Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the fourth quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
Coverage of Economic Inequality Falls
Economic Inequality Mentioned In 112 Segments. Of the 890 total segments discussing policy effects on the economy, 122 -- roughly 13 percent of economic news coverage -- mentioned economic inequality and current policy's impact on low-income households.
Coverage Of Inequality Fell From Previous Quarter. The fourth quarter of 2013 saw proportionally fewer mentions of inequality in segments on the economy, falling from 20 percent of total coverage in the third quarter. The fourth quarter, however, saw more mentions of inequality than the second, during which only 9.3 percent of economic segments focused on the issue.
MSNBC Leads All Networks In Mentions Of Inequality. MSNBC accounted for the vast majority of coverage devoted to discussing economic inequality with 66 mentions. CNN and Fox News lagged far behind, with 18 and 21 mentions, respectively. Network news provided the least amount of coverage, with the total for ABC, CBS, and NBC amounting to only 7 mentions of inequality.
Deficit Reduction In The Spotlight
Fox News Leads All Networks In Calls For Deficit Reduction. The supposed need for deficit reduction was Fox News' top economic priority in the fourth quarter of 2013. The network had 124 total segments that mentioned the subject, with only 33 identifying the need for economic growth and job creation. The network's calls for deficit reduction accounted for nearly 50 percent of total mentions across all networks.
MSNBC Accounts For Bulk Of Discussion On Need For Economic Growth. Of all networks, MSNBC provided the most mentions of the need for economic growth and job creation in the fourth quarter. The network had 119 segments that mentioned the topic, focusing just 37 on deficit reduction. The network's calls for economic growth accounted for 58 percent of total mentions across all networks.
Deficit Reduction Calls Largely Lack Context. Of the total 250 segments across all networks in which a host or guest identified deficit reduction as an economic priority, only 15 -- roughly 6 percent of these segments -- noted that annual budget deficits are falling.
Spending Cuts Seen As More Harmful Than Tax Increases
Harm From Spending Cuts Discussed More Frequently Than Harm From Tax Increases. Potential economic harm from spending cuts, including sequestration, was more than three times as likely to be mentioned than potential harm from tax increases. Spending cuts were identified as a significant factor causing subpar economic growth in 49 segments, while tax increases were mentioned in only 15 segments. MSNBC accounted for most of the segments on the effects of spending cuts, dedicating 40 segments to the topic.
Fox News Still Identifies The ACA As Stunting Job Growth
Fox Leads Charge In Blaming Obamacare For Lack Of Job Growth. The ACA -- commonly known as Obamacare -- was incorrectly identified as a primary driver of lagging job growth and increased part-time work in 70 segments on the economy. Similar to the third quarter of 2013, Fox overwhelmingly forwarded the most claims that Obamacare is holding back job growth, accounting for 43 of the total 70 mentions.
Calls For Curbing Entitlement Spending Lack Context
Role Of Health Care Costs Missing From Discussions On Entitlements. Of the 53 total segments in which reducing entitlement costs was mentioned, only two noted that long-term deficits are largely a function of rising health care costs.
Economists Still Underrepresented In Discussions On Economy
Economists Account For Only 4 Percent Of Guests. Despite a significant quarter-to-quarter increase in the number of segments dedicated to economic issues, media's representation of economists remained virtually unchanged. Economists accounted for the smallest share of all guests by type, representing roughly 4 percent of total guests in segments on the economy. Political guests and journalists accounted for the largest shares, echoing results from previous quarters.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from October 1 through December 31. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: econom!, jobs, growth, debt, and deficit. When transcripts were incomplete, we reviewed video.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Crossfire, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The Ed Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of policy implications on the macroeconomy. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, and re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5 p.m.-11 p.m. window.
We defined segments that discuss economic inequality as those which mention the disparity in economic gains between high- and low-income individuals.
We defined segments that call for deficit reduction as a priority as those where either the host or guest mentions deficit and debt reduction as pressing needs.
We defined segments that call for economic growth as a priority as those where either the host or guest mentions economic growth and job creation as pressing needs.
We defined segments that call for curbing costs in entitlements as those where either the guest or host mentions the need for reducing the costs of Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.
We defined segments that identify tax increases as having a negative impact on the economy as those where either the host or guests mention that tax increases are holding back job or economic growth.
We defined segments that identify spending cuts as having a negative impact on the economy as those where either the host or guests mention that spending cuts are holding back jobs or economic growth.
We defined segments that claim the Affordable Care Act is hurting job growth as those where either the host or guest specifically suggests that the Affordable Care Act is holding back job growth or increasing part-time work.
We counted all guests who appeared in relevant segments, using bios, profiles, resumes, and news stories available online to determine as best we could each guest's educational background and professional experience.
We defined an economist as someone who either holds an advanced degree in economics or has served as an economics professor at the college or university level. In cases where it was unclear whether or not the guest held an advanced degree, they were classified in the next most descriptive cohort.
We defined a political guest as any former or current elected government official or political appointee, any political strategist, or any former or current political party official (such as former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele).
We defined a journalist as a guest whose main profession is associated with a media outlet, such as contributors, correspondents, or columnists.