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.
Evening network news shows have largely ignored the filibuster brinkmanship of Senate Republicans in blocking President Obama's judicial nominees, as well as the resulting vacancy crisis at the important D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is considered the most important court in the country after the Supreme Court, in part because many of its judges go on to become justices, and in part because it is by far the most powerful appellate check on the federal government. Since it is required to examine challenges to a wide range of federal action - from environmental regulations to consumer protections to voting rights - it has the ability to uphold or strike down law on a national level.
However, as another victim of relentless Republican filibustering and the ensuing inability to hold up-or-down votes on the president's nominees to the federal courts, the D.C. Circuit currently has nearly 40 percent of its judgeships vacant. A Nexis search of evening network news shows in the past six months indicates that this problem has been ignored by ABC, CBS, and NBC.
From the January 12 edition of MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes:
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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.
Last Thursday, Andrew Engeldinger finished his shift at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, where he'd worked since the late 1990's. In the afternoon, Engeldinger was called into the front office and told he no longer had a job.
According to police, Engeldinger was armed at the time and began to open fire with a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol. He killed the company's founder and sought out three other sign-making coworkers for execution. The 36-year old shooter also killed a local UPS deliver man who got caught up in the on-site rampage.
When Engeldinger was done, he'd murdered five people. Then he went down into the firm's basement and shot himself in the head. When police arrived they described the scene as chaotic and the carnage as "hellish." When they searched the shooter's apartment, police found packaging for 10,000 rounds of ammunition.
"He obviously had this gun and was practicing how to use this gun," said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, describing the deadliest workplace shooting in Minnesota since the state began tracking these types of attacks two decades ago.
For the past two years Engeldinger's family had feared he was slipping into bouts of delusion and mental illness and had urged him, in vain, to seek treatment.
Incredibly, that mass murder story wasn't considered to be especially newsworthy by major news organizations. The shockingly small amount of press coverage the story has received (the New York Times has printed just two clipped AP reports on the shooting, buried in Section A and totaling less than 500 words) highlights the shoulder-shrugging response so many gun rampages now generate inside national newsrooms.
Primetime news has largely overlooked the future ideological direction of the U.S. Supreme Court as a key election issue, failing to note that the candidate who wins in November will likely appoint justices and shape how the court will decide vitally important issues.
Other news outlets have acknowledged the significance of Court nominations for the next president. The New York Times has reported that "[t]he winner of the race for president will inherit a group of justices who frequently split 5 to 4 along ideological lines. That suggests that the next president could have a powerful impact if he gets to replace a justice of the opposing side." The Associated Press has added that "[d]ecisions on many of the hot-button issues in recent years have been by 5-4 votes. These include upholding Obama's health care overhaul, favoring gun rights, limiting abortion, striking down campaign finance laws, allowing consideration of race in higher education and erecting barriers to class-action lawsuits." Both articles note that because four justices are currently in their seventies, the next president's prospects for appointing multiple justices are very real.
Fox News' Greta van Susteren last night became the sixth journalist to interview Mitt Romney without asking him about the conservative conspiracy theory alleging that the Muslim Brotherhood is using supposed ties to an aide for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to infiltrate the U.S. government. Two surrogates for Romney's campaign have defended that conspiracy during the past week, while Republican leaders like John Boehner and John McCain have condemned it.
Amid heavy scandal-mongering from Fox, NBC News centered a news report on Tuesday around deceptively truncated comments President Obama made during a July 13 campaign appearance, comments right-wing media have been distorting for days to accuse Obama of dismissing business owners.
In other words, the Fox Cycle is in full effect.
The Fox Cycle is the phenomenon where Fox News helps the conservative fringe bring bogus stories into mainstream outlets. It works like this:
1. Right-wing bloggers, talk radio hosts, and other conservative media outlets start promoting and distorting the story.
2. Fox News picks up the story and gives it heavy, one-sided coverage.
3. Fox News and conservative media attack the "liberal media" for ignoring the distorted story.
4. Mainstream media outlets eventually cover the story, echoing the right-wing distortions.
5. Fox News receives credit for promoting the story.
6. The story is later proven to be false or wildly misleading, long after damage is done.
That cycle was at work this week, after Obama made the unremarkable observation that businesses do not succeed in a vacuum, but that public infrastructure -- such as roads, schools, and fire departments -- create a community that supports businesses:
OBAMA: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
Stage 1 of the Fox Cycle hit soon after Obama made those comments, as the right-wing fringe distorted them. Focusing singularly on Obama's statement, "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that," these media conservatives accused the president of expressing hostility toward business. These attacks ignored the previous sentence in Obama's comments, when was talking about investments in roads and bridges.
A majority of federal rulings on the substance of President Obama's health care reform law have found it to be constitutional, including the law's mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. But a Media Matters review of the five largest newspapers and the flagship CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs finds that the media overwhelmingly focused on rulings that struck down the law in whole or in part -- 84 percent of segments on the broadcast and cable programs reviewed and 59 percent of newspaper articles that reported on such rulings -- while largely ignoring rulings that found it constitutional or dismissed the case.
Many in the media have long since repudiated their failures in the lead-up to the Iraq War, acknowledging that they were too quick to accept the false notion that Iraq possessed a sizable and dangerous cache of weapons of mass destruction. The question today is whether they have learned from those mistakes.
The media's self-reflection began as early as May of 2004, little more than a year after the conflict began, when The New York Times editorial board reflected on the paper's coverage of the war and stated that they "found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been." Top editors at the Times and The Washington Post subsequently acknowledged they had failed to push for front-page articles on "the flimsiness of the intelligence on W.M.D." The media's poor coverage has been noted by the Post's Walter Pincus, CNN's Howard Kurtz, CBS' Katie Couric, and many more.
But fast forward to today, and the media's coverage of Iran's nuclear program suggests that some outlets have not learned from Iraq reporting failures and risk repeating history. Media Matters reviewed transcripts of ABC's World News, CBS' Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News between November 8, 2011 and March 31, 2012. The examination reveals that once again the media is frequently misrepresenting the expert opinion of the intelligence community.
Two egregious misrepresentations in particular repeatedly came up in news reports on the Iranian nuclear program: suggesting that Iran will imminently obtain the bomb and suggesting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has major influence over the country's nuclear program.
A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX has dropped significantly since 2009. In 2011, these networks spent more than twice as much time discussing Donald Trump as climate change.
From the March 5 edition of NBC's Nightly News:
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On December 14, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Affordable Care Act contributed to 2.5 million young adults getting health insurance. This news was widely ignored by television news outlets, receiving 3 minutes, 22 seconds, of total coverage by CBS, ABC, and MSNBC on December 14, while CNN, Fox News, and NBC did not mention the ACA news.