REPORT: Weekday Broadcast And Cable Evening News Economic Coverage Lacks Context, Economists

Increased Coverage Of Inequality, Attacks On Obamacare And The Minimum Wage, And Voices Of Economists Barely Present

Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the first quarter of 2014. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA and the minimum wage are causes of poor job growth.

Coverage Of Economic Inequality Rises

Economic Inequality Mentioned In 146 Segments. Of the 498 total segments discussing policy effects on the economy, 146 -- roughly 29 percent -- mentioned economic inequality and current policy's impact on low-income households.


Coverage Of Inequality Rose From Previous Quarter. The first quarter of 2014 saw proportionally more mentions of inequality in segments on the economy, up from 13 percent of total coverage in the fourth quarter of 2013.

MSNBC Leads All Networks In Mentions Of Inequality. MSNBC accounted for the majority of coverage devoted to discussing economic inequality with 70 mentions. CNN and Fox News lagged behind, with 18 and 50 mentions, respectively. Network news provided the least amount of coverage, with the total for ABC, CBS, and NBC amounting to only 8 mentions of economic or income inequality.


Economic Growth In The Spotlight

MSNBC Accounts For Bulk Of Discussion On Need For Economic Growth. Of all networks, MSNBC provided the most mentions of the need for economic growth and job creation in the first quarter of 2014. The network had 83 segments that mentioned the topic, focusing just 2 on deficit reduction.

Fox News Leads All Networks In Calls For Deficit Reduction. The supposed need for further deficit reduction was heavily promoted by Fox News in the first quarter of the year. The network had 52 total segments that mentioned the subject, which accounted for nearly 83 percent of total mentions across all networks.


Deficit Reduction Calls Largely Lack Context. Of the total 63 segments across all networks in which a host or guest identified deficit reduction as an economic priority, only 5 -- roughly 8 percent of these segments -- noted that annual budget deficits are falling.


Spending Cuts Seen As More Harmful Than Tax Increases

Harm From Spending Cuts Discussed More Frequently Than Harm From Tax Increases. Potential economic harm from spending cuts 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 50 segments, while the negative side-effects of tax increases were mentioned in only 22 segments. MSNBC accounted for most of the segments on the effects of spending cuts, dedicating 40 segments to the topic.


Fox News Misidentifies Affordable Care Act As Stunting Job Growth

Fox Leads The Charge Blaming Obamacare For Job Loss, Lack Of Job Creation. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- commonly known as Obamacare -- was incorrectly identified as a primary driver of lagging job growth and increased part-time work in 58 segments on the economy. Fox overwhelmingly forwarded the most claims that Obamacare is holding back job growth, accounting for 45 of the total 58 mentions.


Minimum Wage Falsely Accused Of Harming Economic Growth

Fox News, CNN Incorrectly Claim Minimum Wage Increase Would Harm Economy. Increasing the minimum wage was incorrectly identified as a potential threat to job growth in 32 segments during the first quarter of the year. CNN and Fox News accounted for the bulk of mentions regarding potential harm from raising the minimum wage, accounting for 14 and 16 mentions, respectively.


Economists Still Underrepresented In Discussions On Economy

Economists Account For Only 2 Percent Of Guests. Economists accounted for the smallest share of all guests by type, representing roughly 2 percent of total guests in segments on the economy. The share of economists fell from the previous quarter, when they represented roughly 4 percent of all guests. Political guests and journalists accounted for the largest shares, echoing results from previous quarters.



Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from December 31 through March 31. 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, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Crossfire,Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Live, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The Ed Show, 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, 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 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 defined segments that claim a minimum wage hike would hurt job growth as those where either the host or guest alleges that a minimum wage increase would lead to job loss or an increase in part-time work.

We counted all guests who 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, has worked in the economics profession, 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.