Five Reasons The Networks Have No Business Covering Business (Or the Economy)

For many Americans, ABC, NBC and CBS are the major source of news on business and the economy. Unfortunately, this is like depending on the middle school student newspaper for information about important local school board deliberations.

Network reporters are either ill-prepared to discuss complex issues of economics, finance and business or choose to be advocates for viewpoints rather than objective reporters who strive for balance. Liberal preferences for government solutions and interventionism as well as hostility toward wealth and profit dominate network coverage.

The result was skewed, unfair and even inaccurate reporting on the economy and the private sector. In 2012, network reporters got many economic stories wrong. For example, they celebrated the radical aims of Occupy Wall Street, linked weather events to global warming, and engaged in a media campaign against safe beef and the company that sells it.

5. Journalists Still Side with Occupy

The revolutionary movement known as Occupy Wall Street may have gotten started in the fall of 2011, but they were still taunting police and committing acts of violence in 2012, all while the media failed to expose them.

In October 2011, MRC’s Business and Media Institute pointed out the networks’ unwillingness to use the terms “socialist” and “revolution” in connection with OWS, even though protesters were marching with Communist flags in some cities and others articulated their desire for income inequality and for a new political system. Instead, the media often gave favorable coverage to the occupiers.

NBC ignored Occupy Oakland protesters’ burning of a stolen American flag in January 2012. ABC’s Diane Sawyer fawned over “Occupy igloos” in Switzerland built by people protesing the World Economic Forum meeting. And as the OWS crowd tried to generate protests on May Day, ABC labeled it a “traditional day of protest” that Occupiers could get “fired up about” rather than explaining the Communist roots of the protest day.

In July, Occupiers taunted police in Oakland, Calif., with “art” drawings of pigs and slogans like “kill the cops,” violence ensued. The morning after that violence in Oakland, the network morning shows had little to say. NBC’s four-hour long “Today” show skipped over the story completely, while CBS “This Morning” and ABC's “Good Morning America” offered a combined 31 seconds.

This kind of coverage of Occupy Wall Street wasn’t altogether a surprise, since the journalists’ union also sided with OWS. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) which represents journalists and other communications workers, held a protest against Verizon, aka “verigreedy.” In a video of the protest, CWA could be heard chanting “WE are the 99%” and holding signs that said “Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Verizon, Occupy Everything.”

4. Climate Coverage in 2012 Favors Hype and a Double Standard

The networks have long hyped the threat of man-made global warming and continued that trend in 2012, even connecting it to Hurricane Sandy. Matt Lauer cited “crazy weather” in a September interview with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, asking: “Are you seeing around the world the kind of motivation and will that's necessary to, A, admit there's a problem, and then address the problem?”

Back on July 10, ABC, CBS and NBC evening broadcasts all ran stories about a new government report blaming man-made climate change for recent extreme weather, but ignored science from another perspective.

ABC “World News” warned “Hot planet. The world is heating up. And for the first time, a U.S. Government-backed report ties that searing heat, those epic storms, to man-made global warming.”

Sawyer cited a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a "major alert about the speed of climate change on this planet" and wondered if the study represented "a tipping point" on the issue. Turning to weather editor and frequent warming alarmist Sam Champion, Sawyer hoped there was "still time to do something." Champion proclaimed: "I would say is, now is the time we start limiting man-made greenhouse gases if we're starting to see that that is exactly what other studies are showing." (Emphasis added)

On CBS “Evening News” that night Wyatt Andrews specifically said “You’re going to see a lot of scientists criticizing this as a guess ...” Yet, there were no skeptics on the CBS report, or on ABC or NBC that night. And all three stories ignored a new study published in Nature that showed a cooling trend.

In 2012, ABC also ignored Obama’s decision to not attend the UN’s Rio+20 environmental conference in June, even though 10 years earlier the network had criticized Bush for not attending the same conference (Rio+10). The American media ignored the issue of Obama’s non-attendance. None of the three major networks mentioned the 2012 summit once.

However, 10 years earlier, when George W. Bush was president, the media slammed him for his refusal to attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development, popularly called Rio+10. ABC provided a platform to an environmental activist, who complained that the U.S., Canada and Australia were “taking an isolationist approach to this whole summit” without allowing any supporters of the president to defend him.

Then of course, there was Sandy. The networks quickly seized upon that huge storm that devastated parts of New Jersey and New York trying to connect the dots to climate change.

CBS “Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley read a brief item Nov. 14, highlighting the view by "weather forecasters from the U.S. government" that climate change "may have intensified" the storm. He didn’t mention any other viewpoints.

On NBC, Anne Thompson announced, “This year alone, the nation's endured a withering drought, the largest wildfires in history, and the warmest month on record. In 2011, there were 14 extreme weather events, each doing more than a billion dollars in damage. Now some politicians are connecting the dots, blaming the gases that come from burning coal, oil and gas for changing the climate.” She went on to quote Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., who attributed Sandy to climate change.

Although Thompson noted “scientists are more cautious,” she included a meteorologist from the weather website Weather Underground who said “we can’t say that Sandy was definitely caused by global warming, but we can say it shifted the odds in its favor.”
    
But she didn’t cite others who dispute the Sandy connection. Meteorologist Anthony Watts created a list of who was on each side of the argument on his website Watts Up with That. His list included two NOAA scientists, as well as scientists from prominent universities who all say global warming is not the cause of Hurricane Sandy.

3. ABC’s ‘Pink Slime’ Crusade Kills Jobs, Jeopardizes Company

If anyone doubts the power a journalist can wield for ill, they only need look to ABC’s Jim Avila. In 2012, Avila provided one hit piece after another against Beef Products, Inc., a company that processes beef and sells lean finely textured beef to supermarkets.

LFTB is USDA-approved beef that people have been eating for two decades, but that wasn’t good enough for Avila and ABC “World News.”

Avila relied on former USDA employees who demonized LFTB as “pink slime” so much that grocery stores including Safeway, SUPERVALU and Food Lion stopped buying it. The negative label was repeated 52 times in just two-weeks of ABC coverage. Beef Products, Inc., was forced to shut down three plants and lay off nearly 700 workers. The company says the news coverage cost them millions of dollars.

Two examinations of the beef industry showed the devastating impact of the fight over lean finely textured beef. According to an analysis by two Iowa State University economics professors, that controversy cost at least $573 million dollars.

The American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle put the blame for those BPI job losses directly on ABC’s biased coverage writing, “Congratulations, ‘ABC World News.’ Your relentless coverage and uninformed criticism of a safe and wholesome beef product has now delivered a hook for yet another nightly news broadcast.”

In September, the company announced it was suing ABC News for $1.2 billion because of “defamation, product and food disparagement, tortious interference with business relationships, and other wrongs.” It’s 263-page complaint also charged the network with “nearly 200 false and disparaging statements regarding BPI and its product, lean finely textured beef.”

Well-known journalist Steven Brill, who founded Brill’s Content, turned his critical eye to Beef Products Inc. (BPI) and its lawsuit against ABC. Brill, also a legal writer and entrepreneur who also started American Lawyer magazine, said of BPI’s suit: “as an aficionado of these cases, I can report that this is the most detailed, persuasive complaint of its kind that I have ever read.”

Brill’s analysis of the case appeared on Reuters on Sept. 18, and was highly critical of ABC’s attack on the beef industry.

Based on multiple readings of the lawsuit’s “painstaking explanation” of how LFTB is made, Brill said, “I began to believe that it was Beef Products that was slimed. I actually found myself believing that this may not be ‘The Jungle, Part Two’; that what the company produces really is the ‘lean, finely textured beef,’ or ‘LFTB’ that Beef Products’ complaint says it is; that it is real meat, not “filler” or “gelatin,” as it was described on ABC; and that it is safe and has been deemed so by federal inspectors and officials who were not paid off or unduly influenced by corporate politics and lobbying.”

2. ABC and Others Lean Left, Embrace Tax Hikes for Fiscal Cliff Solution

The country is hurtling toward the Jan. 1 deadline of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts, if Congress and the president cannot make a deal to stop it.  Although each side has a different solution: liberals say raise taxes, conservatives say cut spending, the overwhelming focus of the network news has been on raising taxes. In fact, ABC’s “World News” talked about raising taxes as the solution 17 times more than they’ve covered spending cuts.

ABC devoted more than 10 minutes to talk of taxes and just 35 seconds to spending cuts (10 minutes 18 seconds to 35 seconds) in the three weeks following the presidential election and often harped on a pledge not to raise taxes as the problem. ABC’s Senior Political Correspondent Jonathan Karl pointed at the pledge as being a potential cause for the fiscal cliff. “The pledge is the biggest obstacle to any deal that would raise taxes,” he told “World News” viewers Nov. 26.

Combined, the three network evening programs focused more than twice as much on tax increases as they did on spending (29 minutes 31 seconds to 12 minutes 54 seconds) between Nov. 7 and Nov. 26.

It’s interesting that spending cuts received so little coverage since even President Obama admitted that entitlement spending is the top problem causing deficits. NBC ran that comment during its “Nightly News” Nov. 25. “We have to continue to take a serious look at how we reform our entitlements because health care costs continue to be the biggest driver of our deficits,” Obama said.

BMI also analyzed six months of coverage of the fiscal cliff ahead of the presidential election and found that the networks portrayed the issue inaccurately. They blamed Congress (and specifically Republicans in Congress) 16 times more often than they blamed President Obama. Both Congress and Obama should have been held responsible since the tax hikes and spending cuts were the result of a deal made by both of them.

The skewed coverage has impacted public opinion, as a Washington Post-Pew poll showed “53 percent are inclined to blame Republicans in Congress” if a deal is not made to avoid the fiscal cliff.

1. Networks Turn Economics Upside Down

The network news media often skew economic coverage in favor of liberal candidates, and the way they covered the economy in 2012 was no exception. Specifically in the month of September, during the thick of the campaign cycle, coverage of the economy did not reflect how sluggish the economy really was.

MRC’s Business and Media Institute analyzed coverage of several economic indicators that month and compared coverage during September 2004, when President George W. Bush was running for re-election. BMI found that in spite of faster growth, a smaller deficit and lower gas prices, Bush was blamed more than twice as often as Obama for economic problems. “Record” high gas and oil prices were covered 3 times more in the 2004 period, than in 2012 -- in spite of prices that had doubled.

Paul Wiseman of the Associated Press wrote in September about the weakness of Obama’s economic recovery, saying “Economic growth has never been weaker in a postwar recovery.”

In September 2012, journalists constantly predicted “relief is in sight and soon” from high gas prices after prices were at record highs for Labor Day. That was the opposite of how they had covered the issue under Bush in the same month of 2004. They also attacked Bush for a $422 billion budget deficit, but when Obama’s 2012 budget deficit was $1.1 trillion, slightly less than three times the size of Bush’s deficit, the media allowed him to criticize conservatives over debt and deficit issues.

But September wasn’t the only month the networks did a poor job of covering the economy. In July, the networks were practically silent on a decline in gross domestic product (GDP) and they preferred to call President Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the rich a “tax cut” plan. In June, when the May jobs report was a huge disappointment and other media outlets covered the troubling matter of low labor force participation, the networks barely mentioned the “hidden” jobless problem.

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.