Economic news in the second quarter of 2016 bore striking similarities to trends established in the first quarter, as the presidential candidates’ economic platforms increasingly shaped the news. Coverage of inequality slipped from a high point last quarter, but the unprecedented economic crisis created by the United Kingdom’s so-called “Brexit” referendum did boost participation from economists to the highest point ever recorded by Media Matters.
Fox And PBS Continue To Lead Competitors In Economic News Coverage
PBS Maintains Lead Over Broadcast News Competitors. The major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- dedicated fewer segments to the economy during the second quarter of 2016 than they did during the first quarter of the year. Each network still lagged far behind PBS, which featured twice as many segments as CBS and roughly four times as many as ABC and NBC.** [Media Matters, 4/25/16]
Fox Remains Far Ahead of Cable Competitors In Economic Coverage. From April through June, Fox News aired 81 segments highlighting economic news and policy during prime-time programming, compared to just 47 from MSNBC and 29 from CNN. Each network dedicated slightly fewer segments to the economy during the second quarter than during the first quarter of the year. In line with previously established trends, CNN was a distant third to its cable competitors in terms of economic news coverage, once again finishing behind PBS despite having more available program hours for news:
Sunday Show Coverage Falls Off From Previous Quarter. In the second quarter of 2016, the main Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC combined to feature substantive discussions of economic news and policy in 51 segments. This represents a significant drop -- more than 21 percent -- from the first three months of the year, during which the same programs featured 65 such segments. CBS’ Face the Nation once again led the way in terms of economic news coverage -- with 13 segments -- while NBC’s Meet the Press registered just five qualifying segments:
Coverage Of Inequality Falls From Previous High On Weekday Programming
Economic Inequality Discussed In Nearly Three In 10 Prime-Time And Evening News Segments. Of the 231 combined economic news segments featured during prime-time and evening programming on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC in the second quarter of 2016, 67 -- or 29 percent -- directly addressed policies or topics relating to economic inequality and poverty. This total represents a significant decrease in coverage from the prior three-month reporting period, when the relative proportion of segments dedicated to inequality tied an all-time high. [Media Matters, 4/25/16]
Sunday Shows Maintain Pace On Economic Inequality. Of the 65 combined economic news segments featured on the five major Sunday political talk shows during the second quarter of 2016, 22 -- 43 percent -- directly addressed economic inequality. This rate of coverage is almost precisely in line with established trends:
Fox News Leads Cable Networks, PBS Unchallenged By Broadcast. Fox News aired 24 segments pertaining to economic inequality or poverty during prime-time weekday programming in the second quarter of 2016. The 24 qualifying segments from Fox News were double the number aired by MSNBC (12) and six times more than CNN’s mere four segments. Meanwhile, PBS dedicated three times as many segments (18) to inequality and poverty as its nearly competitor. The major broadcast outlets continued lagging far behind PBS’ NewsHour in terms of substantive programming focused on inequality:
Sunday Show Attention To Inequality Drops While Fox News Sunday Makes Tiny Improvement. Despite Fox News’ attention to inequality and poverty in the first quarter of the year -- which was often critical and included segments disparaging low-income Americans, blaming President Obama for poverty, and questioning the value of alleviating said inequality -- the network’s broadcast partner continued virtually ignoring the topic. Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday registered just two qualifying segments on economic inequality in the second quarter of the year, after registering just one such segment during the prior period. Overall, coverage of economic inequality and poverty was down across the major Sunday political shows:
Fox Continues Pushing Untenable Policies On Growth, Taxes, Deficit Reduction
Fox Has Been The Leading Proponent Of Spurring Economic Growth Over Past Year. Because of appearances by Republican presidential candidates and their surrogates, Fox News led all outlets in segments featuring calls for policies purportedly focused on economic growth and job creation in the second quarter of 2016. According to previous Media Matters analyses of broadcast and cable news coverage, Fox has led all outlets in calling for policies aimed at economic growth for 12 consecutive months. [Media Matters, 1/27/16, 4/25/16]
Fox Still Leads In Hyping Fears Of Debt And Deficit, But Narrative Changes May Be Becoming Apparent. According to Media Matters surveys of broadcast and cable news coverage of the economy, Fox News has been by far the foremost proponent of policies aimed at reducing the federal budget deficit and long-term national debt over the past three years (economic indicator tracking reports dating to April 2013 are available below). The trend remained true in the second quarter of 2016, but Fox News seemingly reduced the intensity of its campaign against policies that would increase the debt and deficit while other networks seemed to pick up the talking point. This may reflect a change in behavior driven by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s tax reform policies, which the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center and conservative-leaning Tax Foundation believe will add at least $9 trillion to the national debt on top of current expenditures. [Tax Foundation, 9/29/15; Tax Policy Center, 12/22/15]
Economic Growth And Job Creation Remain Focus Of Sunday Shows. In line with previous trends, the five major Sunday political talk shows combined to feature 18 total segments discussing policies intended to spur job creation and economic growth, compared to just three combined segments discussing the need for debt and deficit reduction:
Minimum Wage Coverage Remains Positive; Fox Continues Attacking Obamacare
Coverage Of The Minimum Wage Remained Positive In Evening And Prime-Time News. Coverage of opposition to the minimum wage based on the myth that it hurts businesses and destroys jobs continued to decline in the second quarter of 2016, fitting a trend established by Media Matters analyses over the past two years. Qualifying broadcast and cable programming registered 25 segments supporting the minimum wage as a means of alleviating poverty or highlighting the positive side effects of increasing the threshold, 12 of which came from MSNBC alone. At the same time, Media Matters identified a single instance of misinformation on the minimum wage, in a segment aired by Fox News. The conservative network remains a prominent source of minimum wage misinformation outside of prime time. [Media Matters, 4/14/16, 4/25/16; 7/1/16]
Fox Continues Lonely Attacks On Affordable Care Act. As it has been in previous quarters, Fox New was the main source of misinformation about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare” during the second quarter of 2016, accounting for 12 of the 14 segments that forwarded a myth about the negative side effects of health care reform on the economy. MSNBC remained the primary proponent of the law, airing seven of the 12 segments outlining its successes or identifying ways to potentially expand access.
“Brexit” Crisis Leads To Surge In Economists On Air
Economists Account For Record 7 Percent Of Economic News Guests. Of the 216 guests who appeared during prime-time cable news discussions of economic news and policy, 16 -- or just more than 7 percent -- were economists. This figure represents by far the most economists recorded during economic news segments in the history of Media Matters’ analysis. This expert participation was greatly boosted in the last two weeks of the survey period as outlets sought insight on the potential fallout the American economy might suffer from the United Kingdom’s June 23 referendum on dissolving its membership in the European Union, commonly referred to as “Brexit.” Economists also appeared on news shows to comment on and critique economic policies of the major presidential candidates and discuss other policy ideas and current events.
Former Obama Adviser Austan Goolsbee Only Economist To Appear More Than Once. In the first quarter of the year, University of Chicago economist and former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee was the only economist to appear during a segment on the economy. In the second quarter of the year, Goolsbee was the only one of the 11 economists featured during segments who appeared more than once, registering five combined appearances on Fox News’ Hannity and The O’Reilly Factor. Goolsbee, a frequent Fox News political guest, also appeared during some segments that did not qualify as containing significant discussions of the economy.
Only Two Women Economists Appeared During Weekday Programming. Economists Diane Swonk and Thea Lee were the only women economists featured during qualifying prime-time broadcast or cable news coverage of the economy.
Sparse Sunday Representation From Economists Still An Improvement Over Last Quarter. Of the 62 guests who appeared during prime-time cable news discussions of economic news and policy, three -- or just under 5 percent -- were economists. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi, and deficit hawk Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget each made one appearance. The relatively sparse representation of economists among Sunday guests was still a huge improvement over the first quarter of the year, when none of the 80 guests who appeared during economic news segments were economists.
Women Remain Marginalized In Television Coverage Of The Economy
Women Accounted For One-Quarter Of Evening And Prime-Time Economic Guests. In the second quarter of 2016, women accounted for just 53 -- or less than 25 percent -- of the 216 guests during cable prime-time discussions focused on the economy. This gender disparity fits a trend measured for weekday evening and prime-time programming from broadcast and cable news dating back more than three years. CNN once again led its competitors in terms of diversity, with women making up roughly a third of its economic guests (18 of 55). Fox News improved its representation of women from just 13 percent last quarter to 26 percent (24 of 94) this quarter, but MSNBC declined considerably from roughly 35 percent to just 18 percent (nine of 49). PBS, which airs programming with in-studio guests unlike its broadcast competitors, was the worst-performing outlet in terms of representing women, with just two women out of its 18 guests (11 percent).
Women Accounted For Less Than One-Quarter Of Sunday Guests. In line with trends established in the first quarter of the year, women remained marginalized on the major Sunday political talk shows during discussions of the economy. Women accounted for just 15 of 62 guests -- roughly 24 percent -- and on no program did women comprise more than one-third of guests. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was responsible for five of the 15 appearances:
Trump Dominates Weekday Airwaves; Sanders Scores Big On Sunday
Standing Invitation From Fox News Gives Trump Ample Airtime. From April through June, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared on weekday prime-time cable news programming to discuss the state of the economy or economic policy 18 times, all of them on Fox News. Trump registered more appearances (18) than the other declared candidates combined during this period: Sen. Bernie Sanders (five), Sen. Ted Cruz (five), Gov. John Kasich (one), and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (one). Trump’s prominence as a guest, and his frequent appearances on Fox News, reflect trends established in the first quarter of the year. However, appearances by the other candidates fell off precipitously after Trump virtually guaranteed himself the Republican presidential nomination on May 1. [Media Matters, 4/25/16]
Bernie Sanders Blankets The Airwaves On Sundays. The five presidential candidates accounted for 31 (exactly half) of the 62 total guests featured during Sunday economic news segments, led by Bernie Sanders (17), who was followed by Hillary Clinton (six), Donald Trump (five), and then Ted Cruz (three). Sanders’ dominance on Sundays, as well as his focus on issues related to the economy and inequality, reflected trends established in the first quarter of the year.
Previous quarterly and biannual economic indicator tracking reports are available here: first quarter, 2016; third and fourth quarters, 2015; first and second quarters, 2015; third and fourth quarters, 2014; second quarter, 2014; first quarter, 2014; fourth quarter, 2013; third quarter, 2013; second quarter, 2013.
** PBS dedicates more daily airtime to live news than its broadcast competitors, and its news programming is commercial-free. This increased programming range allows the PBS NewsHour to feature more significant and in-depth discussions of the economy than ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of network broadcast news and cable prime-time (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from April 1, 2016, through June 30, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: econom! or jobs or growth or debt or deficit or minimum wage or inequality or taxes or poverty or low income or low-income or obamacare or aca or affordable care act or health care
The following programs were included in the data: World News Tonight, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS Evening News, Face the Nation, NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press, PBS NewsHour, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, 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. Unlike Fox News and MSNBC, CNN does not air regular news programming during the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot.
For this study, Media Matters included only segments that contained substantial discussion of policy implications on the macroeconomy. We defined a “substantial discussion” as any segment where a host dedicates a monologue, or portion of a monologue, to economic news or policy analysis, or any segment where two or more guests discuss economic news or a policy topic. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or rebroadcasts of news packages that were already counted when they first aired in the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. survey window.
We defined segments that discuss economic inequality as those that mention the socioeconomic disparity 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 guest mentions that tax increases are holding back job creation or economic growth as well as those where either the host or guest advocated tax cuts to spur job creation or economic growth. In some instances, a host or guest conflated general or specific government regulations with tax increases.
We defined segments that promoted myths about the economic effects of the Affordable Care Act as those where either the host or guest suggests that the Affordable Care Act is holding back job growth, increasing part-time work, or restricting business activity, as well as those where either the host or guest proposes repealing the Affordable Care Act as a means of stimulating the economy.
We defined segments that promoted myths about the economic effects of increasing the minimum wage as those where either the host or guest alleges that a minimum wage increase would lead to job losses, an increase in part-time work, or restricted business activity.