Bill O'Reilly's annual fight against the manufactured "War on Christmas" has become a revered holiday tradition over at Fox News. Just like last year, in December O'Reilly has spent more time on his show discussing the "War on Christmas" than actual military conflicts. As usual, events O'Reilly identified as a unified "War on Christmas" were almost always isolated incidents from around the country, usually pertaining to concerns over separation of church and state or efforts to make holiday celebrations more inclusive.
For example, for the second consecutive year, O'Reilly made a fuss over Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee's decision to call the tree in their statehouse a "holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree," going so far as to dispatch O'Reilly Factor producer Jesse Watters to interview people on the streets of New York about it.
When Watters asked a young couple whether they'd heard of the War on Christmas, they simply responded, "No." Watters looked puzzled. "No, you haven't heard of the War on Christmas?" That's probably because the Grinch here is entirely O'Reilly's making. Here's a brief sample of O'Reilly's never-ending war on the War on Christmas:
For the second straight year, The O'Reilly Factor has devoted more than three times as much airtime to the manufactured "War on Christmas" than to actual military conflicts.
In recent weeks, media outlets have focused heavily on current budget negotiations regarding automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect on January 1, 2013 if an alternative agreement is not reached. But major television news outlets are inadequately reporting on year-end budget negotiations, rarely hosting economists and favoring inflammatory rhetoric about the so-called "fiscal cliff," according to a Media Matters analysis. Furthermore, most television segments have completely ignored the possible economic effects of potential tax increases and spending cuts.
ABC, CBS, and USA Today ignored a call for strong gun violence prevention laws included in statements by Mark Kelly on behalf of his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, at the sentencing hearing for Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner.
While ABC, CBS, and USA Today reported on Kelly's statement to Loughner that "you may have put a bullet through her head, but you haven't put a dent in her spirit and her commitment to make the world a better place," they ignored his comments about the role of high capacity magazines in the shooting and concerns that he and Giffords have about the enforcement of gun laws.
A wave of mass shootings have occurred over the past few years, often garnering extensive media coverage. Despite those tragic attacks and the roughly 30,000 deaths by firearms that occur every year, moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS' NewsHour failed to ask the presidential candidates about gun violence during the first presidential debate, the only forum specifically dedicated to domestic policy.
14 mass shootings have been committed over the past four years, according to an analysis by Mother Jones. These include recent tragedies that rocked the American public this year, such as the attack at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and an assault at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Last year, a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, nearly claimed the life of then-U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Nonetheless, in the first presidential debate for the 2012 election, Lehrer asked no questions on the topic of gun violence. This continues the troubling pattern established during the 2008 presidential debates, which similarly featured no discussion of the topic even in the wake of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech the previous year. Past presidential debates have featured this subject regularly: A Media Matters review found that in 1992, the second debate spent over six minutes on it; in 1996, the first debate gave it almost four minutes; in 2000, the second and third debates devoted more than 13 minutes combined; and in 2004, the third debate spent nearly three minutes on it.
In 89 segments between September 10 and 16, Fox News reported on the Chicago Teachers Union's strike without disclosing its financial ties to the educational technology company administering the standardized tests with which the union takes issue.
Fox News parent company News Corp. acquired a 90-percent stake in Wireless Generation in 2010. Last May, the company agreed to provide Early Mathematics Assessment Services and Early Literacy Assessment Services to Chicago Public Schools. These contracts total $4.7 million. A central reason the Chicago Teachers Union decided to strike is their objection to the school district's call for heavily weighing such standardized testing to ultimately determine teacher pay and layoffs.
But Fox News anchors and reporters never once disclosed its parent company's ties to Wireless Generation even as the network routinely criticized the strike and the Chicago Teachers Union.
The programs that covered the story most often:Fox & Friends (including the First, Saturday, and Sunday editions) with 31 segments over the entire week; America's News Headquarters aired 12 segments this last weekend alone; America Live was next with 7 segments; and Fox Report with Shepard Smith and Special Report followed with 6 segments each. Not one segment disclosed News Corp.'s business relationship with Wireless Generation despite repeated mentions and discussions of the teacher evaluations at the heart of the strike.
During Monday's Special Report with Bret Baier, correspondent Steve Brown reported of the strike: "At issue, says the union president, is trust." Indeed. It's also an issue for Fox News. How can Fox's viewers trust that the network has provided a "fair and balanced" overview of events unfolding in Chicago when it won't disclose its financial interests?
American television news outlets continue to devote sparse time to one of largest banking scandals in history. The controversy over whether major banks have been manipulating the LIBOR, a crucial interest rate that banks use to borrow money from one another, has been gathering steam for more than a month since U.S. and U.K. regulators fined British bank Barclays $450 million for its role in trying to rig the rate.
CNN's Erin Burnett has explained that LIBOR is "an interest rate at the core of our entire economy," adding, "It's really not wrong to say that if you can't trust LIBOR, you can't trust anything in banking." According to The Economist, the LIBOR is used "as a benchmark to set payments on about $800 trillion worth of financial instruments." Baltimore City filed a lawsuit against major banks in the first of what may be a wave of such actions, alleging that the LIBOR manipulation potentially cost it millions of dollars in investment returns.
Despite the enormous implications of the scandal, ABC's World News and NBC's Nightly News both ignored the story in the 16 days after news of the Barclays fine broke, as we documented earlier this month. In the 16 days following the period of our original study, the LIBOR blackout has continued on ABC and NBC's flagship evening news programs. Those programs have gone more than a month without mentioning the controversy.
CBS Evening News devoted more than five and a half minutes to the story in the first 16 days following the Barclays fine, but has not returned to the scandal in the subsequent 16 day period despite a host of new developments.
After spending roughly six and a half minutes combined covering the scandal on their evening newscasts and opinion programming between June 27 and July 12, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News devoted less than 32 minutes to stories related to the controversy from July 13 to July 28, with more than two-thirds of that coverage coming from CNN.
These same news outlets spent significantly more time on trivialities like shark sightings and the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes divorce than on the banking scandal. For context, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN spent 44 minutes combined on the LIBOR scandal during their evening programming from June 27 to July 28. By contrast, these same outlets devoted nearly 65 minutes to stories about sharks for only the first sixteen days of that period.
Far from being a dormant story, fallout from allegations that the LIBOR has been manipulated has been steady.
On July 14, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Justice Department had "identified potential criminal wrongdoing by big banks and individuals at the center of the scandal" and was building criminal cases "against several financial institutions and their employees." The Times explained that the "prospect of criminal cases" was expected to "rattle the banking world."
The scandal has also reached Capitol Hill, with both Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke being questioned about regulators' response to allegations that banks were manipulating the LIBOR. During his appearance in front of the Senate Banking Committee, Bernanke said the LIBOR is "structurally flawed" and called the controversy "a major problem for our financial system."
The story has gotten major coverage in financial press and on shows like Current TV's Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer and MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes, but, with a few exceptions, has still received little attention on major American television news outlets their during evening newscasts and primetime programming. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple has urged media outlets considering LIBOR coverage to "Get on it," providing "Nine reasons to cover" the scandal.
Instead of covering one of the largest banking scandals in history, American television news outlets have focused on the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, shark sightings, and a chimpanzee attack.
Last week, we documented how television news outlets are practically ignoring an emerging controversy over whether major financial institutions have been manipulating the LIBOR, a key interest rate banks use to borrow money from each other that is "used as a benchmark to set payments on about $800 trillion worth of financial instruments." MIT professor of finance Andrew Lo told CNN Money that the LIBOR-manipulation story "dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scams in the history of markets."
In the fifteen days after news broke that U.S. and U.K. regulators had fined British multinational bank Barclays $450 million for its role in trying to rig the LIBOR, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC spent only 12 minutes combined reporting on the story during their evening newscasts and opinion programming.
With few exceptions -- notably MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes and Current TV's Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer -- the scandal has been largely relegated to financial outlets. In a post chiding ABC and NBC for ignoring LIBOR entirely during their flagship nightly news programs, Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple joked that ABC "[c]an't bump complicated, clunky old LIBOR for fins protruding from the ocean."
Wemple's suggestion that the networks' failure to cover LIBOR was not caused by their preference for other important hard news stories is depressingly accurate. The same outlets that found only 12 minutes of time to report on LIBOR from June 27 to July 12 during their evening programming devoted nearly 65 minutes to stories about sharks during that same time period.
The numbers are even worse when comparing LIBOR coverage to coverage of the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC devoted almost 91 minutes to stories related to the celebrity divorce, which is more than seven times longer than they spent on LIBOR during the same period. Only CBS' Evening News, which was the only network newscast to cover LIBOR during the time of this study, ignored the divorce.
Similarly, a story about chimpanzees attacking an American student at an animal sanctuary in Africa received more than 20 minutes of primetime coverage.
CBS was the only network to devote more coverage to LIBOR than to these trivial stories during the study.
Major American television news outlets are devoting scant coverage to one of the largest banking scandals in history. Regulators are investigating whether major financial institutions have been manipulating the LIBOR, a key interest rate that banks use to borrow money from one another. The British multinational financial institution Barclays has already been fined $450 million for its role in the scandal. Despite the massive scope of the controversy -- LIBOR is "used as a benchmark to set payments on about $800 trillion worth of financial instruments" -- CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC have only spent about 12 minutes combined covering the story during their evening newscasts and opinion programming.
Notably, flagship nightly news programs like ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer, NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams and Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier have never mentioned the rate-fixing scandal. Sunday morning standards including ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, and Fox's Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace have also been silent on the story.
On MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes this past weekend, host Chris Hayes observed that the rate-manipulation story has been "getting tremendous coverage" in England and in the financial press but "hasn't been sufficiently covered here." His segment, which is notable as the longest and most in-depth coverage of the story on any of the programs included in this study, featured a panel discussion that included two economists.
Hayes is right: American television news outlets, including his own, are practically ignoring the scandal.
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.