Call him a protectionist or just call him “the Dan Rather of financial journalism,” as one conservative critic referred to CNN’s Lou Dobbs. No matter what you call him, the truth is he’s one of the biggest opponents of free trade anywhere. Dobbs, who anchors “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” is a veteran business reporter who spends his time these days giving industry the business. The worst part of it is that viewers are missing the real story. Ninety-four percent of the show’s reports about trade over a four-month period blamed free trade for horrors ranging from “destroying” the U.S. middle class to leaving a “legacy of environmental degradation, lost jobs, and increased illegal immigration.” A defense of free trade never received a fair hearing. CNN has promoted the show as “news, debate and opinion.” But it’s hard to tell the difference between the three the way Dobbs delivers them. This is all part of a new analysis by The Media Research Center’s Free Market Project.
Jim Axelrod of CBS “Evening News” provided the perfect metaphor for media coverage of gas prices last night. Axelrod just started traveling from New York to San Francisco as part of a new “Cross-Country Price Patrol,” On the first leg of his journey, he showed that he didn’t know where he was going with the story. Talking while he was driving, Axelrod said the following: “We know what kind of crazy drivers plague the streets in Manhattan. The recent spike in the price of gas has made going to the pump... I'm going the wrong way! Holy [bleep].”
Sunday’s New York Times Magazine cover story was one part ‘Mad Max’ mixed with one part poor economics. The 7,400 word piece by Peter Maass was a gusher of scaremongering end-of-world predictions and claimed that an oil “crisis” is imminent. Maass filled his story with comments and views from Matthew Simmons, author of a new book called “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy.” The story did its best to paint a great scary oil conspiracy and an inevitable “crisis ahead” “whether in a year or 2 or 10.”
Maass joined the growing journalism crowd by calling oil prices a “record.” Just as others before him, Maass ignored basic math and didn’t adjust the prices for inflation. Maass also referred to the threat of oil hitting $100. But then he quoted Simmons who said “I wasn’t talking about low triple digits.” Yet the same story said that oil prices would drop again. To quote Maass, “So after a brief windfall for producers, oil prices would slide as recession sets in.”
Blog readers were among the first to see the results of a Media Research Center Free Market Project analysis that showed the economy doing well while broadcast media coverage has shown otherwise. Today's Wall Street Journal bears that out. In an editorial labeled "Media Bears," the Journal points to the Free Market Project analysis as an answer to the question: Why is the American public down about the economy.
For those of you who don't get the Journal, and you should, here is an excerpt: "The paradox of the year is why so many Americans tell pollsters they feel bad about an economy that's been so good, with solid job growth and corporate profits, rising wages and home prices, and a huge decline in the budget deficit. Perhaps one reason is because the media keep saying the economy stinks.
The economy is doing well -- the federal deficit is shrinking, unemployment has fallen to 5.0%, and America has enjoyed more than two straight years of job growth and 3.5 million new jobs. That hasn't stopped the media from describing the economy as “dicey,” “volatile” and “slow.” The Media Research Center's Free Market Project analyzed all of the broadcast network's economic stories since the start of President Bush's second term, and we found that a big majority (62%) cast the economy in negative terms.
Even when good news made it to viewers, journalists undermined it with bad news 45 percent of the time. For example, on World News Tonight back on March 4, Dean Reynolds presented an upbeat report about strong job growth, but stuck a knife in at the end: "While job growth is up, wage growth is not. And the question now is how long consumers will keep spending and fueling the economy without a raise in pay.”
The media continue their daily gas price hype on all networks. It's more than high-priced TV talent whining about the cost of a gallon of gas. Many of the stories contain serious factual errors. In an attempt to address the problems in the coverage, the Media Research Center's Free Market Project has launched a daily item called "Gas Hysteria" that will include the best and worst gas hike news.
A few notes from today: CBS's Trish Regan seems to think $2.55 (the average price for a gallon of gas) is somehow "hovering near $3.00 a gallon." NBC explained that hybrid cars don't save any money and while ABC's Charles Gibson seems to understand that gas in some places is "well over $3.” Gibson could have noted that if gas is “well over $3” some places, it is well below the national average of $2.55 in others.
The MRC's Free Market Project is releasing a study today showing how badly the media have covered the economy during Bush's second term. The study shows that 62 percent of the broadcast network stories about the economy are negative. That doesn't sound so bad until you realize that almost half the positive stories are undermined with negative news. Reporters say that Bush isn't getting any bump from the good economy. This explains why. The networks cover negative issues like gas prices, the housing "bubble" and layoffs far more than good news like job growth, GDP growth or low unemployment.
The study itself is going out as the lead piece in the first issue of FMP's new newsletter, The Balance Sheet. Newsbusters readers can sign up for the newsletter and get access to a free special report on media coverage of business as well. The entire study will be posted on the Free Market Project site later today.
Sometimes it’s not what the networks report that is the problem. With global warming, it’s what they leave out. President Bush signed a pivotal climate change agreement on July 27 and the three broadcast networks totally ignored it. This pact even includes China and India, both of which were left out of Kyoto.
Instead of this agreement, CBS and ABC focused on the questionable link between climate change and allegedly more powerful hurricanes. For anyone who has followed this debate, the network treatment isn’t new, but it is amazing. For more, see Amy Menefee's article on the Free Market Project Web site.