American television news outlets continue to devote sparse time to one of largest banking scandals in history. The controversy over whether major banks have been manipulating the LIBOR, a crucial interest rate that banks use to borrow money from one another, has been gathering steam for more than a month since U.S. and U.K. regulators fined British bank Barclays $450 million for its role in trying to rig the rate.
CNN's Erin Burnett has explained that LIBOR is “an interest rate at the core of our entire economy,” adding, “It's really not wrong to say that if you can't trust LIBOR, you can't trust anything in banking.” According to The Economist, the LIBOR is used “as a benchmark to set payments on about $800 trillion worth of financial instruments.” Baltimore City filed a lawsuit against major banks in the first of what may be a wave of such actions, alleging that the LIBOR manipulation potentially cost it millions of dollars in investment returns.
Despite the enormous implications of the scandal, ABC's World News and NBC's Nightly News both ignored the story in the 16 days after news of the Barclays fine broke, as we documented earlier this month. In the 16 days following the period of our original study, the LIBOR blackout has continued on ABC and NBC's flagship evening news programs. Those programs have gone more than a month without mentioning the controversy.
CBS Evening News devoted more than five and a half minutes to the story in the first 16 days following the Barclays fine, but has not returned to the scandal in the subsequent 16 day period despite a host of new developments.
After spending roughly six and a half minutes combined covering the scandal on their evening newscasts and opinion programming between June 27 and July 12, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News devoted less than 32 minutes to stories related to the controversy from July 13 to July 28, with more than two-thirds of that coverage coming from CNN.
These same news outlets spent significantly more time on trivialities like shark sightings and the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes divorce than on the banking scandal. For context, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN spent 44 minutes combined on the LIBOR scandal during their evening programming from June 27 to July 28. By contrast, these same outlets devoted nearly 65 minutes to stories about sharks for only the first sixteen days of that period.
Far from being a dormant story, fallout from allegations that the LIBOR has been manipulated has been steady.
On July 14, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Justice Department had “identified potential criminal wrongdoing by big banks and individuals at the center of the scandal” and was building criminal cases “against several financial institutions and their employees.” The Times explained that the “prospect of criminal cases” was expected to “rattle the banking world.”
The scandal has also reached Capitol Hill, with both Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke being questioned about regulators' response to allegations that banks were manipulating the LIBOR. During his appearance in front of the Senate Banking Committee, Bernanke said the LIBOR is “structurally flawed” and called the controversy “a major problem for our financial system.”
The story has gotten major coverage in financial press and on shows like Current TV's Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer and MSNBC's Up with Chris Hayes, but, with a few exceptions, has still received little attention on major American television news outlets their during evening newscasts and primetime programming. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple has urged media outlets considering LIBOR coverage to “Get on it,” providing “Nine reasons to cover” the scandal.
On July 16, Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer finished up his show's barely two-minutes-long segment on the LIBOR scandal to tease an upcoming story set to air on Erin Burnett Outfront by saying, “I'm going to look forward to your report later tonight, Erin. Thanks very much. An important story that deserves significant attention.”
Though Blitzer apparently thinks the story deserves “significant attention,” his program devoted a paltry one minute and 17 seconds to LIBOR from June 27 to July 12. In the sixteen days that followed, the July 16 segment was The Situation Room's sole contribution. If the LIBOR-fixing controversy “deserves significant attention,” why hasn't the network's premier hard news show provided more coverage?
Indeed, straight news programming seems to have dropped the ball in the period following our original study. No broadcast network covered LIBOR in their evening half-hour flagship programs between July 13 and July 28.
Cable news increased its coverage during that period. Up from just under five minutes, CNN's LIBOR reporting increased to about 22 minutes, with Erin Burnett Outfront shouldering 15-and-a-half minutes of that amount. In its July 13 and July 16 episodes, Outfront featured segments eight and seven-and-a-half-minutes long, respectively. However, the July 13 segment, though frequently mentioning LIBOR, covered many other topics related to the financial crisis during an extended panel discussion.
Both Fox News and MSNBC increased their coverage to about five minutes each during the second 16 day block. On Fox, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox Report with Shepard Smith each devoted a segment to LIBOR. On MSNBC, only The Rachel Maddow Show, with a four minute 47 second segment guest-hosted by Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein, covered the scandal in any meaningful way.
Media Matters searched the Nexis databases for news transcripts for evening programs on broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC) and major cable news (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) networks from July 13, 2012 through July 28, 2012 mentioning the LIBOR scandal. We included evening cable shows airing between 5:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. and each broadcast networks' nightly news program. For programs falling within these parameters that were not included in Nexis, we searched transcripts from our video archive.
We searched using the following keywords: “LIBOR,” “Barclays,” “British bank,” “UK bank,” “Bob Diamond,” “Robert Diamond,” “Marcus Agius,” and all variations of “rate” and “fix.” We reviewed the raw video of each result to time the length of each segment, teaser, and mention. When transcripts for a particular program were not available, we reviewed the raw video.
Included in the results are the following weekday programs: ABC's World News; CBS' Evening News; NBC's Nightly News; CNN's The Situation Room, Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360, and Piers Morgan; Fox News' The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox Report with Shepard Smith, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren; and MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation, The Ed Show, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.
We did not include the first hour of CNN's The Situation Room, which begins at 4:00 p.m. However, a separate search of that hour using the same parameters above returned no results for the time period in question.