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.
Cable and network news outlets barely covered the announcement that General Motors will return to the Standard & Poor's 500, a landmark achievement for the company that was booted from the index after filing for bankruptcy four years ago.
Media coverage of the effects of across-the-board spending cuts has narrowly focused on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) furloughs, largely ignoring the broad effects of cuts on other programs and agencies.
On April 26, the House of Representatives approved legislation to end furloughs at the FAA, which had caused significant flight delays. The agency had previously warned that automatic spending cuts would force rolling furloughs of roughly 15,000 air traffic controllers and other staff.
In the week leading up to the House vote, media was heavily focused on the effects of FAA furloughs. A Media Matters analysis found that in the week of April 22 to April 28, 49 cable and broadcast evening news segments mentioned the automatic budget cuts. These segments offered little analysis beyond highlighting the long lines and flight delays expected at airports.
Media's focus on the effects of budget cuts in the past two months has largely been confined to discussing effects on the FAA. On May 24, "Furlough Friday", four federal agencies -- the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) -- forced 115,000 employees to take a day of unpaid leave. As reported by Politico, this forced closure represented the "largest nonweather related partial government shutdown in recent memory."
Despite the impact of "Furlough Friday" on the ability of federal agencies to operate, media remained largely silent. Broadcast and cable news segments were seven times more likely to cover sequestration during the week of FAA furloughs than the week of EPA, HUD, IRS and OMB furloughs. The disparity comes despite the latter round of forced leave affecting nearly eight times more workers across a broader range of government.
Despite the media's lack of coverage, sequestration is still in place and all federal agencies are being forced to cut corners. The budget cuts even altered Memorial Day celebrations across the country over the holiday weekend.
The long-term effects of fiscal austerity can be seen from low-income school closures to impaired military readiness. Another 700,000 federal employees -- mostly in the Department of Defense -- will be forced to take unpaid leave through the remainder of the year.
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.
The news that electric carmaker Tesla Motors has repaid its federal loan early is being ignored by some of the same outlets that tried to make the bankrupt solar company Solyndra the face of the Obama administration's green initiatives -- including ABC, which suggested Tesla wouldn't be able to repay its loan.
On Wednesday, Tesla announced that it was paying back its $465 million Department of Energy loan with interest. The move came about nine years ahead of schedule and is expected to net taxpayers somewhere in the range of $15 to $26 million. Once derided as a "loser" by then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a "failure" by Fox News, Tesla is now profitable and critically-acclaimed.
Yet many in the media have ignored Tesla's loan repayment, which flies in the face of the media narrative that Solyndra was representative of the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC and NBC have so far failed to cover Tesla's loan repayment (CBS gave a news brief on its morning news show). An analysis by Media Matters showed that those same outlets (excluding CBS) devoted 188 segments totaling over 10 hours to Solyndra in the month after the company suspended operations, as seen in these charts comparing coverage to that surrounding a government corruption case at the Minerals Management Service and a report on military contracting waste and fraud:
The bout of positive news surrounding Tesla follows several skeptical media reports about its fortunes. In 2011, ABC suggested that "Tesla's business plan doesn't work" and thus it wouldn't repay its loan:
Since that segment, a Nexis search shows that neither Nightline nor any other primetime ABC News show has followed up with a report on the company's fortunes.
UPDATE (5/31/13): On the May 30 edition of The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC covered Tesla's loan repayment in a report on the successes of the clean energy loan programs. The only other coverage of the loan repayment from the networks above came on the May 25 edition of Fox News' The Journal Editorial Report, when Wall Street Journal editorial board member Kimberly Strassel mentioned it while suggesting Tesla might not be "sustainable" in the long run.
From the May 19 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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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.
Even legendary journalists can fail to recognize the overwhelming popularity of expanding the background check system for firearms purchases. While it is now a well-known fact that the policy enjoys overwhelming support from the American public at large, some pundits remain unaware that it is also very popular in states that typically support conservative politicians.
NBC's Tom Brokaw is apparently one of those pundits. On the April 21 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, responding to the statement that the structure of the Senate explains why expanding background checks did not pass (an amendment had the support of 55 senators but needed 60 votes), Brokaw said that the proposal likely had very little support in the home states of Democrats who voted against the measure:
BROKAW: But in those states in which the senators voted against the background check, it's not even close to 90 percent in terms of wanting it, it's probably down in single digits in Montana and Arkansas and Alaska and North Dakota, the states that block it as Democrats. So you have to take that into consideration.
In fact, state polls in three of those four states found that at least 79 percent of respondents supported requiring a background check on every gun purchase (a broader measure than the one actually under debate).
According to a series of state polls commissioned by Mayors Against Illegals Guns, which supports the policy:
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan attacked President Obama for "having a problem with the levers of power" after the Senate failed to pass background checks for gun sales despite the legislation receiving majority support -- the final vote was 54-46, with 41 Republicans voting against the measure. Previously Noonan has dismissed concerns about historic Republican obstruction in Congress with a sarcastic "boo hoo."
Appearing on Meet The Press, Noonan responded to the Senate's inability to pass background checks by referring to "a problem" when "90% of the American people" supported it but President Obama "can't make anything move."
Noonan neglected to mention that the measure required 60 votes in response to a Republican-led filibuster, so even though the vote was 54 to 46 in favor, the legislation failed.
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.
NBCNews.com falsely claimed that a recent report by the State Department found that the Keystone XL pipeline would create "as many as 42,000 new construction jobs." In fact, the report found that the pipeline would create less than 4,000 construction jobs and only 35 permanent jobs.
Late Friday, the State Department issued a draft Supplementary Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that was largely supportive of the project, which will inform President Barack Obama's decision later this year. The report found that "Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, the proposed Project would potentially support approximately 42,100 average annual jobs across the United States over a 1-to 2-year construction period." Those jobs encompass everything from food service to health care to finance, which the report estimates would be temporary ripple effects from the "approximately 3,900" annual construction jobs created for the 1- to 2-year construction period.
NBCNews.com not only inflated the number of construction jobs anticipated, but it failed to mention that the long-term economic impact of the project would be minimal contrary to persistent conservative claims. The State Department found that "Operation of the proposed Project would generate 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, primarily for routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs. Based on this estimate, routine operation of the proposed Pipeline would have negligible socioeconomic impacts."
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.
From the February 17 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
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