After Senate Democrats objected to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed bill to deal with the coronavirus economic crisis — on the grounds that it contained insufficient worker protections and would create an unaccountable corporate slush fund administered solely by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — CNN has featured the Republican spin of depicting the Democrats as obstructionists — instead of just pointing out what issues are actually in dispute.
An article from CNN carried the headline, “Senate GOP ramps up pressure on Democrats over coronavirus stimulus package with Monday vote.” Only in the 15th paragraph did the article directly communicate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) objections that the bill in its current form, quoting him as saying it “included a large corporate bailout provision with no protections for workers and virtually no oversight,” but that Democrats “want to move forward with bipartisan agreement.”
It’s nice that CNN included the reason for disagreement, but the inside baseball approach is backward: The dispute should be the headline, not positioning Republicans as placing “pressure” on seemingly recalcitrant Democrats who are actually working to remove specific clauses. The country is a crisis and Americans need to know what the points of disagreement are — not just that there is a disagreement. The fact is, most people don’t actually click through headlines, and therefore will miss out on this key context. (For example, a 2016 study from Columbia University and French National Institute researchers found that 59% of articles retweeted on Twitter hadn’t actually been read by the people sharing them.)
It gets worse. During this morning’s TV coverage, CNN ran the chyron, “Senate Dems Block $2 Trillion Stimulus Plan.” Here a similar problem was evident, as guest-anchor Erica Hill also did say that Democrats were arguing that the bill “puts corporate interests above the needs of the American workers.” But again, most people will just see the chyron.
This is all too similar to when even mainstream media outlets dropped the ball on Republican opposition to the economic stimulus bill in 2009, during the depths of the post-2008 financial crisis and recession — by uncritically reporting Republican objections even when they were obviously false — only this time, it’s helping to spread the claim that Democrats oppose a needed stimulus, and that Republicans in favor of an unaccountable slush fund are somehow working to pass a real relief package.