Cable News' One-Sided Attempt To Answer The Question "Are You Better Off Than You Were?"

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

Cable news outlets are attempting to assess the economy by once again asking the question, "are you better off than you were four years ago?" but they are leaving out half the story. A Media Matters analysis found that in 60 percent of the segments attempting to answer that question, no context was given to help viewers assess where the economy was in late 2008, when millions of jobs were lost.

Cable News Asks "Are You Better Off Than You Were" But Won't Tell You Where You Were

60 Percent Of Segments Asked "Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Year Ago" But Provided No Explanation Of Where We Were Four Years Ago. Between August 1 and 26, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC hosted 35 discussions that attempted to answer the question, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" In 21 of those discussions -- accounting for 60 percent of the segments -- no data from 2008 was presented.

Monthly Jobs Data And GDP From 2008 Completely Shut Out Of "Are You Better Off" Conversation. None of the 35 segments mention two key economic indicators from 2008, gross domestic product and monthly employment changes.

Cable News Most Likely To Focus On Debt, Unemployment Rate When Discussing Where The Economy Was Four Years Ago. Cable news hosts and guests were most likely to focus on national debt and the unemployment rate when providing. During the 14 segments that provided context as to where the economy was four years ago, national debt was mentioned nine times, and the unemployment rate was discussed eight times. The financial crisis was mentioned three times, personal income was mentioned twice, and the stock market was mentioned once. 

Chart 1

Who's Asking "Are You Better Off Than You Were?"

Fox Far More Likely To Ask "Are You Better Off Than You Were?" Fox News attempted to answer the question, "Are you better off than you were?" during 26 segments between August 1 and August 26. MSNBC attempted to answer the question during six segments, while CNN attempted to answer the question during three segments.

Chart 2

What Cable News Isn't Telling You: The 2008 Economy Was In Freefall

Economy Contracted By Nearly 9 Percent, Worst Economic Quarter In Decades. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimated that gross domestic product declined by an annualized rate of 8.9 percent during the fourth quarter of 2008 -- the final quarter before President Obama took office. According to IHS Global Insight, GDP decline at the end of 2008 "represents the worst single-quarter decline in GDP since the 10.4 percent drop in the first quarter of 1958." ["Latest GDP Report Shows U.S. Recession Was Deeper and Recovery More Anemic Than Previously Thought," IHS Global Insight, 7/29/11]

CBPP GDP

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 8/30/12]

Millions Of Jobs Were Lost In Only A Few Months. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment decreased by 432,000 jobs in September 2008, 489,000 jobs in October 2008, 803,000 jobs in November 2008, 661,000 jobs in December 2008, and 818,000 jobs in January 2009 -- a total of 3.2 million jobs in five months. [Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 9/3/12]

CBPP Employment

[Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 8/30/12]

For more on where the economy was in late 2008 and how it has improved since, click here.

Methodology

Media Matters searched the Nexis news database and closed captioning transcripts from CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News programs between August 1 and August 26 for the phrase "better off." Transcripts were analyzed to determine whether the host or a guest made an effort to answer the question, "Are you better off than you were four years ago." Each segment was scored based on whether the discussion included an assessment of the unemployment rate, gross domestic product, monthly job gains or losses, home prices, the financial crisis, a major stock index, national debt, and/or median household income. 

Posted In
Economy
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN
Stories/Interests
2012 Elections
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