A Media Matters analysis found that PBS NewsHour has far outpaced other broadcast network news programs in covering the consequences of the Supreme Court's dismantling of campaign finance reform. In the past year and a half, PBS thoroughly analyzed the effects of Citizens United and its sequel -- McCutcheon v. FEC -- dedicating more time to the issue than all the other networks combined.
In The Past Year And A Half, The Supreme Court Accepted And Decided “The Next Citizens United” And Republicans Filibustered Campaign Finance Reform
Reuters: “A Constitutional Amendment To Take Big Money Out Of Politics Dies Quietly.” Last week, the Senate considered a constitutional amendment that would have reinstated Congress' ability to regulate out-of-control political spending, previous legislative authority that was restricted by the conservative justices in the Supreme Court's rulings in Citizens United and McCutcheon. James Gaines of Reuters noted that the amendment “was not much covered in the media,” even though the vast majority of Americans, from across the political spectrum, support campaign finance reform:
This week the U.S. Senate considered a constitutional amendment that would have allowed Congress and state legislatures to limit the power of money in politics. The debate was not much covered in the media because the outcome was so predictable. But the party-line vote that killed it should not go unnoted.
A remarkable majority of the American public -- 79 percent according to Gallup -- want campaign finance reform. The right and left, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, even Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly agree that, left unchecked, Big Money corrupts politics and undermines democracy.
That was one of the few things Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton agreed on, and both the American and French Revolutions were fought in part to get the financial power and privilege of aristocracy out of governance.
The core principles that the court affirmed in Citizens United and McCutcheon are that corporations are people, with the same right to influence politics as voters, and that you can't place arbitrary limits on political donations because money is speech.
Well, yes, money talks. But we regulate speech all the time -- in debate on the floor of Congress, for example, and when lawyers argue before the Supreme Court. As former Justice John Paul Stevens argues in his recent book Six Amendments, we do that especially when “there is an interest in giving adversaries an equal opportunity to persuade a decision maker to reach one conclusion rather than another.” Like a voter trying to decide between two candidates. Remember the equal-time rule and the Fairness Doctrine? We've worked on these problems before.
Corporations are “legal persons,” to be sure, but they are “people” who do not die and cannot vote, who have liability protection as well as civil rights, who can live in many countries simultaneously and whose duty is -- and must be -- not to democracy or the common welfare but to maximizing profits and shareholder return. [Reuters, 9/12/14]
Campaign Finance Reform Was Largely Ignored By Evening News Broadcasts And Sunday Shows -- Except PBS NewsHour
Most Evening News Broadcasts And Sunday Shows Have Dedicated Little Substantive Time To Campaign Finance Reform. The fact that the proposed Citizens United amendment “was not much covered” is part of a larger pattern in which the networks have largely underreported the rolling back of campaign finance reform and the unprecedented influx of billions of dollars into the federal election system. Since February 2013, when the Supreme Court accepted McCutcheon for review, NBC's Nightly News and Meet the Press covered campaign finance for a total of 17 minutes and 36 seconds over five segments, CBS' Evening News and Face the Nation combined for 17 minutes and 32 seconds of total coverage over seven segments, and ABC's World News Tonight and This Week covered the subject for a total of 12 minutes and 33 seconds over six segments.
Meanwhile, PBS NewsHour broadcast 16 segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, for a total of almost one hour and 14 minutes of coverage -- more than all the other networks combined. Although PBS NewsHour is twice as long as the other network evening news programs, it still had more than four times as much coverage as the outlet with the second-most coverage. Even including the networks' longer Sunday offerings, all of their shows combined still covered campaign finance reform far less than PBS NewsHour did during the same period.
This report analyzes coverage of campaign finance reform on Sunday morning talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press) and four nightly news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS NewsHour). Our analysis includes any segment that mentioned the campaign finance reform aspects of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC or McCutcheon v. FEC ( “Citizens United” and “McCutcheon” ) between February 19, 2013, and September 15, 2014, a time period that reflects when the justices decided to hear McCutcheon through the present week. Phrases such as “campaign finance” and “campaign finance reform” were included in the search in the event a broadcast did not refer to these cases specifically.
Transcripts from Nexis as well as Media Matters' internal video archives were used to analyze these segments.
Chart by John Whitehouse.