REPORT: How Evening News Covered Economic Issues In 7 Charts

Evening news coverage throughout April touched upon several economic issues, including income inequality, deficit reduction, and entitlement cuts. A Media Matters analysis of this coverage reveals that many of these segments lacked proper context or necessary input from economists, while some networks ignored certain issues entirely.

Economic Inequality Largely Unmentioned

Economic Inequality Mentioned In Only 12 Segments. Of the total 123 segments discussing policy effects on the economy, only 12 -- slightly less than 10 percent of economic news coverage -- mentioned income and wealth inequality and current policy's disproportionate impact on low-income earners.


MSNBC Led All Networks In Inequality Coverage.  MSNBC devoted about 25 percent of its economic coverage to discussing the disparity between the rich and poor, leading the coverage of news networks on the issue. CNN devoted about 10 percent of its coverage to economic inequality, and Fox News devoted 4 percent. ABC, CBS, and NBC provided no mentions of inequality.


Deficit Reduction Still In Spotlight

Calls For Deficit Reduction Outnumber Calls For Economic Growth. Of the total 123 segments discussing the economy, 35 mentioned that economic growth and job creation are a priority, while 45 discussed the need for cutting government spending to reduce the deficit.


Fox News Most Vocal In Calls For Deficit Reduction. When mentions of economic priorities are broken down by network, it is clear that Fox News' coverage drives talk of deficit reduction. The network had the largest disparity in calls for deficit reduction over economic growth, mentioning it 30 times in the period analyzed.


Falling Deficits Absent From Segments Calling For Deficit Reduction. While 45 segments on the economy discussed the need for deficit reduction, only four total segments mentioned that deficits are projected to fall in coming years.


Supposed Need For Entitlement Cuts In Focus

Rising Healthcare Costs -- The Main Driver Of Deficits -- Overshadowed By Calls For Entitlement Cuts. A total of 27 segments focused on the perceived need for entitlement cuts, while zero noted that the main driver of long-term entitlement costs are largely due to rising healthcare costs.


Economists Still Underrepresented In Coverage

Economists Account For Four Percent Of Guests. Of the total 196 guests brought on to talk about the economy, only eight were identified as economists. Political guests and journalists accounted for the majority of guests, with 75 guests from each group.



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 April 1 through April 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 360, Piers 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, including disproportionate effects of sequestration.

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

We define 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 define segments that call for entitlement cuts as those where either the guest or host mentions the need for benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

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.

Media Matters 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.