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 news networks have largely ignored Republican obstruction of a regulation addressing the recent resurgence of black lung, a disease caused by coal mine dust. By contrast, media coverage of the Republican narrative about "job-killing regulations" has been abundant, indicating that news outlets let the Republican Party define the media discourse about regulation of the coal industry.
In a prerecorded interview that will air on SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio tomorrow, Current TV host Eliot Spitzer points to the media's failure to cover one of the largest banking scandals in history, the LIBOR rate-fixing story. According to Spitzer, the story "hasn't yet broken through to the mainstream media. It should."
Indeed, as we noted this morning many major television news outlets have devoted scant coverage to the allegation that major financial institutions have been manipulating the LIBOR, a key interest rate that banks use to borrow money from one another. As we documented, 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.
Spitzer, who was known as the Sheriff of Wall Street during his tenure as Attorney General of New York, has provided extensive coverage of the story, airing four segments on his Current TV program, Viewpoint, and two Web exclusive segments on Current's website since July 3. Below, Spitzer discusses the scandal with Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributing editor, and Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets:
LIBOR is "used as a benchmark to set payments on about $800 trillion worth of financial instruments" and impacts "lending rates for trillions of dollars of credit, from loans between financial institutions to credit cards and adjustable-rate mortgages" but also impacts local government agencies and municipalities that have financial investments directly tied to LIBOR.
The British bank Barclays has already been fined $450 million for its role in rigging the rate, and as many as 20 major financial institutions are reportedly under investigation for their own alleged participation in the scheme.
MSNBC's Chris Hayes has also used his program to deliver in-depth coverage of this critical news story, providing nearly 19 minutes of discussion on last Saturday's edition of Up With Chris.
Listen to Spitzer's interview with Media Matters Radio tomorrow on SiriusXM Left 127 at 10 a.m. ET.
UPDATE: Here's the discussion with Spitzer about the LIBOR scandal from the July 14 edition of Media Matters Radio:
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.
While numerous factors determine the frequency, severity and cost of wildfires, scientific research indicates that human-induced climate change increases fire risks in parts of the Western U.S. by promoting warmer and drier conditions. Seven of nine fire experts contacted by Media Matters agreed journalists should explain the relationship between climate change and wildfires. But an analysis of recent coverage suggests mainstream media outlets are not up to the task -- only 3 percent of news reports on wildfires in the West mentioned climate change.
Carbon dioxide emissions are not just warming up our atmosphere, they're also changing the chemistry of our oceans. This phenomenon is known as ocean acidification, or sometimes as global warming's "evil twin" or the "osteoporosis of the sea." Scientists have warned that it poses a serious threat to ocean life. Yet major American
news outlets covered the Kardashians over 40 times more often than ocean acidification over the past year and a half.
Rising carbon dioxide emissions have caused the oceans to become around 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution, and if we do not lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, the ocean surface could be up to 150 percent more acidic by 2100. At that level, the shells of some plankton would dissolve, large parts of the ocean would become inhospitable to coral reef growth, and the rapidity of the change could threaten much of the marine food web. According to the National Research Council, the chemical changes are taking place "at an unprecedented rate and magnitude" and are "practically irreversible on a time scale of centuries."
Despite a boom of recent scientific research documenting this threat, there has been a blackout on the topic at most media outlets. Since the end of 2010, ABC, NBC, and Fox News have completely ignored ocean acidification, and the Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNN, and CBS have barely mentioned it at all.
During Mitt Romney's term as Massachusetts governor, that state ranked as one of the worst in the nation in terms of job creation -- squeezing out a net jobs gain of 1 percent compared with the national average of 5.3 percent at the time. But ABC and NBC Sunday shows allowed Romney campaign surrogates to obscure that record using a new talking point that Romney ended his term with Massachusetts ranked in "the middle of the pack."
Mitt Romney's remarks at Solyndra were full of falsehoods that went unchecked by many major media outlets. The media also largely failed to point out that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney invested in several companies that subsequently went bankrupt or defaulted on state loans.
If ever a more shining example of an inherent problem plaguing the media today exists, this is it. Just three weeks ago, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two well-respected, centrist political commentators with records of accomplishment going back decades, charged in a Washington Post op-ed that the Republican Party is to blame for our "dysfunctional" Congress -- just days before the release of their book detailing this thesis, It's Even Worse Than It Looks.
But "the most quoted men in Washington" can't even get a booking on the opinion-setting Sunday morning talk shows, as Washingtonpost.com blogger Greg Sargent explained. Media Matters' own research reveals that while journalists writing for the top five national U.S. newspapers have frequently quoted Mann or Ornstein in news articles in the past, the duo is entirely absent from these pages since they publicized their latest observation about the state of Congress.
Such a thesis would seem "likely to generate widespread discussion," opined Steve Benen on Maddowblog recently. "Where's the debate?" he asked. That's a great question, and its examination reveals a structural problem with the way that journalists typically report the news.
From the May 20 edition of NBC's Meet The Press:
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As host of NBC's Meet the Press, David Gregory talks with the most influential people in politics and the media. It was on Meet the Press, for instance, that Vice President Joe Biden made news with his statement supporting gay marriage.
His guests expect a fair hearing. But today, Gregory is scheduled to address the National Federation of Independent Business' Small Business Summit.
As Think Progress notes, the NFIB is not merely an industry group -- it's an organization with a clear record of partisan activism. In the 2010 election cycle, NFIB's political action committee spent more than a million dollars to support Republican candidates, and none on Democrats.
The NFIB is also the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.
Gregory's willingness to associate himself with a group like this raises questions about his allegiances.
The NFIB states that it "pushes back against [the] Big Labor agenda." The next time a union leader appears on Meet the Press, will he be getting a fair shake?
The appearance of a conflict of interest should be a concern for both Gregory and NBC.
Model legislation supported by the National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council that would make it illegal for private citizens to conduct stings exposing illegal gun sales is being criticized by veteran investigative reporters and media law experts who say it could negatively impact undercover journalists who report on such activities.
"This law appears to create a shield for illegal conduct. We would be very concerned as investigative reporters with any attempt to criminalize legitimate reporting. Reporters don't go out and somehow force gun dealers to make these sales," said Stephen Engelberg, managing editor at ProPublica.org, the Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporting site. "The illegal activity is the sale of the guns, not the failure to flash a press badge for the sale of the gun."
The so-called "Honesty in Purchasing Firearms" bill was presented in August 2011 by NRA lobbyist Tara Mica to ALEC's since-disbanded Public Safety and Elections Task Force. The task force adopted it as model legislation.
The bill states, in part, that:
Any person who knowingly solicits, persuades, encourages or entices a licensed dealer or private seller of firearms or ammunition to transfer a firearm or ammunition under circumstances which the person knows would violate the laws of this state or the United States is guilty of a felony.
The bill also makes it illegal to intentionally give a licensed firearm dealer or private seller "materially false information with intent to deceive the dealer or seller about the legality of a transfer of a firearm or ammunition." Violators are punished with up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
The NRA has explicitly stated that such legislation, which has been adopted in several states, is intended to target undercover stings by gun violence prevention activists seeking to shine a light on illegal private sellers.
Those efforts typically involve private dealers selling firearms to undercover activists after those individuals tell the buyer they don't think they could pass a federal background check. Such checks are not required for the transfer of firearms by private sellers, only federal firearms licensees, but it is illegal for anyone to sell a firearm if they have reason to believe the buyer can't legally own the weapon.
Critics contend the proposed law could block undercover reporters who seek to purchase weapons in this manner in an effort to expose the criminal practice.
Earlier this year NBC national investigative reporter Jeff Rossen engaged in such a sting and produced an extensive report for Today which the network said "exposes how simple it is for criminals and even terrorists to purchase deadly weapons in public places - with no questions asked."
"It's ill-guided, or misguided or worse," said Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, which advises media outlets on legal issues, when asked about the bill. "It might also provide some basis for a constitutional challenge to such a bill if it were enacted in that it is intended to single out the press and those with a particular perspective on illegal gun sales."
She later added, "The whole notion is that if we can make it unlawful to show and tell, then no one will ever know about it. It is an extraordinary effort and I believe it is a desperate one when you have to penalize those who would make public unlawful acts; it is a pretty desperate measure."
Following a lengthy investigation, the national Oil Spill Commission concluded in January 2011 that "the root causes" of the BP disaster were "systematic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur." This week the same panel of experts found that Congress "has yet to enact any legislation responding to the explosion and spill." Rather than implement the panel's recommendations, the House has actually "passed several bills" with provisions that "run contrary to what the Commission concluded was essential for safe, prudent, responsible development of offshore oil resources," said the commissioners.
So far ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News have ignored the panel's assessment report, issued just days before the second anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan was the exception, running a segment on the panel's findings and the ongoing impacts of the spill.
On April 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a study finding that food stamps reduced the "prevalence, depth, and severity" of poverty between 2000 and 2009 and that their effects were especially strong during the recession, thanks to the stimulus. Television news outlets have all but ignored this story-- it has been mentioned only once on broadcast and cable news programming since April 9.