REPORT: The State Of Cable And Broadcast Economic Coverage

Broadcast and cable evening news coverage touched upon a variety of economic topics, including deficit reduction, economic growth, and entitlement reform throughout the second quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many segments lacked proper context or input from economists, while some topics went largely underreported.

Calls For Curbing Entitlement Spending Thrown In Spotlight

Fox Leads Charge For Cutting Entitlement Costs. Of the 35 total segments in which a host or guest called for reducing entitlement expenditures, Fox News accounted for 23 - roughly 66 percent of those segments. All other networks dedicated significantly fewer segments to discussing the topic.


Calls For Cutting Entitlement Costs Lack Context. Of the 35 total segments in which reducing entitlement costs was mentioned, only three noted that long-term deficits are largely a function of rising health care costs.


Economic Inequality Still Largely Unmentioned

Economic Inequality And Its Effects Mentioned In Only 26 Segments. Of the total 280 segments discussing policy effects on the economy, only 26 -- about nine percent of economic news coverage -- mentioned economic inequality and current policy's impact on low-income households.


MSNBC Leads All Networks In Mentions Of Inequality. MSNBC accounted for the vast majority of coverage touching upon economic inequality with 17 mentions. CNN and Fox lagged behind, with three and five mentions, respectively. Network news provided the least coverage - ABC mentioned the topic once, while CBS and NBC failed to discuss inequality at all.


Deficit Reduction Considered Priority

Fox News Leads All Networks In Calls For Deficit Reduction. The supposed need for deficit reduction was Fox News' top economic priority. The network had 61 total segments that mentioned the subject, with only 34 identifying the need for economic growth and jobs. The network's mentions of deficit reduction accounted for 76 percent of total mentions across all networks.

MSNBC Accounts For Bulk Of Discussion On Need For Economic Growth. Of all networks, MSNBC provided the most mentions of the need for economic and jobs growth. The network had 47 segments that mentioned the topic, focusing only 10 on deficit reduction. The network's mentions of the need for economic growth accounted for 48 percent of total mentions across all networks.


Deficit Reduction Calls Largely Lack Context. Of the total 80 segments in which a host or guest identified deficit reduction as an economic priority, only four -- five percent of these segments -- noted that annual budget deficits are falling.


Spending Cuts Identified As Harmful To Economy

Harm From Spending Cuts Mentioned More Frequently Than Harm From Tax Increases. Potential economic harm from spending cuts including sequestration were more than twice as likely to be mentioned than potential harm from tax increases. Spending cuts were identified as a significant factor in subpar economic growth in 53 segments, while tax increases were mentioned in only 25 segments. MSNBC accounted for most of the segments on the effects of spending cuts, dedicating 37 segments to the topic.

Fox News Dedicates Significant Discussion To Potential Harm From Tax Increases. Fox News dedicated the most segments to discussing potential harm from tax cuts, accounting for 84 percent of total segments with tax hike mentions across networks.


Economists Still Underrepresented In Guest Appearances

Economists Account For Only 14 Guest Appearances. Economists accounted for the smallest share of all guests by type, representing roughly three percent of total guests. Political guests and journalists accounted for the largest shares.



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 June 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 the 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 pressing needs.

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 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 define 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 define 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 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.

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.