STUDY: TV News Coverage Of Economic Issues Rose In First Half Of 2015

Cable and network TV news devoted more segments to coverage of economic issues during the first half of 2015 compared to the last six months of 2014, an increase driven by heightened public interest in the debate over economic inequality and a flurry of economic policy proposals from nearly two dozen 2016 presidential candidates.

Networks Put More Focus On Economic News After Dry Spell In 2014

Total Economic Coverage Increased Across All Broadcast Media Outlets. The three largest broadcast and cable news outlets significantly increased their focus on economic news and policy in the first half of this year. Media Matters recorded 612 economic news segments on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from January through June, and each outlet did more stories on the economy than during the prior six-month period, when a total of just 475 economy-related segments aired. Broadcast and cable TV's economic coverage still lags far behind what it was in the first half of 2014, when the outlets did a combined 861 economic news segments. [Media Matters, 1/21/15]

CNN Still Lags Far Behind Cable Competitors. CNN remained the least interested in covering economic news and policy of all cable networks, with just 38 total segments. In comparison, MSNBC broadcast 312 segments dedicated to economic news and policy, accounting for more than half of the total coverage by all networks in the time frame studied. Despite the fact that CNN aired 30 hours of evening and primetime news programming each week, the depth and quality of its economic coverage more closely resembled that of broadcast outlets, which each air only 2.5 hours of qualifying programming each week:

CNN Refuses To Discuss The American Economy

TV News Coverage Of Economic Inequality Hits All-Time High

Economic Inequality Was Discussed In Nearly 4-In-10 Segments. Of the 612 stories on economic issues Media Matters counted in the first six months of 2015, 232 -- or 38 percent -- directly addressed policies and topics relating to economic inequality. This represents a significant increase over the prior six-month period, where inequality was discussed in just 24 percent of segments:

News Coverage Of Inequality Hits An All-Time High

Inequality Coverage Eclipses Previous Peak By Nearly 10 Points. Coverage of inequality in the first half of 2015 not only surged past levels recorded in the last half of 2014 , it was nearly 10 points higher than the previous peak of 29 percent, recorded during the first quarter of 2014. [Media Matters, 4/7/14]

Coverage Of Inequality Hits All-Time High After Baltimore Uprising. Broadcast and cable media discussion about the social consequences of economic inequality picked up noticably in April and May, as networks began doing in-depth reporting on the root causes of the civil unrest that occurred in Baltimore following the death of Freddy Gray, an unarmed man who died in police custody. An April 28 confrontation caught on camera between Baltimore resident Kwame Rose and Fox News' Geraldo Rivera drew national attention after Rose demanded that media focus their attention on the city's attempts to rebuild and prosper rather than the sporadic destruction caused by relatively small numbers of looters. [Media Matters, 4/29/15; 5/1/15]

MSNBC Expands Lead On Airtime Dedicated To Coverage Of Economic Inequality. MSNBC remained the most committed outlet in terms of covering economic inequality, dedicating 158 segments to the topic in the first half of 2015. MSNBC was more than three times more likely to discuss economic inequality, or policies that might alleviate it, than its closest competitor, Fox News. Every outlet increased its coverage of inequality over the prior six-month period:

MSNBC Dominates Inequality Coverage, Again

More Stories On Economic Growth, Fewer On Deficit Reduction

MSNBC Remains Leading Advocate Of Job Creation, Economic Growth. MSNBC remained the outlet most committed to discussing policies that could spur economic growth and job creation, airing 143 segments during the first half of the year. Each cable outlet increased its focus on economic growth from the prior six-month period, but Fox News nearly doubled its advocacy of policies purported to spur economic growth and job creation -- broadcasting 112 qualifying segments thus far in 2015 after airing just 66 in the last half of 2014. [Media Matters, 1/21/15]

Fox's Lonely Debt-And-Deficit Crusade Got A Boost. Fox News remained the only TV news outlet to strongly favor reducing federal spending as a means of reigning in the annual budget deficit and national debt. The network broadcast 73 such segments from January through June, while the remaining broadcast and cable outlets only aired a combined four segments on the topic. During the last half of 2014, Fox aired just 43 segments decrying the debt and deficit:

Deficits Are Declining, Nobody Told Fox News

Declining Federal Budget Deficit Garnered Significantly Less Attention Than Previously. Despite the findings of a March 2015 report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that projected continued reductions of the federal budget deficit in 2015 and beyond, media coverage of the good news continued to drop off in the first half of the year. MSNBC mentioned the topic just eight times -- half as many as it did during the previous six months -- while CNN and Fox News mentioned it just once each. All three broadcast outlets failed to significantly mention the declining budget deficit.

Fox News, MSNBC Take Opposing Views On Tax And Spending

Fox News And MSNBC Were Virtually Alone In Covering Tax Increase, Spending Cut Debate. Media discussions of the pros and cons of tax increases and spending cuts were almost exclusively seen on Fox News and MSNBC during the first half of 2015. Fox News hosts, anchors, and reporters endorsed tax cuts to spur economic activity or warned of the dangers of tax and regulatory policy in 43 segments, compared to just three such segments on MSNBC. Meanwhile, MSNBC discussed the potential harm of spending cuts and lack of investment in government programs in 25 segments, compared to just four such segments from Fox. CNN mentioned the potential harm of tax increases in just two segments, and contributed no significant discussions to the potential harm of spending reductions.

Relatively Little Scaremongering Seen On Obamacare And Minimum Wage

Segments Warning Of Job Losses From Minimum Wage Increases, Negative Effects Of Obamacare Remain Low Priority. In line with previously-recorded trends, news coverage of the supposed negative impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and fallout from increases to federal, state, and local minimum wages, continued to decline in the first half of 2015. Fox News was almost completely alone in its attempts to stir up fears on both issues, devoting six cautionary segments to the minimum wage and eight 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.

Economists Were Hard To Find, Unless You Watched MSNBC

Shouldn't Someone Ask An Economist For Perspective?

Economists Still Accounted For Just 3 Percent Of Total Guests. Economists' participation in TV news discussions of the economy remained at roughly 3 percent for the first half of 2015, in line with previous quarterly and biannual trends. However, there was a marked disparity in the proportional representation of economists among the three cable networks. Economists comprised less than 1 percent of guests on qualifying Fox News segments -- 3 out of 369 -- but comprised more than 5 percent of guests during qualifying MSNBC segments -- 25 out of 466. No economists were recorded as guests during qualifying CNN segments.

Nearly 90 Percent Of Economists Appeared On MSNBC. Twenty-five of the 28 economists who appeared during qualifying segments in the first half of 2015 -- or nearly 90 percent -- appeared as guests on MSNBC. University of Chicago economist and former Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee made three appearances on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor.

Political Guest Appearances Surged During Presidential Campaign Announcement Season. The proportional representation of political guests invited to discuss economic topics surged during the first half of the year compared to the previous six-month period. Elected and former politicians, political appointees, and political strategists accounted for more than 47 percent of total guests on economic segments from January through June, a huge increase over the last half of 2014, when they accounted for less than 26 percent of guests. [Media Matters, 1/21/15]

Bernie Sanders Racks Up Appearances, Keeps Focus On Job Creation, Inequality. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was by far the most frequent politician in economic discussion segments, registering 21 appearances in qualifying segments during the first half of 2015, 20 of which were on MSNBC. Sanders, who used his appearances to advocate for policies aimed at alleviating economic inequality and spurring economic growth, appeared once on Fox's The O'Reilly Factor.

Gender Inequality Among Guests In Economic News Segments Remains Significant

Women Are The Majority Everywhere But On TV

Only One-Third Of The Guests In Segments Focused On Economic Topics Were Women. A previous Media Matters analysis revealed that from April 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014, women made up just 28 percent of guests during segments focused on the economy and economic policy. In line with previous trends, from January through June 2015, women comprised just over 32 percent of guests during similar economic segments. This glaring disparity comes despite the fact that both in the United States and worldwide, women represent the majority of the population, the majority of the voting base, and make a majority of day-to-day economic and financial decisions. [Media Matters, 4/8/14; Harvard Business Review, September 2009]

Previous quarterly and biannual economic indicator tracking reports are available here: third and fourth quarters, 2014; second quarter, 2014; first quarter, 2014; fourth quarter, 2013; third quarter, 2013; second quarter, 2013.


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening (defined as 5 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and network broadcast news from January 1 through June 30, 2015. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: econom!, jobs, growth, debt, deficit, and minimum wage. When transcripts were incomplete, we reviewed video.

The following programs were included in the data: World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Crossfire, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, CNN Special Reports, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The Ed Show, 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 reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

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 5p.m.-11p.m. survey window.

We defined segments that discuss economic inequality as those which mention the socio-economic 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 guests mention that tax increases are holding back job creation or economic growth as well as those where either the host of guests 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 guests mention 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.