REPORT: Weekday Broadcast And Cable Evening News' Social Security Debate
Research ››› ››› ALBERT KLEINE & CRAIG HARRINGTON
In the second half of 2013, weekday broadcast and cable evening news discussed Social Security in a largely negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
Majority Of Segments Focused On Need To Reduce Costs
56 Percent Of Segments On Social Security Advocated Cutting Costs. Of the total 159 segments featuring substantial discussion of Social Security, 90 had the host or guest advance the apparent need to cut costs associated with the program. Only 25 total segments advocated strengthening the program or applying additional revenues, while 23 had the host or guest express resistance to cuts. The remaining segments were framed around different issues, such as how recent Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality would affect Social Security beneficiaries or general party sentiments toward the program.
MSNBC Led Networks In Advocating For Strengthening The Program. Of all networks analyzed, MSNBC provided the most calls for strengthening Social Security with 22 segments. MSNBC also expressed the most resistance to cutting the program with 20 segments. Fox News and CNN provided the largest push for cutting costs in the program, with 62 and 20 segments, respectively. Broadcast networks generally provided no substantive discussion of the program.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from July 1 through December 31, 2013. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: social security and entitlements.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Situation Room, Crossfire, 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, The Kelly File, Hardball with Chris Matthews, The Ed Show, 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, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
Media Matters only Included segments that had substantial discussion of Social Security or general discussion of entitlement spending. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5 p.m.-11 p.m. window.
We define segments that advance the need to reduce the costs of Social Security as those in which the host or guests advocate cutting Social Security benefits, advocate changing cost of living adjustments to slow the growth of benefits, allude to Social Security's alleged effect on the national debt, or provide vague calls to reducing the cost or growth of the program.
We define segments that advance a need to strengthen Social Security as those in which the host or guests advocate providing additional revenue to sustain the current program or demand increased spending on program beneficiaries.
We define segments that advance a need to oppose cuts to Social Security as those in which the host or guests oppose proposed benefit cuts.