Cable and broadcast nightly news programs have remained completely silent on pending automatic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) -- formerly known as food stamps -- which will have negative impacts on the economy and low-income groups.
Right-wing media picked up a misleading NBC News report that claimed President Obama knew millions of Americans would receive "cancellation" letters terminating their health insurance -- a report NBC News later clarified by explaining many of the policies would be "replaced" and not canceled.
In an October 28 NBC News report, senior investigative reporter Lisa Myers claimed that "50 to 75 percent" of individual health insurance consumers "can expect to receive a 'cancellation' letter or the equivalent over the next year" because their existing policies do not meet Affordable Care Act standards. Right-wing media have used similar language to claim "thousands of people across the country receiving cancellation notices from their insurers." In a New York Post column, National Review's Rich Lowry claimed "hundreds of thousands of people in states around the country are now receiving notices that their insurance is getting canceled." Fox News' Charles Krauthammer described the issues with the discontinued policies as "almost a parody of the definition of a liberal."
However, on the October 29 edition of MSNBC's The Daily Rundown, host Chuck Todd challenged Myers' description of policy letters sent to insurance consumers as policy replacements, not cancellation. Myers agreed:
From the October 22 edition of MSNBC's PoliticsNation:
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From the October 20 edition of MSNBC's Disrupt with Karen Finney:
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NPR contributor Cokie Roberts left out many of President Obama's major successes when she said that his only real first-term accomplishment has been the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Among these accomplishments are the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the rescue of America's biggest car companies, and the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
During a discussion on the October 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe about why Obama refused to entertain Republican demands that would gut the ACA in exchange for agreeing to avert a government shutdown, Roberts argued that the health care reform law "was his only real accomplishment" in his first term:
ROBERTS: Look at his first term. What was his only real accomplishment in that first term? This legislation. ... To give up his only really big accomplishment as President of the United States, that is something that he was not going to do.
While the ACA is one of the president's major accomplishments and is projected to reduce the United States' uninsured population by 25 million people by 2023, Roberts' statement ignores several of Obama's other significant achievements.
ARRA, also known as the 2009 stimulus, was passed weeks after Obama became president and succeeded in boosting the economy by several percentage points and creating the equivalent of several million jobs, according to economists and the Congressional Budget Office.
Later in 2009, President Obama helped General Motors and Chrysler transition through bankruptcy, a move that experts estimate saved well over a million jobs. Without the federal assistance that Obama authorized, the companies would have been liquidated.
Roberts also failed to mention the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, which represents a major foreign policy accomplishment by the president. Other notable foreign policy achievements include ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq, beginning the drawdown of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and assisting in the overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
President Obama also signed significant consumer protections into law with the passage of new credit card regulations in 2009 and the 2010 financial reform law that created the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Another of Obama's significant regulatory accomplishments was his push for the regulation of greenhouse gasses after the Environmental Protection Agency determined that they were a pollutants that threatened human health.
The first bill Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which expands opportunities for women to sue over pay discrimination. He also seated two female Supreme Court justices in his first term, including the first Hispanic justice, and oversaw the end of the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which banned openly gay Americans from serving in the military during his first term in office.
From the October 11 edition of MSNBC's Martin Bashir:
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In the first week of cable and broadcast nightly news coverage of the ongoing government shutdown, networks largely failed to report the effects on low-income Americans, instead opting for discussions of political leverage and national park closures.
Cable and broadcast evening news significantly increased coverage of inequality and poverty in recent months. This increased coverage comes at a crucial time, with reports showing historic highs in both metrics.
A Media Matters analysis found that issues of inequality and poverty were discussed in roughly 20 percent of broadcast and cable nightly news segments on the economy over the third quarter of 2013.
This spotlight on inequality in television news represents a departure from past coverage. In the second quarter of 2013, inequality and poverty were mentioned in only 9.3 percent of cable and broadcast segments on the economy. Similarly, major print outlets have failed to note structural inequality in their coverage of policies and programs that affect low-income groups.
Regardless, the increased coverage of poverty and inequality, especially when it is devoid of political motivations to defund anti-poverty programs, comes at a critical time.
In September, economists found that income inequality had reached its highest level since 1928, right before the onset of the Great Depression, with incomes for the top 1 percent of earners rising 20 percent. Meanwhile, incomes for the bottom 99 percent rose by only 1 percent. This research came on the heels of a report by the Economic Policy Institute that found median wages have remained stagnant for nearly a decade, despite increases in productivity.
As inequality has risen, improvement in poverty statistics has been lacking. On September 17, the United States Census Bureau released its annual report on income poverty and health insurance coverage for 2012. The report found that there was no significant improvement in reducing poverty since 2011, with the official poverty rate holding at 15 percent.
As reports flood in about the rising inequality and stagnant poverty rates, media have no choice but to cover issues that are unfortunately pertinent to an increasing number of Americans.
Cable and broadcast television outlets, driven largely by Fox News, promoted the myth that the Affordable Care Act is forcing employees into part-time work and killing full-time jobs, while ignoring serious discussions of the labor market and the effect of policy proposals on job growth.
Media Matters research, which looked at economic news coverage over the past three months, revealed an overwhelming bias in news coverage of the effects of health care reform on the American job market. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was identified as a primary driver of slow job growth and increased part-time employment in 90 recorded segments concerning the economy. More than three-quarters -- 69 -- of those segments came from Fox News, which has invested considerable time and attention to attacking President Obama's signature health care law.
The claim that ACA has a negative effect on the job market has been addressed and debunked by independent economists, but the myth persists as a talking point in the media. At Fox, the myth is a central theme of economic discussions.
Meanwhile, the negative effect of spending cuts on reducing economic growth and labor market demand went relatively unmentioned in the media. Only 37 recorded segments concerning the economy mentioned the harmful impact of spending cuts, the majority of which -- 27 -- came from MSNBC.
Economists agree that the austerity measures enacted over the past several years have dragged down economic growth. Nobel Prize-winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have written and commented about the effect of depressed spending at length, as have many others. However, cable and broadcast news coverage of the economy consistently ignore the views of economists in favor of discussions centered around optics and political horse races. Only 3 percent of featured guests in these segments during the past three months have been professional economists.
The lack of serious discussions of economic policy, in favor of politically driven talking points, has had a tangible effect on the economy and government. The vitriol directed at health care reform from the right-wing reached its peak on October 1 when House Republicans, emboldened by supportive media, opted to shut down the government rather than concede their demand that Democrats dismantle the ACA in exchange for a temporary extension of current spending.
The ACA was signed into effect on March 23, 2010, and has been subject to constant media scrutiny for more than three years. Calls to have the law repealed, or to have significant portions delayed, have been pushed by right-wing outlets for the past several months in preparation for the start of enrollment for state-based exchanges on October 1.
Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act throughout the third quarter of 2013. While coverage of certain issues improved, a Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News advancing the erroneous notion that the Affordable Care Act is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol dismissed the devastating effects of the government shutdown claiming, "no one no one is going to starve in Arkansas," ignoring that thousands of people across the country already face the loss of vital food nutrition programs.
On the October 2 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Kristol claimed that the shutdown wasn't a "disaster," and dismissed The Huffington Post's Sam Stein's argument that the shutdown was forcing 85,000 people to lose nutritional assistance in Arkansas alone. Kristol responded that Congress should move to fund anything that was a genuine emergency, but that "a one or two week shutdown is not going to be the end of the world":
[I]t's not going to be the end of the world honestly even if you're on nutritional assistance from the federal government. The state of Arkansas can help out, localities can help out, churches can help out, I believe that no one is going to starve in Arkansas because of the shutdown.
Starvation is an extreme measure by which to judge the damage of the shutdown. Though no one may have died yet, people around the country are facing the loss of essential food services, including in Arkansas.
The Associated Press reported on September 30 that Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe felt the state was "not in a position to" fund services typically from the federal government, and that "that more than 85,000 meals for Arkansas children would not be provided and 2,000 newborn babies would not receive infant formula through the Department of Health's WIC program."
CNBC analyst Michelle Caruso-Cabrera incorrectly argued that there is "next to zero" threat of default at the debt ceiling deadline, accusing White House press secretary Jay Carney of "fear mongering" on the issue.
On the October 1 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Caruso-Cabrera joined a panel discussion of the government shutdown to provide an outlook on its projected effects on financial markets and the greater economy. After downplaying the impact of the shutdown, Caruso-Cabrera addressed comments made by Carney concerning the October 17 debt ceiling deadline. Caruso-Cabrera disregarded the administration's concerns that failing to raise the debt ceiling presented a threat to the American and global financial system, stating:
CARUSO-CABRERA: There is a strong school of thought out there that says if we hit the debt ceiling, that it's not Armageddon, that we don't see skyrocketing interest rates. They keep saying "default on our debt," we just heard Jay Carney say that. The chances of that happening are next to zero because you can prioritize your payments. Defaulting on debt means the U.S. government would not make an interest payment [to] the U.S. Treasury. Highly unlikely, and the other thing is, if you pay that late, if it were even to happen, that is not default. And for investors to suddenly sell U.S. treasuries, because there's going to be a three-day payment late? Highly unlikely, because there aren't many other choices in the world.
Caruso-Cabrera closed the segment by accusing Carney of "fear mongering."
From the September 23 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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From the September 20 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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Fox News failed to air any of President Obama's speech on the economy, keeping in line with the network's history of refusing to cover Obama's remarks.
On September 20, President Obama delivered an address at the Liberty, Missouri Ford Motors plant. During the speech, he discussed topics ranging from the financial crisis, to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the need to raise the debt ceiling.
While both CNN and MSNBC provided significant live coverage of the speech - with 25 and 35 minutes of coverage, respectively -- Fox News did not air the remarks at all. Instead, America Live guest host Alisyn Camerota directed viewers to watch the speech online at FoxNews.com. While Camerota spoke, video of the president's remarks played onscreen, but audio was muted.
The network gave adequate live coverage to earlier remarks made by House Speaker John Boehner over efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, dedicating roughly two minutes of uninterrupted live coverage - almost the entirety of his remarks. CNN and MSNBC also aired Speaker Boehner's remarks, each dedicating around two minutes as well.
This is not the first time Fox News has failed to carry a president's speech on the economy. The network has repeatedly cut away from previous speeches, instead opting to cover other topics, such as the naming of the Royal baby.