Economic media coverage has been heavily focused on advocating for deficit reduction, even as deficits decline and the federal government posts a surplus.
A Media Matters analysis on economic news coverage in the month of April found that media continued their long-established focus on deficit reduction. In 45 of 123 total segments discussing policy impacts on the economy, guests or hosts on network and cable news advocated for deficit reduction as a priority.
Calls for deficit reduction beat out mentions of other economic issues, most notably the need for economic growth and job creation, and economic inequality.
The continued focus on deficit reduction is particularly interesting given the fact that, in the month of April, the federal government posted the largest budget surplus in five years. Furthermore, according to the Congressional Budget Office, current and projected deficits are expected to decline in coming years.
Even conservatives have recently acknowledged that deficit reduction is not the country's most pressing economic issue. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), agreeing with President Obama, stated that the country is not facing an immediate debt crisis, a notion shared by prominent Democrats. And John Makin, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, remarked that Congress has already enacted enough deficit reduction.
Meanwhile, economists have expressed concerns over media's focus on deficits, instead calling attention to resolving the very real immediate crisis of unemployment. Economist Jared Bernstein recently began a series on the path to full employment, and numerous other economists have advocated increased short-term spending to bolster economic growth and job creation.
Furthermore, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has even pointed out that focusing on jobs and growth -- not spending cuts -- provides an effective avenue for deficit reduction.
Media outlets largely ignored economic inequality in discussions about the overall economy, despite mounting evidence suggesting that the problem has increased in recent years.
While media have been quick to highlight ostensibly positive gains for the economy -- notably that the Dow Jones Industrial reached 15,000 for the first time in its history, GDP grew by 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2013, and unemployment for April edged down to 7.5 percent -- signs of rising income inequality have gone largely unmentioned.
According to a recent Media Matters analysis, economic coverage for the month of April barely mentioned issues of inequality. In 123 total segments discussing policy effects on the macroeconomy, only 12 touched upon the growing disparity in economic gains for the rich and the poor.
The discrepancy in covering economic inequality stretched across all major outlets. ABC, CBS, and NBC provided no mentions of the problem. MSNBC devoted the most coverage, with roughly 25 percent of segments on the economy discussing rising inequality.
While the media have pushed inequality out of the spotlight, mounting evidence suggests that the problem is getting worse.
As for the rising stock market, while any gains should be viewed as a positive for the economy as a whole, the distribution of those gains paints a less than perfect picture. According to a Gallup poll, 52 percent of Americans currently hold stocks, a number that has been consistently declining in recent years.
Other indicators highlight the deep-seated nature of economic inequality. According to Congressional Budget Office data, from 1979 to 2007 the top one percent of income earners have seen their after-tax share of total income rise by more than 120 percent, while the bottom 20 percent of earners have seen that share decline by almost 30 percent.
And according to an analysis by journalist David Cay Johnston, economic gains in recent history show an even darker reality - from 2009 to 2011, 149 percent of increased income was reaped by the top 10 percent of earners.
Meanwhile, the economy is currently suffering from an epidemic of long-term unemployed workers, which, as noted in a Bloomberg editorial, could create a permanent underclass of workers unable to reenter the labor force.
Some of the media's attention -- albeit very little -- has focused on the inequitable impact of sequestration on low-income individuals. The overwhelming majority of discussion of inequality in April, most notably on MSNBC, focused on Congress' unwillingness to mitigate the impacts of sequestration of the poor, while members were seemingly enthusiastic to correct inconveniences for those at the upper end of the income scale.
While some attention has been given to economic inequality, the broader trend in media is to ignore the issue, preferring instead to focus on the widely recognized non-issue of short-term deficit and debt reduction.
Evening news coverage throughout April touched upon several economic issues, including income inequality, deficit reduction, and entitlement cuts. A Media Matters analysis of this coverage reveals that many of these segments lacked proper context or necessary input from economists, while some networks ignored certain issues entirely.
Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Broadcast and cable news networks have largely ignored a new report which concluded that the United States' rebuilding efforts in Iraq squandered billions of dollars due to widespread fraud, abuse, and waste.
Last week, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, released a report concluding that of the $60 billion the U.S. has spent on reconstruction projects in Iraq following the 2003 invasion, at least $8 billion of it was "wasted."
In the five days since its release, only PBS and MSNBC have offered substantial coverage of the report.
NBC, ABC, and CBS have all ignored it during their evening newscasts (though it warranted passing mention on NBC's Today, the other networks' morning news programs also ignored the findings). Fox News' Bret Baier gave the story less than twenty seconds of coverage during Special Report.
CNN has completely ignored the report.
Though NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and CNN have devoted a combined thirty five seconds to the story, PBS and MSNBC have each spent more than ten minutes discussing the report and its conclusions.
Media ignored economists in their reports leading up to the initiation of the economically damaging across-the-board spending cuts commonly known as sequestration.
If Congress fails to act by midnight, across-the-board spending cuts of up to $85 billion in 2013 alone will take effect. While sequestration is inherently an economic issue, media are ignoring the last chance to have economists weigh in on the consequences.
Media Matters reviewed news coverage leading up to the sequestration deadline, specifically the February 28 evening news broadcasts; March 1 reports from The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times; and the March 1 morning news programs on the major cable and broadcast networks. We found that economists have been almost completely shut out. Of 122 total guests and quoted figures appearing in a total of 43 articles or television segments, one lone economist was mentioned, Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner in a report from the Journal.
Multiple Fox News personalities have suggested the Justice Department's lawsuit against Standard & Poor's is 'political retribution,' either papering over or outright ignoring the facts behind the suit. However, the S&P investigation began well before U.S. credit was downgraded, and a raft of internal emails suggest the company may have knowingly inflated securities ratings.
From the January 9 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
Loading the player ...
A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX remained low in 2012 despite record temperatures and a series of extreme weather events in the U.S. When the Sunday shows did discuss climate change, scientists were shut out of the debate while Republican politicians were given a platform to question the science.
Most cable news and major news networks were silent on the expiration of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and House Republicans' failure to reauthorize the law for the first time since 1994. However, MSNBC provided its viewers with extensive coverage of reauthorization, repeatedly warning that the law was set to expire if Congress did not act and exposing the GOP's obstructionism.
After the Senate voted 68-31 to approve the bipartisan VAWA in April, 2012, the bill was sent to the House where Republicans allowed the act to expire. House Republicans reportedly blocked the reauthorization due to objections over the law's expanded provisions to protect Native American women, undocumented immigrants, and LGBT victims of domestic violence. House Republicans later proposed their own version of the bill that stripped the Senate's added protections.
Media Matters looked at the month leading up to the expiration of the VAWA and found that both Fox News and CNN failed to cover the need to reauthorize the act, while MSNBC informed its viewers of the law's status. A search on Nexis for segments referring to the Violence Against Women Act on Fox News and CNN between December 1, 2012 and January 2 found only one mention between the two networks. In comparison, a search of MSNBC transcripts turned up ten references to the expiring VAWA and House Republicans' efforts to block the reauthorization along with another two brief mentions of the law in broad discussion.
In fact, during the December 16, 2012 edition of MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes, host Chris Hayes devoted two segments to the importance of House Republicans' refusal to approve the law. The panel noted the danger that the GOP's obstructionism posed to women victims of domestic violence across the country.
The National Rifle Association refused to answer questions at what it had claimed was a "press conference" today in response to the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Instead, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre gave a speech calling for armed police officers at all schools and blaming violent video games for mass shootings, rather than the ability of those shooters to obtain a firearm.
Notably, an armed police officer was present at Columbine High School at the time of the mass shooting there. After attempting to fire on one of the shooters with his pistol, he was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon.
This puts special pressure on the hosts of NBC's Meet The Press and CBS' Face The Nation, who will host LaPierre and NRA president David Keene on Sunday, to ask the questions that the rest of the press corps was unable to.
Any such interview should address the conspiratorial language that LaPierre typically uses in speaking to his base, notably his claim that President Obama plans to use his second term to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights."
Instead of helping viewers understand the substance and real-world impacts of year-end budget negotiations, television news outlets are shutting economists out of their coverage and relying on political journalists to answer a less important question: Who's winning?
A study released Thursday found that cable and broadcast news organizations brought actual economists on air just 22 times in 337 segments on the negotiations from November 7 to 28, effectively barring economics from the conversation. Viewers without cable missed economic experts completely, as ABC, CBS and NBC failed to include them in dozens of segments.
Taxes and spending cuts were mentioned in many of the approximately 80 percent of segments that failed to discuss real-world economic impacts of austerity, but only in the context of figuring out which side has the upper hand in negotiations. Correspondents focused on how the day's inside-the-beltway developments impacted the likelihood of a deal or speculated on the political palatability of a deal for each party.
The November 26 edition of Fox News' Special Report, for example, featured back-to-back reports on the day's negotiating maneuvers, highlighting that various GOP legislators may defy Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform pledge and various developments in the budget talks made by both parties. However, neither segment discussed broader economic implications.
On the November 7 edition of CBS' Evening News, reporter Wyatt Andrews said Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had "started a public negotiation with the President," and that President Obama's stance on taxes "was his core argument in the campaign," but that Boehner failed to "sell Republicans on that upper income tax increase" in 2011. A followup segment with CBS' John Dickerson focused exclusively on how the election might have changed the two parties' "motivations," and "political fortunes." Neither segment mentioned economic impacts.
Recent Media Matters research revealed the overwhelming absence of economists and economic debate in television coverage of year-end budget negotiations. The lack of expert opinion has led to an over reliance on easily digested phrases such as "fiscal cliff," which many economists feel is a misleading term.
A Media Matters study found that economists have been sorely lacking in media discussions of budget negotiations, accounting for only 4.4 percent of guests brought on to address the topic. Their scant presence has steered most discussions toward non-economic issues, such as political leverage in negotiations.
Of course, since budget issues are inherently economic, removing the economics from the discussion entirely is not possible. Instead of providing substantive context, the media seem to have taken the tack of relying on misleading buzzwords to do the explaining.
The so-called "fiscal cliff" describes a combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, could cause the U.S. economy to experience recession in 2013. The origins of the current use of the phrase "fiscal cliff" apparently stem from comments made by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in February 2012.
Since Bernanke's use of the phrase, it has become ubiquitous in media coverage of budget negotiations. Media Matters found that in 337 segments across cable and network news, the term "fiscal cliff" was used to frame discussions 287 times.
A Media Matters study found that economists have been strangely absent from discussions on budget negotiations, following a typical pattern of the media's inability to host experts to discuss complex issues. This lack of expert analysis has steered the debate toward politics and away from core economic concerns.
In a recently published study of news segments discussing current budget negotiations, Media Matters found that the presence of economists was sorely lacking - out of 503 total guests in the 337 segments analyzed, only 22 were economists. The lack of appearances by economists is spread across all networks:
The results of this study are in line with previous Media Matters research. In media discussions of the debt-ceiling debate in the summer of 2011, only 4.1 percent of guests on news programs were identified as economists. The findings of the most recent study reinforce the notion that the media have a tendency to ignore expert opinion when discussing complex issues, such as the economy and climate change.
In recent weeks, media outlets have focused heavily on current budget negotiations regarding automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect on January 1, 2013 if an alternative agreement is not reached. But major television news outlets are inadequately reporting on year-end budget negotiations, rarely hosting economists and favoring inflammatory rhetoric about the so-called "fiscal cliff," according to a Media Matters analysis. Furthermore, most television segments have completely ignored the possible economic effects of potential tax increases and spending cuts.