Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and entitlement reform throughout the second quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many segments lacked proper context or input from economists, while some topics went largely underreported.
Throughout the first half of 2013, broadcast and cable nightly news overwhelmingly discussed Social Security in an unbalanced and negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
In the weeks leading up to an automatic doubling of federal student loan interest rates, broadcast and cable nightly and weekend news devoted little time explaining the effects of the rate hike and the expiration of other programs designed to help American students, graduates and families with increasingly high education costs.
In 2007, Congress passed a law to reduce interest rates on federal subsidized student loans, the Stafford Loan program, to 3.4 percent. The law was intended to reduce college costs and increase access to higher education. The Budget Control Act of 2011 ended several provisions of previous law; foremost setting an expiration date of July 1, 2013, for Stafford Loan interest rates. Today, those rates automatically double to their previous 6.8 percent.
Media Matters research found the looming student loan deadline has been largely ignored by major news networks in the past several weeks. Since May 23, the date the House of Representatives passed a party line student loan plan of its own, primetime and weekend television news has offered just 13 brief segments on student loan issues.
Absent from media analysis has been any real discussion of economists' recommendations for dealing with student debt. Many economists, including Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, have supported various efforts to defray college costs, expand federal funding, and provide restructuring and refinancing options for student and family borrowers.
In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report on student loan affordability. It found that expanded refinancing options for student debt could have a simulative effect on economic growth, household formation and homeownership among borrowers. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York had previously found that student debt was a driving force in decreasing home and automotive purchases among recent graduates.
The rate increase set to take effect on July 1 will directly affect millions of Americans while making college less affordable for prospective students. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the higher rate could cost average borrowers more than $1,000 to take out a subsidized federal loan. College graduates are saddled with an enormous debt burden - more than $1 trillion through 2013, according to The New York Times.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Sunday and evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from May 23 through June 30. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: student loan, college loan, student debt, college debt, student, debt, loan, and college.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Evening News (CBS), Face the Nation, Nightly News with Brian Williams, Meet the Press with David Gregory, Fox News Sunday, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, 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 (such as Anderson Cooper 360 and Hardball with Chris Matthews), only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of increasing student debt or the July 1 interest rate deadline. 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 5p.m. to 11p.m. window.
Media coverage of the automatic spending cuts commonly known as sequestration has tapered off since the policies went into effect on March 1. This drop in coverage comes as more Americans report having personally felt the effects of the cuts.
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.
CNN's Erin Burnett suggested that media "on the left" may have failed to cover the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell for political reasons -- even though Burnett herself had never previously covered Gosnell's story.
Gosnell is currently on trial for murder, accused of grotesque behavior in providing illegal late-term abortions. Conservative media have been engaged in a campaign to pressure the media for providing what they consider insufficient coverage to the trial.
On the April 12 broadcast of her show, Burnett hosted a segment to examine why the story "hasn't gotten much attention in the media at all, it seems." While discussing the trial with Salon reporter Irin Carmon, Burnett said:
BURNETT: [T]here are many people out there, as you're aware, on the right who are saying, "Look, it's pro-choice people on the left who aren't going to cover this story, because they're pro-choice and this hurts their agenda. It's such an awful, horrific thing. It'll make people more adverse to abortion. That's bad for them, so they're not covering it." What do you say to those people as someone who reports on this issue?
Burnett then acknowledged that CNN's own research showed there were almost no media outlets that had run stories "which mentioned [Gosnell's] name more than three times," indicating that the story wasn't being covered "only on the right, obviously."
Yet moments later, she asked guest Donna Brazile, "Do you reject the argument that is being made by many on the right ... that, they say, the mainstream media and those who are pro-choice have ignored this story because it makes abortion look horrific?"
According to a Nexis search, Burnett's own show has never, before this broadcast, covered Gosnell's story.
CNN host Erin Burnett didn't ask NRA board member Ted Nugent a single question about his recent violent remarks concerning gun policy, which included doubling down on his previous claim that he would be "dead or in jail" if Obama was reelected.
Burnett hosted Nugent on the April 11 broadcast of her show Erin Burnett OutFront to discuss pending gun safety legislation.
At no point did Burnett ask Nugent about comments he made during an April 8 interview on NRA News, when he complained that not enough was done to stop Obama's reelection and asked, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody." He also doubled down on his claim last year that he would be "either dead or in jail" in a year if the president was reelected.
Nugent is not a credible voice in the gun policy debate, as evidenced by his long history of inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation about gun violence. Nevertheless, Burnett has attempted to mainstream Nugent before. In February, Burnett's show featured an interview with Nugent where he suggested the government could confiscate firearms, a conspiracy theory that Burnett and CNN reporter Deb Feyerick later treated as a serious argument.
During the April 11 interview, Burnett experienced some of Nugent's inflammatory rhetoric firsthand when Nugent asked Burnett if she would "support my recommendation that we arrest Eric Holder" in order to "stop gun trafficking."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent will reportedly appear tonight on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront to discuss firearm policy, despite his history of inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation about gun violence. In February, OutFront featured an interview with Nugent where he suggested the government could confiscate firearms, a conspiracy theory that host Erin Burnett and CNN reporter Deb Feyerick later treated as a serious argument.
Nugent's appearance comes just days after he doubled down on his infamous comments that he would be "dead or in jail" because of President Obama's gun policies. During that interview on NRA News, Nugent also complained that not enough was done to stop the reelection of Obama, asking, "When I kick the door down in the enemy's camp, would you help me shoot somebody?" Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was "a metaphor" and that he's "not recommending shooting anybody."
Nugent is not a credible figure in the debate over gun laws.
In a February 13 column for birther website WND, Nugent revived false reports to allege that the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre used handguns rather than an assault weapon during his attack. Nugent's claim was based on an erroneous news report often cited by individuals promoting the conspiracy theory that the mass shooting was a hoax. In that same column, Nugent also downplayed the damage done by assault weapons by falsely claiming the AR-15 has more in common with a "squirrel rifle" than a military assault rifle.
In addition to his long history of hateful rhetoric on the topic of race, Nugent has compared the alleged plight of gun owners to civil rights icon Rosa Parks and blamed gun violence on "leftist stooges." By contrast, Nugent has also compared Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder to serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer after they were chosen to lead the administration's gun violence prevention efforts. No stranger to violent rhetoric, Nugent claimed in January that the Obama administration "is attempting to re-implement the tyranny of King George" and that "if you want another Concord Bridge, I got some buddies."
CNN host Erin Burnett and reporter Deb Feyerick gave serious treatment to National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent's baseless claim that President Obama will attempt to confiscate firearms, even discussing what would happen if the government tried to "take all the guns away tomorrow." Significantly, none of the proposals to reduce gun violence supported by the Obama administration in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre involve firearm confiscation.
Even though Nugent, who in part blamed the Newtown massacre on an "embarrassing, politically correct culture," is not a credible figure in the gun policy debate, Feyerick repeated his wild-eyed conspiracy theories on Erin Burnett OutFront:
BURNETT: President Obama has said he doesn't have any intention of confiscating guns, that that is not his goal, he's not trying to attack the Second Amendment. Nugent, though, doesn't believe him, why?
FEYERICK: No, he doesn't believe him at all. Because the way he sees it, he says, look, the majority of guns, 310 million guns, are in the hands of law-abiding citizens. The minority are in the hands of criminals, they're the ones who are committing the crimes. And that's why he says, look, why is the government coming after us saying we are going to ban these guns when we are not the ones who are doing anything. And so he focuses on criminality, on people who have mental illness, on making sure people stay in prisons long enough. But he says it's not the gun. And that's really the point that the NRA is trying to convey as part of this debate that is going on in the country right now.
BURNETT: So what would you do if there were a gun ban, just ignore it?
FEYERICH: Well, in many cases, yes. Because how do you enforce a gun ban? What do you do? If you take all the guns away tomorrow, people are out there who are going to find and get their hands on guns --
BURNETT: And as you said there are hundreds of millions already out there.
FEYERICH: Absolutely. What do you do? Do you give them -- do you hand in your guns? And that's the slippery slope that [Nugent] sees. That in fact once you start in that direction you're going to be giving up these things, or law enforcement is going to be coming, and trying to register them. So there is a whole series of reasons why they simply do not trust any sort of gun restriction in that way.
While much of Obama's plan to reduce gun violence involves strengthening the background check system for gun transactions, improving mental health services and making schools safer, the proposals that directly regulate firearms don't involve confiscation.
Previewing her upcoming special, CNN reporter Deb Feyerick praised NRA board member Ted Nugent for his "deep connection with the facts" on gun violence. But Nugent's radical views on gun ownership and outrageous and offensive comments about President Obama and prominent Democrats demonstrate that he is not a credible source for information on guns.
On Erin Burnett OutFront, Feyerick previewed a CNN special recorded at Nugent's home that featured a conversation about strengthening gun laws. During the segment Feyerick lauded Nugent for his "very firm grasp of the facts" about gun violence. Feyerick went on to describe Nugent as having "a very deep connection with the facts and the facts that he needs to make his argument":
But despite Feyerick's repeated praise, Nugent is an extremist on the subjects of both guns and government. Nugent has espoused numerous outrageous and offensive comments about gun violence and prominent Democratic politicians.
Despite the clear scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and that humans are causing it, CNN's Erin Burnett treated climate change as the subject of debate.
Throughout the segment, Erin Burnett OutFront aired a badly misleading graphic suggesting that global warming is "on ice" because public opinion has changed. The phrase carried a question mark during most of the discussion, but eventually dropped it:
In contrast, here's a chart from the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Change showing the long-term change in global temperature:
Last year was also the hottest year on record in the U.S.
From the January 23 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront:
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From the January 23 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront:
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CNN guest and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore misrepresented House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's comments on taxes, falsely claiming that she said "we've got to tax the middle class." In fact, Pelosi said that while tax increases for upper-income Americans are "not off the table," she does not want to bring in more revenue "at the expense of the middle class."
CNN's Erin Burnett Outfront played a clip of Pelosi appearing Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation and saying that tax increases for upper-income earners are "not off the table" in future spending negotiations. Moore then claimed that "we've only had this tax increase on the rich for what, 72 hours, and already people like Nancy Pelosi are saying, well, we've got to tax the middle class."
However, the full context of Pelosi's remarks reveal that Pelosi, during her appearance on Face the Nation, clearly stated that she is not interested in raising taxes on the middle class:
BOB SCHIEFFER (host): People who are listening to you this morning are going to say she's talking about more taxes, she's talking about bringing in more, in one way or another, by increasing taxes.
PELOSI: One thing I'm not talking about is bringing in more at the expense of the middle class, at the expense of the middle class. That is not something -- and that was what we were fighting all along in this because, to the extent that you diminished the tax cut, the tax change at the high end, you would have to claw down into the middle class to get more revenue.
SCHIEFFER: Are you then saying to the upper classes, get ready, you're going to have to pay some more, this is not the end of it?
PELOSI: Well, I'm saying that's not off the table.
SCHIEFFER: That's not off the table?
PELOSI: That's not off the table. But not in terms of tax rates but in terms of other considerations.
SCHIEFFER: You're talking about deductions and other things.
PELOSI: And the rest.
SCHIEFFER: What would be some of the things that you think, on the upper-income people, what kind of deductions are you talking about?
PELOSI: As I said, I'm not going into particulars.
SCHIEFFER: You're not going into --
PELOSI: Put it all -- put it all on the table and see what is working.
She concluded that any further tax increases should "not ... reach down to the middle class."
CNN aired a segment on Michigan's passage of a right-to-work law that was littered with misinformation, including the right-wing myth that workers in states without such laws are forced to join unions. In reality, federal law already prohibits unions from requiring workers to be members.
On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the right-to-work legislation, which bans "requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services," the Associated Press reported. Unions strongly opposed the law, and heated protests have been taking place in and around the Capitol in Lansing.
On Erin Burnett OutFront, guest host Ashleigh Banfield began her coverage of the issue by claiming that the new Michigan law made it "illegal to force any workers to join a union." Similarly, reporter Poppy Harlow said workers in Michigan now "won't have to be part of a union." However, compulsory union membership is already illegal nationwide, and unions must still represent nonmembers under collective bargaining agreements. Right-to-work laws actually allow workers to receive these union benefits without having to pay fees.
The segment also featured footage of Harlow interviewing Gov. Snyder, who said, "I think we'll see thousands of jobs coming to Michigan." After the footage aired, Harlow stated that while union members typically earn higher wages than nonmembers, Michigan will be "more competitive for businesses to come in" if wages are lower because of the right-to-work law.
Harlow's claim is contradicted by economic research that says right-to-work laws have little impact on employment or economic growth.
Later in the segment, Banfield asked CNN contributor John Avlon to explain the difference between the labor protests in Michigan and those in Wisconsin last year. Avlon said the difference is that "Wisconsin was all about public-sector unions" and Republicans' push to eliminate collective bargaining for most government employees there. Avlon added, "There is a world of difference" in Michigan, "which is about right-to-work for private-sector unions."
But Avlon is wrong: The right-to-work legislation in Michigan affects private-sector workers and public-sector workers. The AP reported that the Michigan Legislature approved two bills: "One measure dealt with private-sector workers, the other with government employees. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed them both within hours."