REPORT: How Broadcast And Cable News Cover The Economy

Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act throughout the third quarter of 2013. While coverage of certain issues improved, a Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News advancing the erroneous notion that the Affordable Care Act is the purported cause behind poor job growth.

Economic Inequality Receives Increased Coverage

Economic Inequality Mentioned In 97 Segments. Of the total 497 segments discussing policy effects on the economy, 97 -- roughly 20 percent of economic news coverage -- mentioned economic inequality and current policy's impact on low-income households.


Coverage Of Inequality Doubled Since Last Quarter. The third quarter of 2013 saw more than double the mentions of inequality in segments on the economy. In the second quarter, inequality was mentioned in only 9.3 percent of segments.

MSNBC Leads All Networks In Mentions Of Inequality. MSNBC accounted for the vast majority of coverage touching upon economic inequality, with 62 mentions. CNN and Fox News lagged behind, with 12 and 13 mentions, respectively. Network news provided the least amount of coverage, with ABC and CBS providing three mentions of inequality each, and NBC providing four mentions.


Deficit Reduction Still Considered Priority

Fox News Leads All Networks In Calls For Deficit Reduction. The supposed need for deficit reduction was Fox News' top economic priority. The network had 47 total segments that mentioned the subject, with only 14 identifying the need for economic growth and job creation. The network's calls for deficit reduction accounted for 69 percent of total mentions across all networks.

MSNBC Accounts For Bulk Of Discussion On Need For Economic Growth.  Of all networks, MSNBC provided the most mentions of the need for economic and jobs growth. The network had 59 segments that mentioned the topic, focusing only 10 on deficit reduction. The network's calls for economic growth accounted for 62 percent of total mentions across all networks.


Deficit Reduction Calls Largely Lack Context. Of the total 68 segments across all networks in which a host or guest identified deficit reduction as an economic priority, only seven -- roughly 10 percent of these segments -- noted that annual budget deficits are falling.


Spending Cuts Identified As Harmful To Economy

Harm From Spending Cuts Mentioned More Frequently Than Harm From Tax Increases. Potential economic harm from spending cuts, including sequestration, was more than twice as likely to be mentioned than potential harm from tax increases. Spending cuts were identified as a significant factor causing subpar economic growth in 37 segments, while tax increases were mentioned in only 16 segments. MSNBC accounted for most of the segments on the effects of spending cuts, dedicating 27 segments to the topic.


Affordable Care Act Identified As Stunting Job Growth

Networks See Obamacare As Detriment To Economy. The Afforable Care Act -- commonly known as Obamacare -- was incorrectly identified as a primary driver of lagging job growth and increased part-time work in 90 segments on the economy.

Fox Leads Charge In Blaming Obamacare For Lack Of Job Growth. Fox overwhelmingly forwarded the most claims that Obamacare is holding back job growth, accounting for 69 of the total 90 mentions.


Context Lacking In Calls For Curbing Entitlement Spending

Role Of Health Care Costs Missing From Discussions On Entitlements. Of the nine total segments in which reducing entitlement costs was mentioned, none noted that long-term deficits are largely a function of rising health care costs.


Economists Still Underrepresented In Guest Appearances

Economists Account For Only 3 Percent Of Guests. Economists accounted for the smallest share of all guests by type, representing roughly 3 percent of total guests in segments on the economy. Political guests and journalists accounted for the largest shares.



Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from July 1 through September 30.  We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: econom!, jobs, growth, debt, and deficit. When transcripts were incomplete, we reviewed video.

The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Evening News (CBS), Face the Nation, Nightly News with Brian Williams, Meet the Press with David Gregory, Fox News Sunday, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air re-runs (such as Anderson Cooper 360 and Hardball with Chris Matthews), only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

Media Matters only included segments that had substantial discussion of policy implications on the macroeconomy. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, and re-broadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5p.m.-11p.m. window.

We defined segments that discuss economic inequality as those which mention the disparity in economic gains between high- and low-income individuals.

We defined segments that call for deficit reduction as a priority as those where either the host or guest mentions deficit and debt reduction as pressing needs.

We defined segments that call for economic growth as a priority as those where either the host or guest mentions economic growth and job creation as pressing needs.

We defined segments that call for curbing costs in entitlements as those where either the guest or host mentions the need for reducing the costs of Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

We defined segments that identify tax increases as having a negative impact on the economy as those where either the host or guests mention that tax increases are holding back job or economic growth.

We defined segments that identify spending cuts as having a negative impact on the economy as those where either the host or guests mention that spending cuts are holding back jobs or economic growth.

We defined segments that claim the Affordable Care Act is hurting job growth as those where either the host or guest specifically suggests that the Affordable Care Act is holding back job growth or increasing part-time work.

We counted all guests that appeared in relevant segments, using bios, profiles, resumes, and news stories available online to determine as best we could each guest's educational background and professional experience.

We defined an economist as someone who either holds an advanced degree in economics or has served as an economics professor at the college or university level. In cases where it was unclear whether or not the guest held an advanced degree, they were classified in the next most descriptive cohort.

We defined a political guest as any former or current elected government official or political appointee, any political strategist, or any former or current political party official (such as former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele).

We defined a journalist as a guest whose main profession is associated with a media outlet, such as contributors, correspondents, or columnists.