Congress is set to go home for the holidays in a matter of days and legislators are rushing to negotiate nearly $1 trillion in COVID-19 relief. But national broadcast news outlets have barely covered the issue, much less the HEROES Act, which has been sitting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk since it was initially passed by the House in May.
A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers has been struggling to negotiate $908 billion in COVID-19 relief. If nothing is done, Americans could face a wave of evictions this winter. One of the major hangups in negotiations is Republicans’ insistence on including liability protections that would essentially prevent people from filing pandemic-related lawsuits. This provision proved so volatile that it ended up getting spun off into a separate bill. The networks barely mentioned the fight over liability even when they did cover the proposed stimulus.
Based on a Media Matters review of broadcasts that aired between December 6 and 13, stimulus negotiations were mentioned only 12 times total on NBC, CBS, and ABC. Only one of those mentions was on a flagship evening news show. Four other mentions were from the Sunday news magazine programs This Week, Meet the Press, and Face the Nation and the last seven were from the morning shows Today, Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning.
What little coverage broadcast networks aired neglected vital details, including the fact that the Senate, specifically Senate Republicans, has had months to pass the multi trillion-dollar HEROES Act and provide more comprehensive relief than the current stimulus bill would offer. When the networks got the chance to interrogate lawmakers, they questioned only Democrats, rather than members of the party insisting billions of dollars be put toward protecting businesses from being sued for mishandling the pandemic. Republicans' insistence on protecting companies received only a one-off mention on the December 9 edition of Good Morning America.
Some of the coverage, like Today's quick mention of stimulus negotiations on December 7, mentioned potential terms in the bill but failed to detail what the sides were fighting over.
NBC Nightly News was the only evening broadcast news program to cover the negotiations. The show’s December 10 edition profiled an unemployed woman asking lawmakers to “do the job they still have.” But it did not discuss any details of the bill or how it would help this woman if passed.
Sunday shows Meet the Press and This Week discussed the stimulus negotiations only with Democrats, interrogating lawmaker guests on how they would get McConnell on their side. The December 6 edition of This Week even had Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) on right before Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), but asked only Durbin about the stimulus.
By declining to more fully cover these negotiations in their flagship morning and evening programs, the networks are allowing Congress to skirt scrutiny as it continues to delay passing vital relief right before the winter holiday season.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the the SnapStream video database for ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ This Morning, Evening News, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press for any of the terms “coronavirus,” “COVID,” “COVID-19,” “virus,” “pandemic,” or “outbreak” within close proximity of any of the terms “negotiation,” “relief,” “unemployment,” “benefit,” “stimulus,” or “liability” from December 6 through 13, 2020.