With the presidential primary season in full swing, prime-time cable and broadcast evening news coverage of the economy focused on the candidates' policy priorities in the second half of 2015. News coverage of economic inequality fell considerably after hitting an all-time high in the first half of the year.
Major Trends In Economic News Coverage
Broadcast Evening News Coverage Of The Economy Falls In The Last Half Of 2015. Over the last six months of 2015, the three major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC -- dedicated fewer segments to economic news and policy than they did during the first half of the year. The networks combined to feature just 53 substantive economic news segments from July through December, a 14 percent drop from the January through June survey period, during which the networks aired 64 such segments. [Media Matters, 8/31/15]
Fox Outpaces Competition, CNN Lags Far Behind. From July through December, Fox News aired 128 segments highlighting economic news and policy during prime-time programming, compared to just 86 such segments from MSNBC and 37 from CNN. MSNBC had led all cable outlets in total economic coverage during each of the prior six-month survey periods dating back to July 1, 2014. In line with previous trends, CNN remained a distant third-place finisher among the cable outlets in coverage of the economy. Previous Media Matters surveys of economic news coverage included some cable programs that were discontinued during the survey period; this analysis included only prime-time cable programming from July 1, 2015 through December 31, 2015 to maintain consistency throughout the data set.** [Media Matters, 8/31/15, 1/21/15]
Coverage Of Inequality Falls From Previous High
Economic Inequality Is Discussed In Less Than One-Quarter Of Economic Segments. Of the 304 combined economic news segments on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC during the last six months of 2015, just 69 -- or 23 percent -- directly addressed policies or topics relating to economic inequality. This represents a significant decrease from the prior six-month period, where inequality was discussed in 38 percent of economic news segments. [Media Matters, 8/31/15]
Coverage Of Inequality Reaches Lowest Point Since 2013. Coverage of economic inequality in the United States among the three major broadcast networks and cable outlets reached its lowest point since the fourth quarter of 2013, when the topic was discussed in just 13 percent of segments. [Media Matters, 1/7/14]
MSNBC Leads All Other Networks Combined In Coverage Of Inequality. MSNBC discussed economic inequality or policies aimed at alleviating it in nearly half -- 49 percent -- of its economic segments. MSNBC mentioned economic inequality 42 times, more than all the other broadcast and cable outlets combined. On several occasions, Fox News featured arguments from hosts or guests that downplayed the importance of alleviating economic inequality:
Changing Focus On Economic Growth, Deficit Reduction
Fox Takes The Lead In Calling For Job Creation And Economic Growth. Spurred by numerous appearances by Republican presidential candidates, Fox News led all outlets in segments featuring calls for policies focused on job creation and economic growth in the second half of 2015. Fox had lagged behind MSNBC in this category during every quarterly and biannual survey dating to April 2013, but it overtook the competition by promoting supposedly “pro-growth” conservative economic policies like tax cuts for corporations and high earners.
CNN Increases Focus On Job Creation, Economic Growth. CNN increased its attention to policies aimed at stoking job creation and economic growth from the prior six-month periods. This relative increase came despite methodological revisions that excluded programming included in previous Media Matters surveys.**
Fox Remains Almost Entirely Alone In Calls For Deficit Reduction. As was the case in each of the previous six-month surveys, Fox News was the only outlet to prominently feature calls for cuts to government spending for the purpose of reducing the annual federal budget deficit and long-term national debt. [Media Matters, 8/31/15, 1/21/15]
Fox's Hannity Intently Focuses On Debt And Deficit Reduction, Entitlement Reform. During the last half of 2015, Fox News' 10 p.m. program Hannity featured 40 of the network's 51 references to the supposed imperative to further reduce the annual federal budget deficit or further curtail the growth of the national debt. The references to debt and deficit reduction were frequently made by host Sean Hannity during interviews with Republican presidential candidates. In addition to its focus on debt and deficit reduction, Hannity's program was responsible for 100 percent of the 14 segments featuring a call for entitlement reform, with the host frequently bemoaning the supposed existence of over $100 trillion in so-called “unfunded liabilities” as a result of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other entitlement programs.
Ignoring Its Own Calls For Deficit Reduction, Fox Remains Only Major Voice Pushing Tax Cuts. In line with previous trends dating to April 2014, Fox News is the only major source of discussions focused around the supposed importance of either cutting taxes to stoke economic growth or opposing tax increases that would harm growth. During the second half of 2015, Fox featured 21 segments calling for tax cuts or warning of future tax increases, and CNN featured four such segments. No other qualifying program on ABC, CBS, NBC, or MSNBC featured significant discussions on the topic. [Media Matters, 8/31/15, 1/21/15, 7/8/14]
Fox Remains Virtually Alone In Pushing Myths About Obamacare And Minimum Wage
Segments Warning Of Job Losses From Minimum Wage Increase, Negative Effects Of Obamacare Remain Low Priority. In line with previously recorded trends, news coverage of the supposed negative labor market impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and fallout from increases to federal, state, and local minimum wages remained low in the second half of 2015. Fox News was almost completely alone in its attempts to stir up fears on both issues, devoting seven cautionary segments to the minimum wage and two to the perils of the ACA, or “Obamacare.” CBS Evening News broadcast a single segment that discussed potential job losses from an increased federal minimum wage. In the past 18 months, Fox News has been the only prominent source of the myths that the ACA and the minimum wage kill jobs. [Media Matters, 8/31/15, 1/21/15]
Economists Still Largely Shut Out Of Economic Discussions, Except On MSNBC
Economists Account For Just Over 6 Percent Of Cable News Guests. Of the 344 guest appearances during prime-time cable news discussions of economic news and policy, just 22 -- or 6 percent -- were economists. There remained a marked disparity in the proportional representation of economists among the three major cable outlets. Economists comprised less than 2 percent of guests on qualifying Fox News segments -- three out of 161 -- but comprised more than 13 percent of guests during qualifying MSNBC segments -- 15 out of 115. Economists comprised just under 6 percent of CNN guests -- four out of 68.
More Than Two-Thirds Of Economist Appearances Are On MSNBC. Fifteen of the 22 appearances by economists in qualifying prime-time segments in the second half of 2015 -- 68 percent -- were on MSNBC. University of Chicago economist and former Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee led all economists with seven appearances -- four on MSNBC, two on Fox News, and one on CNN.
Political Guests Account For More Than 4 In 10 Guests. The proportional representation of political guests remained high in the second half of 2015 as outlets played host to elected and former politicians, political appointees, strategists, and 17 declared presidential candidates.
Donald Trump Is Featured More Than Twice As Often As Next Closest Competitor. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump appeared in 22 prime-time cable news segments on the economy in the second half of 2015, more than twice as many appearances as his next closest challenger, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), who appeared in 10 such segments. In line with previous Media Matters research, most of Trump's appearances were on Fox News, where he is by far the most frequently featured presidential candidate. [Media Matters, 12/23/15]
Bernie Sanders Leads All Democratic Candidates In Appearances. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) appeared in nine segments focused on the economy in the second half of 2015, more than all other Democratic candidates combined. Sanders discussed economic inequality during each appearance.
Women Remain Underrepresented In Economic News And Policy Segments
Women Account For Less Than One-Quarter Of Prime-time Economic Guests. In the second half of 2015, women accounted for just 81 of the 344 featured guests -- 23 percent -- during cable prime-time programming focused on the economy. CNN led all networks with 35 percent of its guest appearances made by women (24 of 68), while MSNBC (23 of 115) and Fox (34 of 161) featured women in just 20 and 21 percent, respectively. The inadequate proportional representation of women in economic news and policy segments has remained stagnant despite the fact that women represent a majority of the population, represent a majority of the voting public, and are responsible for most day-to-day economic and financial decisions. [Media Matters, 8/31/15, 4/8/14; Nielsen, 4/2/13; Harvard Business Review, September 2009]
Previous quarterly and biannual economic indicator tracking reports are available here: first and second quarter, 2015; third and fourth quarters, 2014; second quarter, 2014; first quarter, 2014; fourth quarter, 2013; third quarter, 2013; second quarter, 2013.
** Due to scheduling changes and transcription limitations in Nexis, this survey included only prime-time programming (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) from the three major cable outlets -- CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Prior surveys included evening and prime-time programming (5 p.m. to 11 p.m.).
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 July 1 through December 31, 2015. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: econom!, jobs, growth, debt, deficit, and minimum wage.
The following programs were included in the data: World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, 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 only included segments that contained substantial discussion of policy implications on the macroeconomy. We defined a “substantial discussion” as any segment where either 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 which 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 identify spending cuts as having a negative impact on the economy as those where either the host or guest mentions that spending cuts are holding back job creation 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.