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:
Loading the player reg...
In several on-air interviews about the then-pending fiscal cliff legislation, journalists allowed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to attack the bill without noting Issa's personal financial stake in opposing the legislation and keeping his own taxes at a lower rate.
In appearances on Fox News' Fox & Friends (1/2), CNN's The Situation Room (1/1) and CNN Newsroom (12/31/12), the issue of Issa's wealth was not broached by the reporters and anchors who interviewed him.
As Politico reported, Issa's 2011 financial disclosure statement showed almost $15 million in earnings from investments. The vast majority of Issa's income comes from investments -- income that will be taxed at a higher rate under the legislation that just passed (capital gains taxes will be increased from 15 percent to 20 percent for families making over $450,000 a year.)
The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that Issa has a net worth between $195 million and $700 million. Roll Call ranked him as the second wealthiest member of the 112th Congress, based on the lowest and most charitable estimate of his wealth (members of Congress are only required to report ranges of their wealth, not exact numbers.)
In voting "No" on the bill, Issa voted in his own self-interest, a pertinent fact that Fox and CNN never bothered to tell their viewers.
From the October 8 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
Loading the player reg...
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak threw cold water on the right-wing media narrative that President Obama is anti-Israel, praising Obama for doing "more" for Israeli security than any other U.S. president.
In an interview with Wolf Blitzer that aired yesterday on CNN's The Situation Room, Barak responded to a question about the state of the current U.S.-Israeli relationship by saying, "I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past."
BLITZER: You've studied U.S.-Israeli relations over many years. How would you describe the relationship today?
BARAK: I think that from my point of view as defense minister they are extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years, administrations of both sides of the political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israel, and I believe that reflects the profound feelings among the American people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.
BLITZER: More than any other president? LBJ, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush?
BARAK: Yeah, in terms of the support for our security, the cooperation of our intelligence, the sharing of thoughts in a very open way even when there are differences, which are not simple sometimes, I found their support for our defense very stable.
Barak's praise for Obama on Israeli security flies in the face of the right-wing media's false narrative that Obama is hostile to Israel, a narrative that goes as far back as 2008. These bogus attacks include claims that Obama and members of his administration are anti-Semitic and that Obama may use military force against Israel.
Just yesterday, conservative media figures added to this narrative by remarking that Obama, as president, hasn't visited Israel.
During an appearance on Fox News' Special Report, Fox contributor and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol praised Romney's recent visit to Israel while noting that "President Obama has not been in Israel as president of the United States." Fox's Sean Hannity similarly said that it is an "alarming fact that after nearly four years in office, President Obama has yet to visit our closest ally in the Middle East in what is now a very troubling time."
In fact, Obama visited Israel as a candidate, just like Mitt Romney, and it is not unusual for a president to not make a trip to Israel during a first term. Furthermore, none of the previous three Republican presidents made trips to Israel at this point in their presidencies, and neither Ronald Reagan nor George H.W. Bush traveled to Israel as president at all.
Fox News' Greta van Susteren last night became the sixth journalist to interview Mitt Romney without asking him about the conservative conspiracy theory alleging that the Muslim Brotherhood is using supposed ties to an aide for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to infiltrate the U.S. government. Two surrogates for Romney's campaign have defended that conspiracy during the past week, while Republican leaders like John Boehner and John McCain have condemned it.
Erick Erickson brought Fox News' false small-business attack on President Obama to CNN, citing deceptively edited comments to accuse Obama of embracing "grade school Marxism."
On Friday, during an appearance in Virginia, Obama made the point that success in business comes not just from individual drive, but also from benefits provided by others, including the government:
OBAMA: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Then on Monday, Fox & Friends deceptively edited Obama's remarks, tearing two sentences of his argument out of context and distorting them to make it appear that he was saying small business owners don't deserve any credit for their own success. Mitt Romney, during a campaign stop today, repeated Fox's distortion of Obama's remarks, and his campaign posted a video on YouTube repeating the out-of-context remarks over and over.
Now, Erickson has brought this distortion to CNN. During an appearance on The Situation Room Tuesday, Erickson said:
ERICKSON: For [Obama] to say somehow that if you've built something, you didn't really build it, other people do -- no one denies that other people contributed to your success in life, but, I mean -- this is just grade school Marxism that he's uttering.
Erickson went on to label the distorted comments from Obama as Marxist twice more during the segment. But Erickson is leaving out the key context of Obama's comments. Obama's "[y]ou didn't build that" comment was directed at American infrastructure and services such as roads and bridges - not an individual's business.
A majority of federal rulings on the substance of President Obama's health care reform law have found it to be constitutional, including the law's mandate that individuals purchase health insurance. But a Media Matters review of the five largest newspapers and the flagship CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs finds that the media overwhelmingly focused on rulings that struck down the law in whole or in part -- 84 percent of segments on the broadcast and cable programs reviewed and 59 percent of newspaper articles that reported on such rulings -- while largely ignoring rulings that found it constitutional or dismissed the case.
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.