In the first quarter of 2016, prime-time and evening weekday news programs on the largest cable and broadcast outlets mentioned poverty during roughly 55 percent of their discussions of economic inequality in the United States. During the same time period, Sunday political talk shows mentioned poverty in only 33 percent of discussions of economic inequality.
Weekday News More Likely To Discuss Inequality, Poverty Than Sunday Shows
More Than Half Of Cable And Broadcast Segments On Inequality Directly Discussed Poverty. According Media Matters analysis of the first quarter of 2016, policies or topics relating to economic inequality were discussed during 38 percent of total economic news coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Of those 109 total segments, 60 -- or 55 percent -- directly addressed the circumstances of millions of Americans living in poverty. [Media Matters, 4/25/16]
Sunday Shows Examine Poverty In Just One-Third Of Segments On Inequality. During the same time period, Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and NBC featured 27 segments on economic inequality, but just 9 -- or 33 percent -- directly addressed poverty:
Not All Coverage Of Inequality And Poverty Is Made Equal
PBS Led Competition On Economic Inequality. During the first quarter of the year, PBS NewsHour led all broadcast evening news programs in terms of covering both economic inequality in general and poverty in particular. PBS dedicated nearly four times as many segments to economic inequality as ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News combined, and five times as many segments directly pertaining to poverty. The network’s lead over its competition reflects trends witnessed during a previous Media Matters analysis of economic news coverage.** [Media Matters, 4/25/16]
Fox News, MSNBC Most Likely To Discuss Economic Inequality And Poverty. During the same time period, Fox News and MSNBC each dedicated 32 segments to economic inequality -- significantly more than CNN, which featured just 17 such segments. Fox News was the most likely outlet to discuss poverty, followed by MSNBC:
During Segments On Inequality And Poverty Fox Promotes Policies That Would Exacerbate The Problem. Fox News programming was more likely than its cable news competitors to discuss economic inequality and poverty, but it was also more likely than its competitors to promote policy solutions during those segments that actually exacerbate the struggles of low-income Americans:
- In 11 segments, Fox hosts and guests called for so-called “pro-growth” tax and regulatory policies seemingly aimed at boosting economic growth and job creation to lift working Americans out of poverty. But research suggests that if economic growth alone was sufficient to alleviate poverty, the percentage of Americans living in poverty would have approached zero decades ago. [Media Matters, 1/21/14, 2/3/16]
- In 10 segments, Fox hosts and guests called for tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations to boost the economy, or bemoaned the supposed negative economic consequences of potential tax increases. Research from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) indicates that such tax policies are ineffective economic stimulus, and “appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.” [Congressional Research Service, 9/14/12]
- In nine segments, Fox hosts and guests called for further reductions of the annual federal budget deficit and to reduce the national debt. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the spending cuts necessary to achieve balanced budgets would be disastrous for vital programs like food assistance, cash welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- all of which play a crucial role in reducing poverty in the United States. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/9/16, 3/28/16]
- In seven segments, Fox hosts and guests called for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare.” There is considerable evidence that the ACA is an effective tool in combating poverty -- repealing the program’s Medicaid expansion alone would lower the standard of living of millions of low-income American families. [Media Matters, 1/27/14, 4/18/16]
Bernie Sanders Left A Mark On Sunday Show Coverage Of Inequality And Poverty. During the survey period, Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and MSNBC featured 27 segments focused on economic inequality and nine focused specifically on poverty. Interviews with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) accounted for 16 of the 27 segments focused on economic inequality and six of the nine segments addressing poverty.
Bernie Sanders Is The Only Reason Fox News Sunday Talked About Inequality. During the survey period, Fox News Sunday registered a single discussion of economic inequality in the United States -- in an interview with Bernie Sanders, who brought the topic up as part of his core remarks. Sanders highlighted the need for job creation, increasing the federal minimum wage, and single-payer health care.
News Programs Lack Diverse, Expert Opinions On Inequality And Poverty
Economists Virtually Absent From Discussions Of Inequality And Poverty. Political and media guests represented the overwhelming majority of guests during discussions of economic inequality and poverty on both weekday and Sunday programming. Economists accounted for just two of the 136 guests during qualifying weekday cable and broadcast programming -- far behind political guests (58) and journalists/media guests (53). Of the 39 guests featured during qualifying Sunday show segments, 26 were political and 10 were members of the media; none were economists. The glaring lack of expertise and input from economists during discussions of inequality and poverty reflects a broader trend documented by Media Matters in the first quarter of the year, during which economists accounted for just 1.2 percent of guests during all economic segments. [Media Matters, 4/25/16]
Women Represent Just One-Third Of Guests On Inequality And Poverty. Women accounted for just 33 percent of guests during segments on economic inequality or poverty during weekday and Sunday programming. Women accounted for just 45 of 136 guests during cable prime-time and broadcast evening news, and just 13 of 39 guests during Sunday political talk shows. Women are particularly affected by income inequality, as a result of decades of pay discrimination and unequal professional opportunities. Furthermore, according to an April 2016 report by the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), women are more likely than men to struggle with poverty “at every age” in large part thanks to unequal pay over the course of their careers. [Media Matters, 4/12/16; United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, April 2016]
** PBS dedicates more daily airtime to live news than its broadcast competitors do, 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 can.
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 January 1 through March 31, 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.
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.