CNN and MSNBC morning show coverage of student loan forgiveness echoed right-wing talking points about inflation and “fairness”

Analyses have shown student loan forgiveness will improve families' financial security and lessen the burden on women and people of color

The argument against student debt cancellation chyron

On CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, anchors and guests alike framed President Joe Biden’s announcement that some Americans would be eligible for up to $20,000 in student debt forgiveness with right-wing talking points about inflation and the “fairness” of the policy.  

On August 24, Biden unveiled his plan to forgive up to $10,000 in student loans per individual and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients, fulfilling a 2020 campaign promise. Student loan forgiveness is popular with the majority of Americans — a recent poll showed 60% “agreed the federal government should eliminate all or some student loan debt for every borrower.” Recent analyses have highlighted myriad benefits of the policy — that student loan forgiveness will improve families' financial security, that it will relieve the burden of debt on women (particularly women of color), and that its impact on inflation is likely to be negligible. 

But both Republican politicians and right-media personalities have been arguing that Biden’s plan will lead to higher inflation and be generally unfair to most Americans. CNN and MSNBC are now pushing a similar narrative. 

Morning cable news anchors and guests questioned whether student loan forgiveness is “fair”

Conservatives and right-wing media were quick to claim that student loan forgiveness would create inequity or that the policy is “unfair” because other Americans have either paid off their debt or not incurred debt. The right-wing talking point is hypocritical in contrast to GOP lawmakers’ utilization of PPP loan forgiveness — numerous members of Congress, right-wing groups, and right-wing media were the recipients of such government loans, and subsequently the beneficiaries of loan forgiveness programs. For example, during an appearance on Newsmax, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) complained that student loan forgiveness is “completely unfair,” while her company had PPP loans worth $183,504 forgiven in 2020. CNN and MSNBC appear to be adopting the “fairness” narrative without any mention of this glaring double standard. 

CNN and MSNBC are also pushing the narrative that student loan forgiveness is “unfair” and will mostly subsidize the rich.

  • CNN’s New Day anchor John Berman questioned Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on the “critics” who say that “people who worked hard to pay off their debt and may have finished paying it off two years ago.” [CNN, New Day, 8/25/22]
  • MSNBC’s Morning Joe had on economic analyst Steve Rattner, who said, “By far, the biggest issue is the issue of fairness.” He continued to say that there are “substantial questions of fairness here in terms of who is going to benefit” from student loan forgiveness. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 8/25/22]
  • CNN’s chief business correspondent Christine Romans claimed that “there are some who are saying that it’s taxpayers basically subsidizing people who are rich enough to go to college in the first place.” [CNN, New Day, 8/25/22]
  • On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle, whose parents paid her college education in full, said, “There are a lot of reasons that this is problematic. It causes fairness problems for people who worked hard to pay off their debt or put kids through school without debt.”  [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 8/25/22]

Morning cable news anchors and guests claimed that student loan forgiveness could make inflation worse

Critics of student loan forgiveness claim this plan will worsen inflation. While experts are divided on this issue, a recent Goldman Sachs analysis determined that these concerns are overblown. Goldman Sachs’ economists Joseph Briggs and Alex Phillips claimed the resumption of student loan payments at the end of the year is “likely to more than offset” any potential inflationary effects of Biden’s modest forgiveness program. But some guests and anchors on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and CNN’s New Day forwent this analysis, adopting right-wing framing by questioning whether, or claiming that, student loan forgiveness will be inflationary.

  • On CNN’s New Day, CNN’s chief White House correspondent Kaitlin Collins said that “some” economists have “raised concerns that [student loan forgiveness] will make inflation worse,” asking U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to expand on that point. [CNN, New Day, 8/25/22]
  • On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box Andrew Ross Sorkin compared student loan forgiveness to the 2008 bank bailout and claimed, “There is no way to look at this and say it is not going to make things harder for the federal reserve and for government to try to bring down inflation.” [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 8/25/22]
  • MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan expressed concern over forgiveness “adding to inflation,” saying the plan is “annoying” because “it doesn’t address the higher education cartel.” [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 8/25/22]
  • Morning Joe’s co-anchor Willie Geist began a segment about student debt relief by citing “some” who say that the plan will “contribute to inflation” and that it is “immoral to make people who didn't take out loans pay off the loans of people who did.” [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 8/25/22]