Fox News' coverage of weekly jobless claims in the first quarter of 2013 overwhelmingly focused on negative aspects of the labor market and broader economy. However, weekly claims numbers have been consistently improving, beating Fox's own standard for signs of a positive labor market.
Fox Identifies Threshold For Improving Labor Market
According to Fox News, economists believe when the weekly number of initial jobless claims filed stays below 375,000, it's a sign the labor market is healthy enough to reduce the unemployment rate.
Fox News host Bill Hemmer cited that threshold on the January 10 edition of America's Newsroom, while showing a chart with a bright yellow line across it at the 375,000 mark: “Economists say that weekly claims must consistently fall below 375,000, shown by that yellow line on the screen right there, to indicate that the job market is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.” When the next week's numbers came out on January 17, Hemmer's co-host Martha MacCallum again touted Fox's chart showing the threshold, noting, “You always want to look at the chart, in terms of the long-time trend here.” She continued, “Economists say that the weekly claims number has to consistently fall below 375,000 as indicated by that yellow line.”
Weekly Claims Consistently Fall Below Fox's Threshold
For the first quarter of 2013, weekly jobless claims have consistently fallen below Fox News' threshold of 375,000, signifying an improving labor market.
The final report of the quarter, released on April 4, represents the first one-week spike over the 375,000 threshold in 2013, but the more telling number - the four-week moving average of weekly initial claims - remains well below Fox's bright yellow line. (Other news outlets report that the economists' consensus about the threshold is 400,000 weekly claims, and economist Frank Lysy says that new jobless claims occur at a rate of 310,000 to 320,000 per week when the economy is at close to full employment.)
Fox's Coverage Dwells On Negative Metrics
Despite consistent signs that the labor market is improving (by Fox News' own standards), Fox was overwhelmingly negative when reporting on weekly jobless claims.
When the weekly claims beat consensus expectations or declined from the previous week, Fox News anchors regularly used the positive news to highlight other, unrelated metrics, such as rising gas prices or federal spending. When weekly claims did not meet expectations or rose from the previous week, anchors regularly used the news to paint a negative picture of the economy.
Overall, Fox News was about 13 times more likely to present weekly jobless claims with a negative rather than positive tone. Furthermore, Fox's negative coverage greatly overshadowed neutral reporting.
Media Matters reviewed every Thursday edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, America's Newsroom, and Happening Now from January 3, 2013 to April 4, 2013 and recorded the amount of time spent discussing the weekly jobless claims report.
We identified “positive coverage” as that which indicated weekly claims were improving, or made broader positive implications for the labor market and overall economy. Positive coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.
We identified “negative coverage” as that which indicated weekly claims were deteriorating, or made broader negative implications for the labor market and overall economy. Negative coverage of the economy that was introduced in direct relation to the weekly claims report was also counted.
We identified “neutral coverage” as that which directly reported the information in the Labor Department's weekly jobless claims report.
When tone of coverage was unclear, Media Matters chose to err on the side of neutrality.
We did not include coverage of topics that were unrelated to the weekly claims report, even if they were brought up in a segment that was primarily focused on the report. For example, the January 3 edition of Fox & Friends contained a segment that introduced the weekly jobless report and pivoted to discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. In this instance, time spent discussing the Hurricane Sandy relief bill was left out of the analysis. When it was unclear whether coverage of a topic was brought up in relation to the weekly claims report, Media Matters chose to exclude it from the analysis.
In segments where coverage related to the weekly claims report was introduced before the report itself, Media Matters chose to begin time recording when the report was initially introduced.