REPORT: TV News Coverage Of Economy Slips In Final 6 Months Of 2014

REPORT: TV News Coverage Of Economy Slips In Final 6 Months Of 2014

Economists Remain Marginalized, And Coverage Of Inequality Remains Low

››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & COLEMAN LOWNDES

Coverage of the economy on weeknight television news shows during the last six months of 2014 continued to focus heavily on policies meant to boost job creation and economic growth, but discussions overwhelmingly lacked input from actual economists. Additionally, a Media Matters analysis uncovered a relative decline in the number of segments promoting the conservative media myths that Obamacare and increasing the minimum wage hurt the labor market.

Economic News Largely Overlooked In Second Half Of 2014

Total Economic Coverage Declined Significantly Across All Networks. Economic news and policy debates received significantly less coverage during the second half of 2014 compared to the first half of 2014. Media Matters recorded just 475 economic segments across the three largest broadcast and three largest cable networks from July through December, compared to 861 economic segments from January through June.

CNN Virtually Ignored Economic Coverage. Of the three major cable networks, CNN dedicated by far the least coverage to prevailing economic issues during the second half of the year, with just 34 total recorded segments. By comparison, MSNBC dedicated 231 segments to economic news and policy debates, while Fox News dedicated 166 to similar or related topics:

Television News Economic Coverage, July-December 2014

Coverage Of Economic Inequality Remains Low

Economic Inequality Mentioned In Less Than One-Quarter Of Segments On The Economy. Of the 475 economic segments over the last six months of 2014, 115 -- or 24 percent -- directly addressed policies and topics relating to economic inequality:

TV News Has No Time For Economic Inequality

Coverage Of Economic Inequality Drops From First Quarter Of 2014. The proportion of coverage relating to economic inequality during the last half of the 2014 was in line with coverage during the preceding three months, but down from a peak of 29 percent in the first quarter of 2014. [Media Matters, 7/8/14; Media Matters, 4/7/14]

MSNBC Dominates Coverage Of Economic Inequality. During the second half of 2014, MSNBC led all networks in covering economic inequality, dedicating 84 segments to the topic. In comparison, CNN dedicated only eight segments to income inequality during the last six months of 2014:

Economic Inequality Not A Priority For Most Outlets

Economic Growth And Job Creation Prioritized Over Deficit Reduction In News Coverage

MSNBC Expands Lead In Discussion Of Economic Growth. MSNBC expanded its lead over the other networks in discussing policies related to job creation and economic growth. The network dedicated 113 segments to the topic during the second half of 2014. Fox News accounted for 66 additional segments focused on job creation and economic growth.

Fox News' Lonely Debt And Deficit Crusade. Fox News hosted 43 segments prioritizing debt and deficit reduction during the second half of the year. Although calls for economic growth on the network increased in the last half of the year, Fox News accounted for 93 percent of all segments focused on debt and deficit reduction:

Fox News' Lonely Debt And Deficit Crusade

Fox News Rarely Acknowledged That The U.S. Budget Deficit Has Declined. In line with previous trends, of the 46 segments featuring calls to reduce the national debt or budget deficit, just seven -- roughly 15 percent -- recognized the fact that annual budget deficits have been significantly reduced over the past several years. Fox News acknowledged this fact during only five segments in the last half of 2014 while airing 43 segments that called for deficit reduction during the same period.

Fox News Omits Facts About Debt And Deficit

Emphasis On Contrasting Economic Priorities At Fox News And MSNBC

Fox And MSNBC Remain At Odds In Debate On Taxes And Spending. Coverage by Fox News and MSNBC during the second half of 2014 continued to emphasize starkly contrasting economic priorities. MSNBC featured 31 segments in which a host or guest expressed concern about the harmful consequences of government spending cuts versus just four segments outlining the potential harm of tax increases. Meanwhile, Fox News featured 41 segments in which a host or guest expressed concerns about the harmful consequences of tax increases, without a single significant mention of the harm from cuts to government spending. CNN and the nightly broadcast networks registered zero significant mentions on either side of the debate during this six-month period:

Fox And MSNBC Headline Tax And Spending Debate

Obamacare And Minimum-Wage Concerns Significantly Less Prominent

On Fox, Segments Hyping Demise Of The Job Market Are Down Dramatically. In the first half of 2014, Fox News featured 60 segments warning that the Affordable Care Act -- also known as Obamacare -- hurts the job market and 25 segments warning of the risks of an increased minimum wage. The network's focus on those topics witnessed 83 percent and 88 percent declines during the second half of the year, respectively. [Media Matters, 7/8/14; Media Matters, 4/7/14]

Fox News Still Virtually Alone In Airing Minimum Wage And Obamacare Myths. Fox News provided the only prominent forum in the second half of 2014 for claims that Obamacare or increasing the minimum wage harm the labor market. Fox News dedicated 10 segments to the myth that Obamacare hurts workers or weakens the job market and three to the myth that increasing the minimum wage dampens hiring or forces employers to lay off workers. MSNBC offered one segment mentioning the myth that increasing the minimum wage kills jobs during the August 6 edition of The Ed Show and one segment mentioning the myth that the Affordable Care Act kills jobs on the November 13 edition of The Ed Show. The segments featured conservative guests Art Laffer and Dana Loesch, respectively.

Economic Boogeymen Now Isolated To Right-Wing Media

Expert Analysis Still Hard To Find In Economic News Coverage

Economists Accounted For Just Over 3 Percent Of Guests. Economists accounted for just over 3 percent of all recorded guests, representing 23 of the 715 total guests in segments on the economy during the second half of the year. This is roughly in line with prior trends. Journalists and political guests continued to represent the overwhelming majority of guests in economic segments, comprising 58 percent and 26 percent of guests, respectively.

Economic News Guests Frequently Have No Expertise In Economics

Previous quarterly reports are available here: second quarter, 2014; first quarter, 2014; fourth quarter, 2013; third quarter, 2013; second quarter, 2013.

Methodology

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 July 1 through December 31, 2014. 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 Tonight, CBS Evening News, Nightly News with Brian Williams, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Crossfire, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, 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 reruns, 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 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. In some instances, a host or guest conflated general or specific government regulations with tax increases.

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 increase would hurt job growth as those where either the host or guest alleges that a minimum wage increase would lead to job losses or an increase in part-time work.

Charts produced by John Whitehouse, video by Coleman Lowndes.

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