Coverage of the economy on weeknight television news shows during the last six months of 2014 continued to focus heavily on policies meant to boost job creation and economic growth, but discussions overwhelmingly lacked input from actual economists. Additionally, a Media Matters analysis uncovered a relative decline in the number of segments promoting the conservative media myths that Obamacare and increasing the minimum wage hurt the labor market.
From the December 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
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Media Matters conducted an analysis of education coverage on weeknight cable news programs so far in 2014 to determine how many of the shows' guests who discussed the topic were educators. The analysis found that across MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN, educators made up only 9 percent of guests during education segments.
Fox News joined at least five networks that announced they would stop or minimize airing a video released by TMZ showing former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice striking his then-fiancée Janay Palmer. On the same day, Fox's The Five broke that promise by airing the video twice during the program.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday (emphasis added):
At least six television networks said Thursday they plan to stop or minimize airings of video showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee and knocking her unconscious, footage that has called into question how the NFL disciplines players involved in domestic violence.
The move comes after the video from a casino elevator showing Janay Palmer crumbling to the floor after a punch has already been seen many times on TV since TMZ released it Monday. The news value of the video also is decreasing over time.
ESPN, CNN, ABC, NBC, Fox News Channel and Fox Sports all said Thursday they would no longer show the video unless there are compelling news reasons to bring it back.
"The video has been seen enough for viewers to clearly know what happened, and make their own judgments about what should happen next," said Michael Clemente, executive vice president at Fox News. "Our judgment is that continuing to show it is simply overdoing it for shock value, and not for journalistic reasons."
During the 7 a.m. EDT news hour on Tuesday, the video clip aired 37 times on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, according to a count by Media Matters for America. In addition, the networks aired an old video showing Palmer outside of the elevator nine times, the group said.
Fox News' The Five broke Clemente's promise on the same day by playing the video twice, the second time in slow-motion:
UPDATE: Fox News' Special Report aired the video during a report on the NFL launching an investigation into how the league handled the incident and when it received the video. Watch:
CNN host S.E. Cupp baselessly suggested that Hillary Clinton's support for a ban on assault weapons is bad politics by promoting the myth that the 1994 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives was fueled by the passage of an assault weapons ban that year.
In fact, political scientists say tax increases and a fight over healthcare reform better explain the Republican takeover. But conservative pundits often incorporate the 1994 assault weapons ban into the media myth that it is politically unwise for politicians to support gun reform and that the National Rifle Association has the ability to use the gun issue to determine election outcomes.
During a June 17 town hall forum on CNN, Clinton expressed support for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as expanded background checks on gun sales. On the gun debate, Clinton added, "we need a more thoughtful conversation, we cannot let a minority of people ... hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people."
Appearing on CNN's The Situation Room after the town hall discussion, Cupp suggested political danger in Clinton's position, stating, "Democrats really suffered, and Hillary Clinton knows this, Democrats really suffered the last time they enacted an assault weapon ban. There were a lot of Democrats who were thrown out of office the last time that passed."
In a January 17, 2013, US News article headlined "Gun Control Laws Weren't Primary Reason Dems Lost in 1994" political scientists and 1994 election experts Philip Klinkner and Gary Jacobson are quoted arguing that assault weapons ban legislation was only one of several controversial votes leading up to the midterm elections but that a "mythology" was formed around the gun vote. Klinkner and Jacobson instead pinned the electoral success of the Republican Party on the failure of health care reform and tax increases:
While the '94 election proved Americans wanted Democrats out of congressional power (more than 50 Democratic seats were lost), it's less clear if the weapons ban, or any one issue, was the primary reason for their loss.
"This is a mythology that has developed," says Philip Klinkner, who edited a book about the '94 elections. "That narrative stretches things way too far."
The truth, political scientists say, is that it can be attributed to a combination of factors, and the "assault weapons" ban was just one of several controversial votes that led to the loss.
With Democrats in charge of the House, Senate and White House, the 103rd Congress tackled a long, progressive wish list. The White House pressured legislators to take on healthcare reform (unsuccessfully), pass the North American Free Trade Agreement and raise taxes through a deficit reduction act, which was fraught with political land mines for congressional Democrats. None of the policies helped earn legislators points back home among their more conservative constituents.
"The vote for gun control mattered, but the vote for the tax increase and healthcare were more important," says Gary Jacobson, who has done a statistical analysis of what votes affected the outcome of the 1994 election.
According to Jacobson's analysis, the 1994 election results were largely due to a political realignment, with voters no longer splitting their tickets and instead voting for Republican congressional challengers in districts in which President Clinton had lost in 1992. Jacobson concluded, "Republicans won the House in 1994 because an unusually large number of districts voted locally as they had been voting nationally."
CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash repeated the right-wing myth that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, arguably the second most important court in the country, is currently "evenly split" and inaccurately reported that the blanket filibusters preventing up-or-down votes on President Barack Obama's judicial nominees are "sacrosanct."
In the wake of a flurry of filibusters of the president's highly-qualified nominees to the D.C. Circuit, Democrats appear to have finally convinced holdouts in their caucus that Senate Republicans' unprecedented obstructionism of judicial and executive nominees is unacceptable. Unfortunately, in reporting on this development that a change to the Senate rules may finally have enough votes to pass, CNN's Bash uncritically repeated right-wing media's dissembling justifications for the GOP blockade. From the November 19 edition of the Situation Room:
BASH: As you well know, Senate filibusters require 60 votes to overcome and it's a pretty high hurdle in a politically divided Senate but the ability to filibuster has been sacrosanct, neither party has dared take that power away from the minority. But Democrats are so frustrated right now that they can't get the president's nominees confirmed, they are once again threatening to do just that, the nuclear option.
BASH: But unlike other partisan brawls over the course, this is not about qualifications or ideology of the nominees. It's about the makeup of the court itself. The D.C. Circuit, the powerful federal appeals court that hears most challenges to laws passed by Congress, now evenly split, four judges appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans. And the GOP wants to keep it that way.
BASH: Republicans argue the D.C. Circuit workload isn't heavy enough to need three more judges. They say Democrats are the ones playing politics.
To her credit, Bash does correctly note that Republicans cannot muster legitimate criticisms of the actual nominees. But by failing to recognize the inaccuracy of their alternate reasons for filibustering these highly-qualified nominees anyway, she inadvertently gives legitimacy to bogus right-wing media rationales and minimizes the historic nature of this rampant obstructionism.
From the November 6 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
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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.
CNN has repeatedly portrayed stimulus funding for high-speed rail as a "boondoggle" because much of the money has gone to upgrading existing rail lines rather than new bullet trains. But the untold story is that Republican obstructionism has halted progress on new high-speed rail lines, which require a long-term investment of time and money.
The Situation Room aired a report by Drew Griffin on Tuesday claiming that high-speed rail is "turning into a pipe dream," pointing to a rail improvement project in Washington state that has received $800 million in stimulus funding. The project is on track to achieve its goal of improving schedule reliability, increasing trips and reducing travel times between Seattle and Portland to serve an increasing ridership. But as CNN noted, Washington never intended to use that funding to build a new rail line for high-speed bullet trains. Griffin's report, which follows a series on Anderson Cooper 360 that criticized projects in Vermont and California, led guest anchor Joe Johns to conclude that taxpayers are "not getting much out of their investment" in high-speed rail:
In fact, the stimulus has supported 150 planning and construction projects across the country, "jumpstart[ing]" a "renaissance" for passenger rail, according to a Brookings Institution report. This progress comes despite Republican efforts to prevent high-speed rail projects from moving forward. Republican governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida rejected stimulus grants for new high-speed rail projects in their states, citing the cost to taxpayers. But when some of that money was diverted to Amtrak upgrades (including the Washington state project highlighted by CNN), some of those same governors sought funding for rail improvement projects. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress blocked President Obama's six-year, $53 billion budget request for high-speed rail, dismissing it as just a "fun thing." CNN overlooked these roadblocks, which have slowed the progress of high-speed rail.
Media figures have repeatedly forwarded the notion that the United States is currently facing a debt crisis. However, leaders of both parties agree there is no immediate crisis, and by focusing attention too heavily on deficit and debt reduction, the media distract from the more imminent problem of growth and jobs.
Throughout news coverage of recent budget negotiations, media figures have consistently framed discussions around the notion that the country faces a debt crisis, an assertion that is often presented uncritically and accepted as an indisputable fact. Since discussions are predicated on the assumption that a debt crisis exists, ensuing analysis of budget proposals is often solely focused on how far they go in reducing short term deficits and debt.
While media are convinced that a debt crisis exists, leaders of both parties have made explicit statements to the contrary. In a March 12 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, President Obama claimed that "we don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt," a statement that was immediately criticized by conservative media. When asked if he agreed with Obama's statement regarding debt on the March 17 edition of ABC's This Week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) conceded that there is no immediate crisis. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made a similar admission on CBS' Face the Nation, saying "we do not have a debt crisis right now."
Furthermore, the media's focus on a "debt crisis" has necessarily steered the debate about budgets toward how the parties will sufficiently address short term deficits. Economists, meanwhile, have repeatedly argued that undue focus on deficits and debt distracts from the more pressing need for economic growth and reduced unemployment.
The bipartisan admission that there is no immediate debt crisis provides media with an opportunity to reframe their budget negotiations coverage around economic growth.
Video by Alan Pyke.
From the January 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
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