takedown carefully, you will see that it actually does contradict the claims made in the NPR piece.  The NPR piece is subtle propaganda.  They know they are talking to an audience that generally supports the program, so they can’t outright bash it.  Instead they attempt to poke holes in the program through faint praise and misstatements of fact that the average listener will not pick up on.  This American Life, Planet Money, and NPR generally have a very poor track record with regard to economic reporting and have had to deal with several scandals that have erupted around their reporting on a variety of issues.  The defenses I see here sound more like the opinions of those predisposed towards these programs instead of factual defenses thereof.  There has been a very strong neoliberal bent to economic reporting on NPR for years now.  It is no mistake that NPR receives a large amount of corporate funding from financial institutions and others that seriously compromise their integrity.  Blind loyalty to radio programs is not an attractive behavior, especially when one has been informed of clear conflicts of interest in their reporting.

  13. Nazanin Rafsanjani’s husband, I forget his name, used to do a quietly competent job of financial reporting on both those shows. But I can’t listen to either any more because it bugs me when reporters pretend not to know things.

  14. MetaFilter posted about this nearly two weeks ago; this comment makes the same point that many of the commenters in this thread already have–that Media Matters is pointing out things as “errors” that really aren’t. 

  15. When I listened to this Hanna’s condescension dripped through my headphones.  Her smug superiority and feigned understanding was like some second rate cultural anthropologist talking about tribal religious practices.  I hope she married well.   I would love a fast forward to her at age 55 trying to figure out the plan b for an aging hipster/ radio personality.

  16. What about the actual graph with the astonishing rise of children above the poverty line.  I’m sorry, but the lead gets buried when 4 million additional children a year are below the poverty line since last time Obama took office. 

    There is either a drastic increase in what the poverty line is, or something is amiss.

    1. *Massive* state and local government employment layoffs, and social program cuts, due to reduced tax collection due to the real estate plunge and other economic problems. That’s what’s amiss.

      Lay off half a million government workers, and those workers are not going to be spending nearly as much while they’re unemployed, so the businesses they formerly patronized are going to have less revenue, so they may have to lay people off, etc. 

      Government employment cuts trickle down *far* more rapidly and effectively than tax cuts for the rich.

      That’s the lesson Europe is learning – at least the smart Europeans – “austerity” cuts in government spending makes the situation worse, because the hit to economic activity reduces GDP and government revenue, so the hole the country is in gets even deeper despite cutting spending.

  17. Media Matters for America is not a legit thing – it’s the radical progressivist version of Fox News. They’re not concerned about the facts, they just want to punish TAL for running a story moderately critical of an entitlement program. Super disappointed to see Cory posting this muckraking political attack as news.  

    1. I notice that you don’t bother refuting anything in the MM story – just attacking the messenger instead.  Well, if MM is so tainted that you won’t consider the facts they present, maybe you will believe 120 other organizations who have called for NPR to correct their BS story —

      the following paragraph comes from an excellent summary of the controversy posted here: 

      detailed sources for everything below can be found at the above site

      “Since the series aired, experts have rushed to document the facts and urge corrections: the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities here, here, and here; the Center for Economic and Policy Research here and here; the Shriver Center here; law professor James Kwak here; Media Matters here; disability rights activists here; and legal services advocates here. Over 120 organizations have signed on to a call for NPR to retract the series, and to top it off, no less than eight former commissioners of the Social Security Administration wrote an open letter outlining their “significant concerns,” saying they “could not sit on the sidelines and witness this one perspective on the disability programs threaten to pull the rug out from under millions of people with severe disabilities.””

      1. The first post from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argues that reforming Disability Insurance is a bad idea. The second post says that the story “implies” that the town they used is typical of the entire country, and then explains a lot of economic reasons why the DI program has changed. The third post says “NPR repeated some unwarranted stereotypes about this program”, and then rattles off more neutral data about the program.

        All of the criticism of this story that I’ve been able to find is based on political disagreement, and the idea that the story broadly painted the program in a negative light through tone and insinuation. Disagreeing with the premise and conclusions of a story does not make it corrupt journalism. If anybody can actually point me to a source that explains how the story was specifically factually inaccurate, I’d appreciate it.

        I’m puzzled that a lot of people seem to have interpreted the story as anti-benefit. It seemed to me that they were pointing out that while we argued endlessly about the “safety net”, the weight was falling back onto programs that weren’t designed to handle it, creating exactly the kind of wasteful situation that conservatives claim to be worried about.

  18. Another big issue I had with the TAL episode was that the person “investigating” was dumb enough to not understand why people who had been working doing manual labor their whole lives and had no college degrees or anything couldn’t find just find new jobs that didn’t involve their hurt backs because her editor can do his job just fine with a bad back. The level of obliviousness to life outside of NPR was astounding.

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