Despite a number of significant economic developments, major network and cable Sunday shows have been largely silent on the economy.
Media Matters research reveals that from May 12 to June 9, five major Sunday shows devoted only approximately 35 minutes of economic coverage.
During this time period, the Sunday shows were silent on the economy and missed an opportunity to cover significant developments.
Despite the various economic developments over this period, CNN and major network Sunday shows devoted little time to those stories. Only during the week of June 2 did coverage of the economy rise above five minutes, which provided three-quarters of the coverage for the entire five-week period.
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.
Fox News host Greta Van Susteren lamented that "we do nothing about the poor," but has repeatedly hosted guests who have attacked the federal food stamp program, which helps keep millions out of poverty and limits the effects of poverty and unemployment.
On the June 9 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren decried a lack of attention to impoverished Americans, saying, "The thing that disturbs me is that the economy I see is a three legged stool: the rich, the middle class, and the poor. And all three have to be winning and surviving, and we do nothing about the poor. You know, we play with all these numbers and look at all the unemployment but we still aren't digging into the inner city and going into the poverty, the huge poverty at the bottom in this city."
But Van Susteren's concern for the poor is inconsistent with attacks by guests on her show on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal food stamp program that is designed to keep people out of poverty.
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.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl is helping to promote a dishonest narrative regarding why then-CIA director Gen. David Petraeus expressed disapproval for a set of talking points written in response to the September attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Karl's reporting on the issue has ignored the central reason Petraeus said that he didn't like the talking points: he thought they didn't do enough to connect the attacks to demonstrations in Cairo that were triggered by an anti-Islam video. Since right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have spent months accusing the Obama administration of politically-motivated lying for stating that there was a link between the attacks and the video, this point is crucial.
According to CBS News, in a September 15 email, Petraeus wrote that "he doesn't like the talking points and he would 'just assume they not use them... This is not what [Rep.] Ruppersberger asked for. We couldn't even mention the Cairo warning. But it's their call.'"
The "Cairo warning" Petraeus mentioned appears to refer to the following sentence that CBS News reported was added to the original talking points but subsequently removed:
On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy [in Cairo] and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy."
As has been extensively reported, the September demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt, were part of a series of global riots and protests in Muslim countries that came in response to increasing awareness of the anti-Islam video. In the days and weeks following the attack, President Obama both referred to the attacks as an "act of terror" and offered criticism of that video for "spark[ing] outrage through the Muslim world."
It was not unreasonable for Petraeus and Obama to cite a link between the attacks and the video - according to the New York Times, the Benghazi attackers told bystanders that "that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video." In fact, the original set of talking points prepared by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that the attacks "were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo."
But in reporting on the same Petraeus email, Karl has left out Petraeus' stated reason for disliking the talking points and in one case allowed his interviewer to suggest that Petraeus actually opposed linking the attacks to the video.
Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
ABC News is falsely suggesting there is a contradiction between the Obama administration removing references to terrorist groups in Libya from talking points about the September 11 attacks on diplomatic facilities in that country and pointing to President Obama's statements that those attacks were an "act of terror."
The original September 14 version of a set of talking points compiled by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that "Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa'ida participated in the attack," and specifically suggested the involvement of the group Ansar al Sharia. Those specifics were subsequently removed, with the final version of the talking points stating only that "extremists participated" in the attacks.
In closed congressional testimony following his resignation as CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus reportedly said that these specifics had been "removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them." Administration officials have also said that there were other intelligence and legal concerns with naming the suspected perpetrators:
"The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. "There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly."
Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants -- a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.'s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.
Indeed, ABC News has reported that in an email in response to the initial talking points, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland "objected to naming the terrorist groups because 'we don't want to prejudice the investigation.'"
By contrast, in his September 12 and September 13 remarks, President Obama described the attacks as an "act of terror," but did not specify who the perpetrators of that act might be. Presumably such comments would not alert the perpetrators that they were being tracked or jeopardize the criminal probe in the same way that the naming of the specific group might.
Despite that clear distinction, ABC Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz and White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl both suggested that the White House is trying to "have it both ways."
At the height of the manufactured "Climategate" controversy, distortions of an email from a top climate scientist made it all the way to one of the leading Sunday shows. But a recent study re-confirms what that scientist was actually saying -- that much of recent heat has been trapped deep in the ocean.
In 2009, a batch of emails was stolen from the University of East Anglia. In one of the emails, which skeptics quickly took out of context, Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, lamented the "travesty" that "we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment." Trenberth was actually referring to gaps in our "observing system" that make it difficult to say where short-term energy -- or heat -- is going, not copping to a lack of long-term climate change, as some claimed. In the email, Trenberth alluded to research suggesting that the "missing" heat might be sequestered deep in the ocean.
For some media, none of this mattered. In a November 2009 appearance on ABC's This Week, conservative columnist George Will suggested Trenberth's email showed that "global warming has stopped," and that since climate science is "a complicated business," we "shouldn't wager these trillions" on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
But a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the ocean has in fact played a "key role" in absorbing recent heat, which "strengthens our confidence in the robustness of our climate models." The findings echo the conclusions of a paper co-authored by Trenberth himself as well as findings published in the journal Physics Letters A in late 2012, all indicating that climate change continues apace.
Recent analyses by Media Matters show that the "Climategate" episode was typical of the way the influential Sunday shows favor political spin over scientific fact. On the rare occasion Sunday shows covered climate change between 2009 and 2012, not a single scientist or climate expert was part of the discussion. In addition, every politician who discussed climate change on the Sunday shows in 2012 was a Republican:
Examining trends more broadly, the Sunday shows have hosted more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives. In this environment, honest appraisals of science are rare, and commentators like George Will fit right in.
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.
Fox News' Greta Van Susteren pushed the right-wing talking point that regulation is "strangling" small businesses on Sunday, ignoring reports that have repeatedly debunked her theory.
On ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren got into a debate with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman over the effect that government regulation has on small businesses and the American job market. Though Krugman pointed out that Van Susteren's assertion is not backed up by the data, Van Susteren refused to give his explanation credence.
VAN SUSTEREN: We're strangling small businesses. I mean, you know everyone -- no one's paying much attention to these small businesses. The regulations that are strangling them, some of them are laughable and silly, but they have a profound impact on the job creators, those who are making jobs. They can't afford to hire people.
KRUGMAN: There's been tons, there's been tons of work on this. And what's holding small business back is not regulations, it's just the fact that they don't have sales.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's not all, it's some of it, some of it.
KRUGMAN: It's not. There's no correlation, looking across, you know which parts of the economy do small businesses complain about regulations and which don't they. There's no correlation between that and actual job creation.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there one exception perhaps, on the health care, where, firms that are greater than 50 people, have to pay more and that don't you see some firms cutting off at 49?
KRUGMAN: You really -- there might be. but you can't see that in the numbers. The overwhelming fact of the matter--
VAN SUSTEREN: Well If you talk to them, instead of looking at just the numbers, why don't you sit down and talk to these people, lot of them are struggling with this. They don't understand a lot of those things that happen. They don't understand a lot of the things that are happening in Washington. They're very cautious because they see a real dismal economy out there. And that doesn't --
KRUGMAN: If you actually talk to them, that's not what they say.
Despite Van Susteren's claims, Krugman's position has a strong foundation in official economic data as well as less formal anecdotes and survey responses from business owners.
Investment data refutes Susteren's claim that high regulatory environments tend to suppress growth. An Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of the past four economic recoveries found that the slowest growth actually occurred during the deregulatory Bush administration:
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.
From the March 24 edition of ABC News' This Week With George Stephanopoulos:
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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.