Economists - And Economics - Absent From Media Coverage Of Debt Debate

A Media Matters study found that economists have been strangely absent from discussions on budget negotiations, following a typical pattern of the media's inability to host experts to discuss complex issues. This lack of expert analysis has steered the debate toward politics and away from core economic concerns.

In a recently published study of news segments discussing current budget negotiations, Media Matters found that the presence of economists was sorely lacking - out of 503 total guests in the 337 segments analyzed, only 22 were economists. The lack of appearances by economists is spread across all networks:


The results of this study are in line with previous Media Matters research. In media discussions of the debt-ceiling debate in the summer of 2011, only 4.1 percent of guests on news programs were identified as economists. The findings of the most recent study reinforce the notion that the media have a tendency to ignore expert opinion when discussing complex issues, such as the economy and climate change.

Previous studies by Media Matters have noted that the lack of economists' input helps spread conservative misinformation, leaving a substantial impact on public opinion. The most recent study, however, shows that keeping economists out of the debate also eliminates any discussion of economic issues. 

One such issue is the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, could plunge the U.S. economy into recession in 2013.

However, of the 337 segments analyzed, 209 -- 62 percent -- failed to address the macroeconomic implications of either tax increases or spending cuts. While some microeconomic issues were discussed (such as the potential impact on healthcare costs), most of the segments were focused on largely non-economic issues, such as political leverage in negotiations, the Grover Norquist pledge, or concessions made by the two parties.


Meanwhile, economists have not been silent on the economic consequences of current budget negotiations. A recent International Monetary Fund study found that for every dollar decrease in government spending, the U.S. would experience as much as a $1.80 decrease in output. Conversely, the Congressional Budget Office noted that if Bush-era tax rates expired for high-income earners, negative effects on economic output would be negligible.

Given the fact that cutting spending and raising taxes are both large components of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” highlighting these findings when discussing budget negotiations would help inform viewers of the real economic stakes. Instead, the media have taken the economics out of a largely economic issue.