A hot topic online and off this week has been the proposed budget presented by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, which proposed cutting all federal funding to the Special Olympics program. Cutting the federal funding for such a prominent and highly supported program for children and adults with special needs obviously brought about quick and harsh backlash in the media, and on social media. Cries far and wide defending the children and adults benefiting from the program shamed Betsy DeVos for even considering cutting this funding. DeVos then later issued a statement in which she said it was “shameful” that both the media and even members of Congress had “spun up falsehoods and fully misrepresented the facts.” But, did they really do this? Were the facts truly misrepresented, or was DeVos simply continuing a Trump administration favorited narrative of “Fake News” yet again? Let’s dig a little deeper into what DeVos has had to say, and the facts surrounding her statements.
Fellow journalist Tammy Marie Rose here on VozWire covered this topic herself in a great piece talking about the shameful decision to end federal funding for such a needed and well-liked program. Her article includes tweets from high profile athletes and Special Olympics participants as well as many other prominent citizens all decrying the funding cut. During this backlash DeVos has held her ground, stating that the Special Olympics program is not a federal program and can be better funded through other sources. While the spirit of this statement may be true, as my fellow journalist pointed out federal funding is about 10% of the Special Olympic’s full budget, the fact remains that programs like this depend on every dime and a ten percent cut could impact them more than DeVos is willing to openly admit or discuss.
On the surface, it really does appear to be a cut and dry issue. One that was not misrepresented, at least on paper. DeVos did propose a budget which cut all federal funding for the Special Olympics. The media and social backlash did not twist anything in simply stating that fact. It’s true, and easy to verify. In her attempt to cut 7 billion dollars, this was part of DeVos’ proposed plan. Plain and simple. But I believe her statement of facts being misrepresented might’ve been more directed at her perception of people not understanding key points she has mentioned over and over. That the Special Olympics is not a federal program and receives much of its funding from other sources. She also seems to be clinging to her own personal love of the program which she herself has donated money for in the past. Her disagreement with the coverage seems to be more about her being cast as a villain wanting to harm special needs populations in the immediate backlash. If that’s what she’s referring to then there is a slight possibility some of the finer points of the Special Olympic’s overall funding sources and DeVos’ own feelings about the program may have been glossed over for a more attention-grabbing story. However, most news stories do seem to point out that this funding was not the sole fuding for the program, but that it is still an ESSENTIAL part of the funding for such a beloved and needed prgram for a huge part of our population in America.
After doing quite a bit of research and comparing statements from Congress and the media, and DeVos’ own statements of being misrepresented, it doesn’t really appear to be true that she was completely and unfairly cast in a bad light at this point in time. While her refrain has been to hold onto claiming that many worthy charities need federal funding and we can’t possibly fund them all, it seems that her choice to cut the funding for this particular program remains unexplained. Her continued insistence that the program will be “better off” with finding funding elsewhere isn’t really the same thing as being entirely falsely reported on as she’s currently claiming to be. A news story may not have gone into a huge amount of depth on where the full funding for this program comes from, but that doesn’t mean DeVos’ budget proposal was unfairly cast in a light that it shouldn’t have been. Again, we go back to what’s on paper, and the fact is what’s on the paper is a proposed cut. A proposed cut for a program that has bipartisan support and the love of many Americans. Even when questioned about why this particular program’s budgeting had to be cut, DeVos could not provide a great answer for us. Had she been able to say that the funding for the program from the government was no longer needed, and been able to back that up with facts then I’d be the first to say that yes, she’d been unfairly covered online and in the news and received backlash that was based on false media narratives. But this simply isn’t the case. While she did point out the $13.2 billion in state grants, and an additional $226 million for grants supporting teacher training and research to help students with disabilities, this simply isn’t the same as saying funding for the Special Olympics has not been put into a proposal as a suggestion of funding to be cut.
Disliking that the coverage has focused on cutting funding for the Special Olympics while not mentioning other mitigating factors like state grants, and the organizations private funding doesn’t mean the coverage has been spreading falsehoods or misrepresenting anything. In reality what the focus and backlash are about is that while yes, there are many charities deserving of federal funds, and cuts had to be made, it seems pretty reckless and poorly thought out to include the Special Olympics in this as an option of where to find these funds. Just because the news and online responses have been negative and focused on one specific part of the budget doesn’t mean anything was truly a “falsehood” as Ms. DeVos has claimed. In reality, her own statements are more of an untruth than her insistence that coverage has been spinning falshoods and fully misrepresenting facts.
In the past day or so DeVos has seemed to continue to confuse the American people by stating “I am pleased and grateful the President and I see eye to eye on this issue and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant. This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years,” after Trump announced that he had instructed his administration to cover funding for the program. Given her previous statements while being questioned about putting the Special Olympics on the budget chopping block by stating that there are many deserving programs, it seems unlikely that anyone is going to believe she was “fighting” to find funding for the program behind the scenes as this was never part of her defense for cutting the budgeting for the program, to begin with. While saying the media and Congress have spun falsehoods and fully misrepresented the facts may sound like a good line and certainly appeals to the Trump administration’s base who seem to love “Fake News” call outs, in this particular case it doesn’t appear anything was fully misrepresented. Simply disliking what the news and American people chose to focus on and vehemently hate doesn’t automatically equal false narratives or unfair coverage. It certainly didn’t in this case.