Networks Complain about ‘Age of Austerity’ Under Obama

Finally, President Barack Obama will end years of deep spending cuts and balanced budgets, with his latest budget. At least that’s what he and The Washington Post seem to think.

On Feb. 20, the Post proclaimed in a headline that Obama would “call for an end to the era of austerity” in his 2015 budget.

It is possible Obama and the news media forgot about his big spending ways? Or perhaps they are simply ignoring them and buying into an alt-history of the Obama years.

Since the height of Greek austerity riots in June 2011, the three broadcast networks’ morning and evening news programs repeatedly discussed austerity in America, using the term in 32 stories. Nineteen of those stories gave an opinion on austerity, with the overwhelming majority (84 percent) arguing against it. On three separate occasions, the networks declared that the United States was already in an “age of austerity.” The networks also criticized these “toxic” austerity policies, while simultaneously pinning the blame on Republicans.

In that entire time period, ABC, CBS and NBC news programs never included a guest or opinion challenging the “age of austerity” hype.

The networks were simply following the lead of the liberal New York Times, which began pushing this “age of austerity” phrasing in 2011. Directly quoting the Times, David Gregory said “America’s entering into a, as The New York Times put it the other day, ‘the age of austerity,’” adding that “it is hurting America’s image around the world,” on NBC’s Aug. 7 “Today.”

The networks used the phrase again in 2012 and a third time in 2013. The extensive discussion of austerity, however, was not supported by facts. During Obama’s presidency, spending and debt both increased steadily. And he’s had trouble getting even the Democratic-controlled Senate to vote for his budget proposals.

Gregory did not specify the New York Times article he was referencing, but David Sanger used the term “age of austerity” in a similar context only a few days earlier, in a July 31 column. In it, Sanger discussed the possibility that “the Age of Obama is giving way to an Age of Austerity,” and fretted about the implications on America’s international standing.

The New York Times also continued to promote this so-called age of austerity. Columnist Thomas Edsall even wrote a book by that name in January 2012. In pushing this theme, the Times emphasized time after time how the government has allegedly cut spending. Columnist Frank Bruni even referred to the “age of austerity” on CBS’ June 18, 2012 broadcast of “This Morning.”

The idea that we are undergoing austerity, however, is not backed by spending data. Investor’s Business Daily examined deficit spending during the Obama presidency and disagreed with the claims made by the Times, the networks and Obama.

IBD pointed out that the federal government will spend $561 billion more in 2014 than it did in 2008. Also, 2014 spending will constitute 20.5 percent of the GDP, up from the average of 19 percent during the Clinton and Bush presidencies. IBD pointed out that “federal spending declined in the past two years” but pointed out “that’s only because it reached fantastic heights in Obama’s first two years.”

Austerity is 'toxic,' GOP is to blame

In network reports that presented an opinion about austerity, 84 percent of them (16 out of 19) were against fiscal restraint.

CBS’s Rebecca Jarvis slammed austerity politics on June 14, 2011. During “The Early Show” she asked Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., “do we go the direction then of the United Kingdom and employ austerity measures and face, potentially, a toxic environment?”

CBS repeated this claim on Nov. 21, 2012, CBS’ John Dickerson referred to the upcoming fiscal cliff on “This Morning” as an “austerity crisis.”

NBC’s John Harwood abandoned all pretense of objectivity on April 6, 2013’s “Today,” attacking the previous year’s sequester, a series of spending cuts. He touted Obama’s proposed budget for eliminating those cuts, saying “short-term austerity is clearly not what the economy needs.”

Unsurprisingly, the networks also blamed Republicans. NBC blamed GOP austerity politics for low gubernatorial approval ratings on June 23, 2011’s “Today.” Matt Lauer said “some of the Republicans who took office a year ago, people like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Scott down in Florida, they went to office with messages of austerity. And now a year later you look at their approval ratings and they’re falling. Is this buyer’s remorse?”

Later, on Dec. 5, 2013, CBS’s Major Garrett referred to “the austerity obsession congressional Republicans have when it comes to spending in Washington and the economy generally.”

Methodology: The Business and Media Institute examined transcripts for ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening shows for uses of the word austerity. Discussions of European austerity were excluded from the analysis.

Sean Long
Sean Long is a former writer for MRC Business.