In recent weeks, Sunday morning network news programs have virtually ignored economic issues, instead devoting hours of coverage to the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya; improper targeting of conservative nonprofits by the Internal Revenue Service; controversial federal investigations of national security leaks; and new revelations about National Security Agency surveillance programs.
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.
Sunday talk shows on NBC, CBS, and ABC compared reports that the Internal Review Service (IRS) applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups to President Nixon's Watergate scandal, a comparison which people who worked on both sides of the Watergate scandal agree is baseless.
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.
In the first three months of 2013, the broadcast networks' Sunday morning talk shows once again skewed strongly to the right and featured a startling lack of diversity among guests.
For better or worse, these shows -- ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday -- occupy an elevated space in the national political discussion. This is where influential people -- like senators, representatives, presidential administration officials, Fortune 500 chief executives, and leaders of prominent non-profit organizations, for example -- get to set the terms of debate and frame the issues of the week. The shows enjoy considerably high ratings as well -- approximately 10 million weekly viewers collectively, according to recent numbers from TV Newser.
With that in mind, who the broadcast Sunday shows invite on as guests has significant implications for how discussions on major issues are framed. And once again, Republicans and conservatives have an edge over Democrats and progressives on these programs.
The four broadcast networks' Sunday morning political talk shows guests skewed right during the first quarter of 2013. MSNBC's two Sunday programs featured far greater gender and ethnic diversity in its guests than the broadcast programs and CNN's Sunday morning political talk show.
Media figures have repeatedly forwarded the notion that the United States is currently facing a debt crisis. However, leaders of both parties agree there is no immediate crisis, and by focusing attention too heavily on deficit and debt reduction, the media distract from the more imminent problem of growth and jobs.
Throughout news coverage of recent budget negotiations, media figures have consistently framed discussions around the notion that the country faces a debt crisis, an assertion that is often presented uncritically and accepted as an indisputable fact. Since discussions are predicated on the assumption that a debt crisis exists, ensuing analysis of budget proposals is often solely focused on how far they go in reducing short term deficits and debt.
While media are convinced that a debt crisis exists, leaders of both parties have made explicit statements to the contrary. In a March 12 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Obama claimed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt," a statement that was immediately criticized by conservative media. When asked if he agreed with Obama's statement regarding debt on the March 17 edition of ABC's This Week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) conceded that there is no immediate crisis. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made a similar admission on CBS' Face the Nation, saying "we do not have a debt crisis right now."
Furthermore, the media's focus on a "debt crisis" has necessarily steered the debate about budgets toward how the parties will sufficiently address short term deficits. Economists, meanwhile, have repeatedly argued that undue focus on deficits and debt distracts from the more pressing need for economic growth and reduced unemployment.
The bipartisan admission that there is no immediate debt crisis provides media with an opportunity to reframe their budget negotiations coverage around economic growth.
Video by Alan Pyke.
Fox News reporter Kelly Wright used a partial quote from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to paper over Ryan's acknowledgment that debt levels are stable for the near term, misrepresenting the debt conflict between President Obama and House Republicans.
On the March 17 edition of CBS News' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked Ryan about an interview Obama had previously given to ABC News, in which he observed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt." Ryan conceded to Schieffer that "we don't have a debt crisis right now," going on to explain that Republicans differ with the president on how to handle the prospective crisis. From the March 17 edition of Face the Nation:
RYAN: To borrow a phrase from my friend Erskine Bowles and the fiscal commission, we're the healthiest looking horse in the glue factory. That means America is still a step ahead of the European nations who are confronting a debt crisis of Japan that's in its second lost decade. It's partly because of our resilient economy, our world currency status. So we do not have a debt crisis right now, but we see it coming, we know it's irrefutably happening. And the point we're trying to make in our budget is let's get ahead of this problem. Look we know that in a debt crisis you pull the rug out from under people living on the safety net, you cut seniors in retirement. This is what we're trying to avoid. The purpose of having a reasonable balanced budget like we're proposing is let's prevent a debt crisis from happening in the first place. If we keep kicking the can down the road, if we follow the president's lead or if we pass the Senate budget, then we will have a debt crisis. Then everybody gets hurt. You know who gets hurt first and the worst in a debt crisis? The poor and the elderly. That's what we're trying to prevent from happening. Pro-growth economic policies to get people working, to bring in more revenue, and get the entitlement system under control so it doesn't go bankrupt so people can seriously plan for the promises that government has made for them in retirement. That's what we're saying, is, let's prevent a debt crisis from happening, we know it's coming, this budget does that.
In the lead segment of the March 18 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, however, Wright excised Ryan's agreement with the president. After stating that despite Obama's "charm offensive," Republicans "remain skeptical about the president's sincerity," Wright offered a misleading paraphrase of Ryan's comments that implied that Obama's 'no immediate crisis' observation was a stumbling block in negotiations, rather than a point of common ground.
WRIGHT: But some Republicans remain skeptical about the president's sincerity. Congressman Paul Ryan, who we just heard from, expressed doubts after the president's recent comment that America is not in an immediate debt crisis. Ryan contends that America is teetering on the edge of a crisis, and that it will have serious repercussions.
[RYAN CLIP:] You know who gets hurt first and the worst in a debt crisis? The poor and the elderly. That's what we're trying to prevent from happening. Pro-growth economic policies to get people working, to bring in more revenue, and get the entitlement system under control so it doesn't go bankrupt so people can seriously plan for the promises that government has made for them in retirement. That's what we're saying, is, let's prevent a debt crisis from happening, we know it's coming, this budget does that.
This heavy truncation of Ryan's quote suggests disagreement where there is none: Both Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) agreed with the president's assessment that any crisis is not immediate. That's because debt levels are stable in the near term, a fact straight from the Congressional Budget Office. The White House and the congressional GOP dispute the proper policy response to these non-immediate, middle-distance fiscal issues, but the president's "immediate crisis" comments are not controversial.
President Obama and congressional Republicans agree about the importance of debt reduction, but dispute the timeline and architecture of that reduction. Ryan's belief that America is merely "the healthiest horse in the glue factory" may be misguided, but it is much more informative for fiscal debate watchers than Fox's focus on a ginned-up disagreement that Ryan and Boehner have already rejected.
MSNBC is giving Chris Hayes the network's 8 p.m. primetime weekday slot beginning in April. Hayes' current program, Up with Chris Hayes, has provided a beacon of diversity compared to the Sunday morning political talk shows on other major broadcast and cable networks, which overwhelmingly feature white men.
The Sunday morning edition of Up with Chris Hayes, which runs from 8 to 10 a.m., is currently more diverse than any of the Sunday morning talk shows on the other networks, as a Media Matters examination of guests since January 1 demonstrates. Most tellingly, white men make up 41 percent of total guests on Up with Chris Hayes (according to data from the U.S. Census, white men make up roughly 31 percent* of the U.S. population). In contrast, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox's Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, CNN's State of the Union, and ABC's This Week host white men 66 percent, 64 percent, 64 percent, 67 percent, and 61 percent of the time, respectively.
Further, Up with Chris Hayes has more than double the proportion of African-American guests -- 21 percent -- as compared to each of the other programs. In all, 34 percent of guests on Up with Chris Hayes are non-white. Hayes also hosts more women -- 37 percent -- than any of the other networks' shows.
*This report originally stated that white men represented 39 percent of the U.S. general population. The correct figure is 31 percent. Media Matters regrets the error.
From the January 9 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner:
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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.
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."
CBS News political analyst Frank Luntz had a major undisclosed conflict of interest while appearing on the network. While Luntz used his pre-election platform on CBS to praise Rep. Paul Ryan, his consulting firm, Luntz Global LLC, received $40,000 in consulting and polling fees from Rep. Paul Ryan's congressional campaign.
On CBS, Luntz called Ryan a "very popular" congressman who could help Romney win Wisconsin. Luntz also used his CBS appearances to attack his client's vice presidential opponent. He claimed that Biden's debate performance was a turnoff to voters and suggested it showed that the Obama administration can't work with Congress. Luntz made eleven CBS appearances to discuss the presidential campaign from September 24 -- when Luntz's firm first received a payment from Ryan -- through November.
According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Ryan's successful 2012 congressional campaign paid Luntz Global LLC $20,000 on September 24 for "Polling: Dial Session" and $20,000 on October 9 for "Advertising: Ad Consulting." UPDATE (12/7): Following the publication of this post, Ryan's campaign filed its post-general FEC report showing an additional $5,063.39 disbursement to Luntz Global on November 6 for "Advertising: Ad consulting expenses."
Luntz is a Republican operative (despite some apparent confusion from CBS) who is perhaps best known for helping write and market Newt Gingrich's Contract with America. New York Times Magazine contributor Robert Draper reported that Luntz orchestrated a 2009 meeting where prominent Republicans, including Paul Ryan, formulated a plan to gain control of Congress and The White House.
Luntz's lack of disclosure may violate CBS Corporation's standards of conduct. The CBS Corporation Business Conduct Statement on conflicts of interest informs CBS employees, "including those employed on a temporary, freelance, intern, or per diem basis," that "in all cases" they "must disclose all potential conflicts of interest" to CBS:
Disclosing and Addressing Potential Conflicts of Interest
CBS requires that you disclose, in writing, any personal, business, or other relationship that could potentially affect your business judgment on behalf of your Company and CBS. The existence of a potential conflict of interest, such as one or more of the situations discussed below, does not necessarily constitute a violation of CBS's conflict of interest policy. Our policy is one of disclosure and review of potential conflicts and prohibition of actual conflicts of interest. In some cases, disclosure may be all that is required. In others, the situation may require additional action to avoid a conflict of interest or to remedy one. But remember, in all cases, you must disclose all potential conflicts of interest.
The document adds: "Even the appearance of a conflict of interest can undermine our integrity in the minds of our co-workers, our customers, our suppliers, or the public."
Luntz also didn't disclose his financial relationship with Ryan during appearances on Fox News. On the October 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity (via Nexis), Luntz said: "I would tell people to be watching Wisconsin even more than Ohio. Paul Ryan is very popular there. He's known state wide. His numbers are fantastic, and that's a state that has already survived a recall. There's a good Republican organization on the ground because of the Scott Walker vote. The man did even better in the recall." Luntz also conducted a live focus group on Fox following the October 11 vice presidential debate. Luntz Global states that Luntz is a Fox News contributor.
Luntz's failure to disclose his financial connection to Rep. Ryan was not his only undisclosed conflict of interest during recent media appearances. The day before the election, Fox & Friends hosted Luntz to praise a "powerful" ad from Karl Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads. Neither Luntz nor Fox disclosed that Crossroads had paid Luntz's firm more than $46,000 earlier in the year.
Requests for comment to CBS, Fox News and Luntz Global LLC were not returned.
Four of the five major Sunday morning political shows ignored the issue of job creation and economic growth, which economists and voters say are the most important economic issues facing the nation. Instead, the economic discussion on the November 11 editions of these shows focused almost exclusively on the debate over how to achieve deficit reduction.
Among the participants in the major Sunday shows, NBC's Meet the Press, CBS' Face the Nation, ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Fox Broacasting's Fox News Sunday, and CNN's State of the Union, only This Week guest Katrina vanden Heuvel pointed out that the exit polls found that voters say the government should focus on job creation rather than deficit reduction.
By contrast, Meet the Press guest Bob Woodward identified deficits and debt as " the big issue" the government must solve. Woodward went on to suggest that Obama should be looking for a "payoff for everyone in the community, not just his base."
WOODWARD: I think the big picture here is that President Obama has got to deliver on the big issue, which is fixing the financial house of the U.S. federal government. It is in disarray. It's not just the fiscal cliff, it's $16 trillion in IOUs out in the world. In a couple of months, in February or March, they are going to have to renegotiate an authority -- lending and borrowing authority -- for another trillion or two dollars, and if the president can fix that and put us on some sort of path of restoration for the economy, that is a payoff for everyone in the community, not just his base.
And he's got to think much more broadly. The job of the president is to find the next stage of good for a real majority and he's capable of doing it.
The Associated Press analyzed data of national exit polls following the presidential election and found that 59 percent of voters interviewed listed the economy as the biggest issue facing the country. In comparison, only 15 percent said that deficits were the most important issue. Similarly, when asked about specific economic concerns, nearly 40 percent of voters said unemployment was the "biggest economic problem facing voters like them."
Economists and other experts also say that job creation and economic growth are the most important issue facing the country.