(Flickr image via southerntabitha)
2013 will be remembered as the year of health care policy. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) dominated media outlets across the spectrum, especially following the implementation of the law's health care exchanges in October. Yet often lost in all the noise was factual reporting on the new law. Much right-wing and even mainstream media coverage pushed misleading, hyperbolic, and outright false attacks about the ACA.
Right-wing media figures greeted the health care law's exchanges with inflammatory and irresponsible rhetoric.
In an October 11 appearance at the Values Voters' Summit, recently-hired Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson declared that Obamacare "is the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery," later deciding, "It is slavery, in a way." Carson's comparison of slavery to a law that grants universal access to health insurance was not remarkable for the right-wing media. In an appearance on NPR's Morning Edition, George Will approved of GOP efforts to repeal the law by likening them to the Fugitive Slave Act, saying "the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them." On Fox News' Hannity, right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt compared defunding the ACA to repealing prohibition and slavery.
Conservative media were not the only ones to make outrageous comparisons. Media figures across the ideological spectrum attempted to link technical problems with Healthcare.gov to the Bush administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina. The comparison, of course, ignores the thousands of lives lost in the hurricane, as Media Matters pointed out:
Broadcast evening news programs slanted coverage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by hyping negative aspects of the law's rollout while underplaying or not exploring positive changes to insurance coverage under the health care law, including the role that subsidies would play in making health care affordable. All three major broadcast networks aired more segments that took on a negative tone than a positive tone in October and November 2013, according to a Media Matters study.
Network nightly news broadcasts have served as a conduit for House Republicans to attack Obama administration initiatives through committee hearings -- all part of the GOP's "aggressive campaign," according to a recent New York Times report, to hold committee hearings and rely on media to cover the hearings' chosen narrative.
From the November 8 edition of NBC's NBC Nightly News:
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In the first month following the opening of healthcare exchanges -- a key component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- broadcast news programs have largely ignored the role of expanded health care in reducing economic insecurity, instead placing overwhelming focus on glitches in the Healthcare.gov website.
Media outlets have been promoting the stories of individuals whose plans are being canceled as a result of the Affordable Care Act. But many of those canceled plans offer an inadequate level of coverage, which carries many of the same risks as not having insurance at all.
Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and entitlement reform throughout the second quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many segments lacked proper context or input from economists, while some topics went largely underreported.
Throughout the first half of 2013, broadcast and cable nightly news overwhelmingly discussed Social Security in an unbalanced and negative light by repeatedly insisting that the program is insolvent, must be cut, or poses a risk to long-term fiscal security.
In the weeks leading up to an automatic doubling of federal student loan interest rates, broadcast and cable nightly and weekend news devoted little time explaining the effects of the rate hike and the expiration of other programs designed to help American students, graduates and families with increasingly high education costs.
In 2007, Congress passed a law to reduce interest rates on federal subsidized student loans, the Stafford Loan program, to 3.4 percent. The law was intended to reduce college costs and increase access to higher education. The Budget Control Act of 2011 ended several provisions of previous law; foremost setting an expiration date of July 1, 2013, for Stafford Loan interest rates. Today, those rates automatically double to their previous 6.8 percent.
Media Matters research found the looming student loan deadline has been largely ignored by major news networks in the past several weeks. Since May 23, the date the House of Representatives passed a party line student loan plan of its own, primetime and weekend television news has offered just 13 brief segments on student loan issues.
Absent from media analysis has been any real discussion of economists' recommendations for dealing with student debt. Many economists, including Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, have supported various efforts to defray college costs, expand federal funding, and provide restructuring and refinancing options for student and family borrowers.
In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a report on student loan affordability. It found that expanded refinancing options for student debt could have a simulative effect on economic growth, household formation and homeownership among borrowers. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York had previously found that student debt was a driving force in decreasing home and automotive purchases among recent graduates.
The rate increase set to take effect on July 1 will directly affect millions of Americans while making college less affordable for prospective students. The Congressional Research Service estimated that the higher rate could cost average borrowers more than $1,000 to take out a subsidized federal loan. College graduates are saddled with an enormous debt burden - more than $1 trillion through 2013, according to The New York Times.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Sunday and evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from May 23 through June 30. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: student loan, college loan, student debt, college debt, student, debt, loan, and college.
The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Evening News (CBS), Face the Nation, Nightly News with Brian Williams, Meet the Press with David Gregory, Fox News Sunday, The Situation Room, 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, Hardball with Chris Matthews, 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 (such as Anderson Cooper 360 and Hardball with Chris Matthews), only the first airing was included in data retrieval.
Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of increasing student debt or the July 1 interest rate deadline. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, and re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5p.m. to 11p.m. window.
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.
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.
Evening network news shows have largely ignored the filibuster brinkmanship of Senate Republicans in blocking President Obama's judicial nominees, as well as the resulting vacancy crisis at the important D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is considered the most important court in the country after the Supreme Court, in part because many of its judges go on to become justices, and in part because it is by far the most powerful appellate check on the federal government. Since it is required to examine challenges to a wide range of federal action - from environmental regulations to consumer protections to voting rights - it has the ability to uphold or strike down law on a national level.
However, as another victim of relentless Republican filibustering and the ensuing inability to hold up-or-down votes on the president's nominees to the federal courts, the D.C. Circuit currently has nearly 40 percent of its judgeships vacant. A Nexis search of evening network news shows in the past six months indicates that this problem has been ignored by ABC, CBS, and NBC.
From the January 12 edition of MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes:
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A Media Matters analysis finds that news coverage of climate change on ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX remained low in 2012 despite record temperatures and a series of extreme weather events in the U.S. When the Sunday shows did discuss climate change, scientists were shut out of the debate while Republican politicians were given a platform to question the science.
Last Thursday, Andrew Engeldinger finished his shift at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, where he'd worked since the late 1990's. In the afternoon, Engeldinger was called into the front office and told he no longer had a job.
According to police, Engeldinger was armed at the time and began to open fire with a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol. He killed the company's founder and sought out three other sign-making coworkers for execution. The 36-year old shooter also killed a local UPS deliver man who got caught up in the on-site rampage.
When Engeldinger was done, he'd murdered five people. Then he went down into the firm's basement and shot himself in the head. When police arrived they described the scene as chaotic and the carnage as "hellish." When they searched the shooter's apartment, police found packaging for 10,000 rounds of ammunition.
"He obviously had this gun and was practicing how to use this gun," said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, describing the deadliest workplace shooting in Minnesota since the state began tracking these types of attacks two decades ago.
For the past two years Engeldinger's family had feared he was slipping into bouts of delusion and mental illness and had urged him, in vain, to seek treatment.
Incredibly, that mass murder story wasn't considered to be especially newsworthy by major news organizations. The shockingly small amount of press coverage the story has received (the New York Times has printed just two clipped AP reports on the shooting, buried in Section A and totaling less than 500 words) highlights the shoulder-shrugging response so many gun rampages now generate inside national newsrooms.