REPORT: Print Media's Budget Figures Lack Context

››› ››› ALBERT KLEINE & CRAIG HARRINGTON

Throughout the first half of 2013, three major national print outlets mostly reported figures on debt, deficits, spending, and revenue in terms of raw numbers devoid of relevant context, such as previous years' numbers or monthly figures, that would give readers a more accurate depiction of the economy.

Print Media Rely Heavily On Raw Numbers

67 Percent Of Budget Figures Reported As Raw Numbers Without Important Context. Three major print outlets -- The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- were more than twice as likely to report figures on debt, deficits, spending, and revenue as raw numbers than figures with relevant context or in percentage terms. Only 12 percent of mentions of figures gave relevant context -- such as previous years' or months' figures -- when reporting numbers. Twenty-one percent of figures were presented as a percentage term relative to GDP or the size of the federal budget.

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Deficiency In Reporting Context Stretched Across All Three Outlets. Of the three major print outlets analyzed, The Washington Post showed the heaviest reliance on raw numbers devoid of context, accounting for about 73 percent of its mentions of budget figures. The Wall Street Journal showed the least reliance on raw numbers -- 56 percent of all figures reported -- and the greatest reliance on figures expressed in percentage terms.

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Methodology

Media Matters conducted Nexis and Factiva (for The Wall Street Journal) searches for print articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post between January 1, 2013, and June 30, 2013, using the search terms: (debt or deficit) w/10 (US or United States or national or federal or budget).

We only coded figures that related to the United States national budget, including figures on debt, deficits, spending, and revenue. Figures reported for state and foreign budgets were not included in the analysis.

We defined figures that are represented as "raw numbers" as those that are expressed in nominal dollar terms devoid of context (such as previous years' or months' figures, or whether the figure is larger or smaller than expected).

We defined figures that are represented as "raw numbers with context" as those that are expressed in nominal dollar terms with relevant context (such as previous years' or months' figures, or whether the figure is larger or smaller than expected).

We defined figures that are represented as "percentage terms" as those that are expressed in terms of the relevant percentage. For example, debt expressed as a percentage of GDP, spending expressed as a percentage of total federal spending, or revenue expressed as a percentage of total federal revenue.

Posted In
Economy, Budget
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, The New York Times
Show/Publication
The Wall Street Journal
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