Broadcast and cable news networks are ignoring Trump’s “horrifying” proposed 10% tax on imports

Coverage ranges from slim to none on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC

MSNBC SCreengrab

One month ago, Donald Trump announced that if he is once again elected president, he wants to impose a 10% tariff on all imported goods. Experts describe the tariff plan as “a disaster for the U.S. economy” that would raise prices for American consumers, particularly the poor and middle class, and potentially trigger “global economic chaos.” And according to his campaign team, the revenues created by the plan would be used to fund steep income and corporate tax cuts, the benefits of which would be slanted toward the rich. 

But Trump’s tariff proposal has received vanishingly little television coverage over the last month through Monday. 

ABC, CBS, and NBC have not covered it on their national morning, evening, or Sunday political talk shows. CNN and MSNBC have each provided less than a minute of coverage within a single segment, and neither addressed the potential impact for Americans. Fox News has completely ignored the plan, while on Fox Business, discussion of the proposal has been limited to shows hosted by Larry Kudlow, the former Trump White House economic adviser whose program served as the platform for Trump to lay out the scheme.

As CNN’s John Avlon put it during his network’s sole moment of coverage of the tariff proposal to date, “This is the kind of stuff that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.” 

Trump called for “automatically” imposing “a 10% tax” on imports during an August 17 interview with Kudlow. “Number one, I think we should have a ring around the collar, as they say,” Trump said. “I think, when companies come in and they dump their products in the United States, they should pay automatically, let’s say, a 10% tax.”

The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein reported the following week that Trump and his top economic advisers had previously discussed his “plan to enact a ‘universal baseline tariff’ on virtually all imports to the United States,” and that while the proposal is not fully sketched out, aides have billed it as “a central 2024 campaign plank.”

Stein quoted economists at several right-of-center think tanks who said that a 10% tariff, if implemented, would raise prices for U.S. consumers and producers alike, boost inflation while throwing millions out of work, and potentially kick off a massive global trade war. Their characterizations of the plan included descriptions like “lunacy,” “horrifying,” “a recipe for corruption,” “a massive tax on the folks who it intends to help,” “a disaster for the U.S. economy,” and “very, very bad.” 

Then last week, Stein reported that Trump’s economic advisers intend to use any revenue created by the tariff to help fund new tax cuts. Trump’s team, Stein wrote, is “plotting an aggressive new set of tax cuts,” including “deeper cuts to both individual and corporate tax rates that would build on his controversial 2017 tax law. … The cuts could be paid for, at least in theory, with a new 10 percent tariff on all imports to the United States that Trump has called for, which could raise hundreds of billions in revenue.”

Both sides of this plan are regressive: The pain from higher prices caused by the tariffs will largely be felt by the U.S. poor and middle class, while the benefits of Trump’s new set of tax cuts would largely accrue to the nation’s wealthy, as Slow Boring’s Matthew Yglesias pointed out on Monday.

But as Yglesias bemoaned, coverage of the 2024 presidential race has focused on the horserace question of whether or not Trump will win rather than on the concrete stakes for Americans if he does so.

CNN This Morning provided a brief discussion on August 23 within the context of upcoming GOP debate coverage, focusing on whether or not Trump’s primary opponents would criticize the tariff plan from the stage. Rather than laying out the plan’s potential impact for Americans — higher prices on goods and a potentially calamitous global trade war — Avlon characterized it as “protectionism on steroids” and a break from past GOP economic policy that Trump’s opponents should be able to call out.

Here is everything CNN has broadcast to date about Trump’s tariff plan:

Video file

Citation From the August 23, 2023, edition of CNN This Morning.

MSNBC’s coverage of Trump’s tariff plan so far is limited to the August 28 edition of Deadline, in which Ali Velshi highlighted the potential “universal 10% tariff on all imports” while discussing how “the international community is bracing itself for” Trump’s potential return to the White House. Velshi noted the plan “has created concerns about an international trade war, which could cause breaks with our allies and heighten tensions with already hostile countries,” but did not address its implications for the U.S. public.

Here is the entirety of MSNBC’s coverage:

Video file

Citation From the August 28, 2023, edition of MSNBC's Deadline.

And those inadequate clips are still more coverage than everything aired by Fox News and the leading news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, combined.


Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on cable networks CNN, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC as well as all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’s Mornings, Evening News, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press for the term “Trump” within close proximity of any of the terms “tariff,” “trade,” “10 percent,” “Kudlow,” “Rollins,” “Moore,” or “Gingrich” or any variation of the term “economy” within close proximity of either of the terms “plan” or “ring” or any variation of the term “advise” from August 17, 2023, when Trump announced his 10 percent tariff plan on Fox Business, through September 18, 2023.

We timed segments, which we defined as instances when former president and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s 10% tariff plan was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the plan. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the plan with one another.

We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned the plan without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the plan scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

We rounded all times to the nearest minute.