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A Summer of Skewed News
The Liberal Tilt in TV’s Economic Reporting

Executive Summary

Liberals want this year’s election campaigns to be dominated by economic issues, and no wonder: TV news has organized the discussion of key economic issues such as tax cuts, prescription drugs, and new government regulations on business in ways that aid the liberal cause and give short shrift to conservative arguments. Media Research Center (MRC) analysts reviewed economic policy news on ABC, CBS, CNN, FNC and NBC and discovered that this summer’s television coverage was almost entirely organized around liberal themes and arguments. 

This report marks the beginning of a long-term MRC project designed to expose and neutralize the media’s bias against conservative free market principles and in favor of liberal big government economics. MRC President L. Brent Bozell III has sent network news executives a letter outlining this research and urging them to provide unbiased economic reporting. The MRC will produce regular follow-up reports documenting both the positive and negative aspects of television’s economic reporting, as well as end of the year rankings of the best and worst networks and reporters for economic coverage.

Highlights of this summer’s coverage:

  • Most reporters presented new government regulations as the only way to “restore confidence” after the corporate accounting scandals. In a span of less than four hours on July 15, ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC repeated the same liberal spin contrasting the Senate’s proposal with a “weaker” bill passed by the House of Representatives. Only the Fox News Channel resisted the impulse to editorialize.

  • Network reporters presented the increasing federal deficit as a terrible economic development, yet their concern evaporated when covering the prescription drug debate. Instead of exploring the uncontrollable costs of another federal entitlement, ABC, CBS and NBC showcased anecdotes about a handful of cash-strapped senior citizens with sky-high drug bills — stories designed to stoke emotions, not inform the public.

  • Some correspondents even used their news stories as vehicles to openly demand a new taxpayer-subsidized prescription drug program. CBS’s Bob Schieffer said on July 23 that if Congress failed to act, senior citizens would “get the shaft.” When the Senate ended attempts to reach a bill, CNN’s Daryn Kagan scolded lawmakers from her anchor desk: “Shame on all of them.”

  • Network reporters’ concern about the deficit manifested itself in a renewal of last year’s hostile coverage of the Bush tax cut. One sign of how pervasive this bias was: even the usually-balanced Tim Russert championed an early end to the tax cut on Meet the Press. He posed 40 questions about diluting or repealing the tax cut, but never once asked whether its pro-growth benefits should be accelerated. In a five-and-a-half minute segment on September 1, Russert asked about rolling back Bush’s tax cut an average of once every 41 seconds.

Network viewers saw some especially egregious examples of bias. Perhaps the worst was on ABC’s This Week on August 18 when, in an effort to discredit new tax cuts, George Stephanopoulos disingenuously juxtaposed allegedly “costly” proposed tax reductions with the few beneficial items contained in a much larger anti-terrorism spending package that President Bush threatened to veto. Just two months earlier, his ABC colleague John Cochran had exposed the vast amount of wasteful or irrelevant spending hidden in the positive-sounding anti-terrorism bill.

But the MRC report also documented some examples of excellent journalism. CNN’s Jonathan Karl uniquely informed viewers about Congress’s own accounting gimmickry in a July 22 NewsNight report. On Inside Politics on August 13, CNN’s John King balanced his questions on taxes, asking Democrats if they wanted to roll back the tax cut even as he challenged Bush administration officials to speed up its implementation.

The MRC offers network reporters recommendations for more accurate and balanced news coverage in the future: 1) Reporters should refrain from presenting liberal spin and liberal assumptions about taxation, spending and the role of government as unassailable fact; 2) Interviewers must no longer give conservative spokesmen the third degree while liberal policies get a free ride; and 3) Reporters need to include the views of free market advocates, not just “victims” in need of more government spending, or their economic coverage will never be truly balanced.

 See Full Report See Adobe PDF Version

Earlier Reports on Anti-Free Market Bias in the Media


Media Research Center Books on Anti-Free Market Bias in the Media

  • Dollars & Nonsense: Correcting the News Media’s Top Economic Myths
    edited by Stephen Moore and Richard Noyes
    This book features ten essays by some of America’s leading economists, including Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, CNBC’s Lawrence Kudlow and former member of President Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board Arthur Laffer. Of Dollars & Nonsense, co-editor and Club for Growth President Stephen Moore said, “Our objective is not to criticize or assign blame. Rather, we hope to provide some practical guidelines to help print and broadcast news reporters and editors improve their coverage of the modern American economy.”

  • Out Of Focus: Network Television and the American Economy
    by Burton Yale Pines with Timothy W. Lamer
    Congressman Richard Armey called Out of Focus “the best analysis of why TV doesn’t get it right in covering the U.S. economy.” In it, the authors show that what viewers see on TV is the American free-enterprise system distorted into a tale of catastrophes, bankruptcies, fraud and ineptitude, populated by white businessmen who are criminals and consumers who are stupid, gullible and powerless.


What Economists Say About the MRC

  • Steve Forbes, President & CEO, Forbes Magazine: "Thomas Jefferson and all those who believe in a truly free, vibrant, diversely principled press would love the work being done by the MRC. Too often, American media covers stories and delivers opinions as if the reporters and editorial writers were simultaneously told to parrot a particular (and almost always liberal) line. The MRC is in the forefront of battling this smothering, monolithic culture. It plays a crucial, uniquely effective watchdog role in exposing media bias and partisanship. Conservatives should applaud - and financially support! - the splendid work being done by Brent Bozell and his intrepid, courageous colleagues."

  • John Fund, Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Member: "Brent Bozell is an American patriot. I don't normally go out of my way to endorse groups, but I think his Media Research Center is one of the seminal institutions in American life today because where else can you go find out what they are saying on television and not have to waste the time to watch it." 

  • Stephen Moore, President, The Club for Growth: "The MRC is effective because it uses the media mavens’ own words against them.... As an economist... I’ve noticed in recent years that the media’s bias in covering economics is not quite as pronounced as it once was. Could this be the impact of the MRC? I believe it very well could."


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