STUDY: TV News Shows Largely Ignore Historic Trade Negotiations

Trans-Pacific Partnership Barely Noticed By Weeknight News Over The Past 18 Months

Weeknight television news programs have given little attention to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and 10 nations from the Asia-Pacific region. Although the nations involved in the negotiations create a huge amount of economic activity, only PBS and MSNBC have devoted any significant coverage to the TPP since August 2013.

TPP A Top Priority For Obama, Business Groups, And GOP Leadership

TPP Involves 12 Nations With Varying Economic Relationships To The U.S. A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report compiled data on the current trade relationships between the United States and the other Trans-Pacific Partnership member countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

TPP Impacts $1.7 Trillion Of U.S. Trade

[The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Negotiations and Issues for Congress, CRS, 11/19/14 via the Federation of American Scientists]

Obama: “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Is A High Priority.” In remarks at a November 10 meeting of political leaders and trade ministers dedicated to advancing TPP negotiations, the president said that completing the free-trade agreement was a “high priority”:

We're here today because the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a high priority for our nations and for the region. As President, strengthening American leadership in the Asia Pacific has been one of my top foreign policy priorities. And central to that objective is working with some of our most important trading partners to find ways in which we can facilitate increased growth for all of us, increased investment for all of us, improve jobs prospects for all of us.

And what we are seeing is momentum building around a Trans-Pacific Partnership that can spur greater economic growth, spur greater jobs growth, set high standards for trade and investment throughout the Asia Pacific. And I don't think I have to explain to the press why this region is so important. This is the fastest-growing, most populous, most dynamic region in the world economically.

During the past few weeks, our teams have made good progress in resolving several outstanding issues regarding a potential agreement. Today is an opportunity at the political level for us to break some remaining logjams. To ensure that TPP is a success, we also have to make sure that all of our people back home understand the benefits for them -- that it means more trade, more good jobs, and higher incomes for people throughout the region, including the United States. And that's the case that I'll continue to make to Congress and the American people. And I know that the leaders here are committed to making that case as well. [Remarks by President Obama Before the Trans-Pacific Partnership Meeting,, 11/10/14]

Republican Leadership And Major Business Groups Support The TPP. According to a February 1 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Republican congressional leadership and prominent business groups support the TPP. Congress is considering whether to grant Obama so-called “fast track” authority to negotiate free-trade agreements like the TPP, which would prevent Congress from amending them or filibustering them:

One of the first issues the Republican-controlled Congress faces is whether to give President Barack Obama the authority to negotiate trade agreements that Congress would quickly vote up or down without the opportunity to amend.

Mr. Obama wants that power -- known formally as trade promotion authority and informally as “fast track” -- in connection with the Trans Pacific Partnership. He believes the 11-nation trade pact will invigorate the U.S. economy and create jobs by opening up fast-growing markets to U.S. exports.

Republican congressional leaders and major business groups also back the treaty. But opponents, including labor unions and environmental groups, say fast track makes it easier to negotiate trade deals that ship U.S. jobs overseas, hurt worker rights, and threaten the environment. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/1/15]

Network Nightly News Ignored The TPP Entirely -- Except For PBS

Over The Past 18 Months, Network Evening News Completely Ignored The TPP. A Media Matters transcript search of the CBS Evening News, ABC's World News Tonight, and NBC's Nightly News from August 1, 2013, through January 31, 2015, found no mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. By contrast, PBS NewsHour mentioned the TPP on during eight broadcasts, most of which were substantive discussions of the trade agreement.

PBS Dominates Coverage Of TPP, Other Networks Remain Silent

Weeknight Cable Programs Mostly Silent On Trade Negotiations

Only The Ed Show Devoted Significant Coverage To The TPP. During the same 18-month period, CNN and Fox News each mentioned the TPP during two broadcasts. MSNBC's The Ed Show discussed the trade agreement on 71 broadcasts, but the TPP was mentioned on the network's other evening programming only twice (once by host Ed Schultz during coverage of the president's State of the Union speech and a passing mention by All In host Chris Hayes).

If Not For The Ed Show, Cable Outlets Mostly Ignored TPP


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 (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) from August 1, 2013, through January 31, 2015. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: pacific partnership or trans-pacific or tpp or trans-pacific partnership or transpacific partnership.

Media Matters included all segments that mentioned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or “TPP”) by name, regardless of the substance or tone of the commentary. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or rebroadcasts of news packages that were already counted on their initial broadcast in the 5 p.m.-11 p.m. window.

This study builds on previous research, which can be found here.