REPORT: Weekday Broadcast And Cable Evening News Economic Coverage Highly Polarized, Lacks Expert Analysis

Economists Barely Factor Into Television Economic Segments, Attention To Economic Inequality Slips From Previous Quarter

››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

Weekday broadcast and cable evening news coverage of the economy during the past three months focused heavily on policies aimed at spurring job creation and economic growth despite the general lack of input from actual economists. A Media Matters analysis reveals that several topics -- taxes, spending cuts, deficit reduction, economic inequality, minimum wage -- have become highly polarized among major networks.

Coverage Of Economic Inequality Dips Slightly

Economic Inequality Mentioned In One-Quarter Of Segments On The Economy. Of the 363 recorded segments on the economy, 87 -- 24 percent -- focused on policies and topics relating to economic inequality and low-income Americans.

Media Coverage Of Economic Inequality

Coverage Of Inequality Down From Previous Quarter. The second quarter of 2014 saw a decrease in both the total number of mentions of economic inequality and the proportion of economic coverage dedicated to the issue of economic inequality. The previous quarter had 146 segments on the topic comprising roughly 29 percent of all economic coverage.

MSNBC Dominates Coverage Of Economic Inequality. Coverage of economic inequality declined considerably in the second quarter of 2014 across five of the six networks under review. MSNBC increased its quarter-to-quarter coverage of economic inequality, dedicating 74 segments to the topic.

MSNBC Dominates Coverage Of Economic Inequality

Economic Growth Remains A Focus

MSNBC Leading Discussion Of Economic Growth. MSNBC continued to lead all networks calling for policies aimed at job creation and economic growth. The network hosted 79 segments in which policies directed at increased economic activity were discussed during the second quarter of 2014. Fox News accounted for the bulk of remaining segments calling for economic growth, focusing 45 segments on the topic.

Fox News Cements Status As Deficit Hawk. Fox News dedicated 29 segments to discussions focused on the need to reduce the federal budget deficit or the national debt. The network accounted for roughly 90 percent of all segments focused on debt and deficit reduction.

CNN Largely Absent From Economic Discussion. During the second quarter of 2014, CNN dedicated just 7 significant segments to calls for economic growth and job creation. This represents a more than 80 percent drop from the previous quarter, during which the network had dedicated 39 segments to the topic.

Economic Growth Versus Deficit Reduction

Calls For Deficit Reduction Lack Necessary Context. Of the total 43 segments across all networks in which a host or guests identified debt and deficit reduction as an economic priority, only 7 -- roughly 16 percent -- noted that annual budget deficits have continued to fall for several years.

Coverage Of Deficits Consistently Lack Context

Fox News And MSNBC Offer Contrasting Images Of Economic Policy

Fox And MSNBC Clash Over Tax Increases And Spending Cuts. While other outlets fell virtually silent in the debate, Fox News and MSNBC jousted over the harmful impact of tax increases versus spending cuts in the second quarter of 2014. MSNBC featured 29 segments in which a host or guest identified the harmful impacts of government spending cuts with zero mentions of the potential consequences of tax increases. Fox News featured 24 segments in which a host or guest identified the harmful impacts of proposed tax increases with zero mentions of the negative consequences of ongoing spending cuts. CNN registered a single mention in the debate.

Cable Networks Clash Over Taxes And Spending

Fox News Leads Competition In Obamacare And Minimum Wage Alarmism

Fox Accounts For Nearly All Claims That Obamacare Harms The Labor Market. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- commonly known as Obamacare -- was incorrectly identified as a contributor to sluggish job creation and increased part-time work in 17 segments on the economy. Fox was responsible for 15 of these mentions, an overwhelming majority.

Fox Pushes Anti-Obamacare Myths

Fox And CNN Hype Fear Of Minimum Wage Job Losses. Federal, state, and local minimum wages were misidentified as contributors to increased job loss in 13 segments on the economy in the second quarter of the year. CNN was responsible for 4 segments in which a host or guest claimed that the minimum wage hurt the labor market, while Fox News hosted 9 such segments. No other network featured a significant discussion of the negative side-effects of establishing or raising the minimum wage.

Cable Coverage Of Minimum Wage And Job Loss

Job Market Alarmism Down From Previous Quarter. Media attention to unsubstantiated claims that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or minimum wage contribute to job loss, slow job creation, or an increased reliance on part-time work fell significantly from the previous quarter. The ACA was attacked in just 17 segments on the economy in the second quarter of the year, compared to 58 such attacks in the first quarter. The minimum wage was attacked in just 13 segments on the economy in the second quarter of the year, compared to 32 such attacks in the first quarter.

Expert Opinion Remains A Glaring Need In Segments On The Economy

Economists Accounted For Just Under 3 Percent Of Guests. Economists accounted for the smallest share of all recorded guests, representing 18 of the 657 guests in segments on the economy during the second quarter of the year, just under 3 percent. This is roughly in line with the proportion of economists and economic professionals appearing in segments on the economy in the previous quarter. Journalist and political guests represented the overwhelming majority of guests in segments on the economy, comprising 59 and 25 percent of total guests, respectively.

Economists Missing From Economic Policy Debates

Methodology

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 April 1 through June 30. 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 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. In some instances, a host or guest conflated general or specific government regulations with tax increases.

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 defined segments that claim a minimum wage hike would hurt job growth as those where either the host or guest alleges that a minimum wage increase would lead to job loss or an increase in 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, has worked in the economics profession, 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. (For the purposes of this study, Republican congressional candidate David Brat was graded as an economist rather than a politician).

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.

Previous quarterly reports are available here: 2014 Q1, 2013 Q4, 2013 Q3, 2013 Q2

UPDATE: This report previously classified Republican congressional candidate and Randolph-Macon economics professor David Brat as a political guest, rather than as an economist. The change increased the proportional representation of economists from 2.4 to 2.7 percent of total featured guests in economic segments.

Posted In
Economy, Budget, Jobs, Wages, & Unemployment, Poverty, Taxes
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