Albion Monitor /Commentary
[Editor's note: Bob Herbert's column, "Poison Numbers," appeared in last Monday's (April 29) edition of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat]

The Disinformation War

by Edward Kent

Student misperceptions that have been picked up from media sound bites on every subject

As someone who teaches social philosophy to undergraduates at Brooklyn College, CUNY, I am all too well aware that the right wing is engaged in a campaign of disinformation. It's an uphill struggle on all fronts to correct student misperceptions that have been picked up from media sound bites on every subject, from the projection that there will be no more money left to pay them social security, to the vast sums that we are wasting on such improvident things as welfare and foreign aid.

I now routinely ask students to estimate the latter two figures. They usually guess upwards to 20 - 30 percent of the Gross National Product for each; when I reveal that it's less than 1 percent of the federal budget, I find looks of disbelief. So now I require the New York Times as reading.

The poor are under fire by very well-paid hired guns

With this cumbersome introduction, Bob Herbert's recent New York Times column exposes the right's tactics and its effect. The Cato Institute -- one of the many right wing foundations funded by interested parties -- put out a study last fall claiming that the average package of welfare benefits far exceeded what could be earned by hard work. Thus it was obvious that we needed to reduce same to induce the cheats to get to work.

Herbert cites a new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that shows how distorted the purported Cato findings really were. Herbert further suggests that the distortions were "deliberate."

For example: Cato's estimated welfare package for families was worth $17,500, and $25,000 some places. According to the Center, the real figures are less than $9,000. That's 3 grand below the poverty line.

How did Cato manage this slight of hand?

  • It counted FOOD STAMPS for welfare families, but not for working ones

  • It counted HOUSING SUBSIDIES for welfare families as if all received them (only 1 in 4 do) but didn't count same for working families

  • It counted WIC BENEFITS (food vouchers for young children) on the assumption that all welfare children receive them, while 80 percent don't -- most who receive these are working families

  • It counted MEDICAID for welfare families but did not count either Medicaid or employer provided medical insurence for working families

    Moving beyond Bob Herbert's column, we have yet another instance here of assault on the poorest 10 - 20 percent of Americans -- working or temporarily on welfare, which is the common pattern these days of downsizing and temporary / part-time employment.

    To cite a figure from a conference the other day, the lowest 10 percent have lost 20 percent of their income since 1978 -- and the top 10 percent have gained 20 percent in the same time frame.

    The rich get richer and the poor are under fire by very well-paid hired guns. Shame! (And thanks, Bob Herbert.)

  • Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

    Albion Monitor May 5, 1996 (

    All Rights Reserved.

    Contact for permission to reproduce.

    Front Page