A study released today by the slightly left-of-center Project for Excellence in Journalism confirmed what many NBers have suspected for a while: the media's negative coverage of the economy affects public opinion.
According to PEJ, the public's concern about the economy as an issue has always outstripped that of the media. That's pretty normal considering that America's economy is one of the few large news stories that affects the average person.
Where things change, however, is in the public's perception. There seems to be a direct correlation between increases in negative media reports about the economy and lower amounts of public confidence in the economy:
Now that the government has signed off on a $25-billion bailout of home mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the obvious question is: What next?
Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, thinks breaking up is hard to do, but necessary. "The Bush Administration should vigorously push to have Fannie and Freddie recapitalized and broken up into 10 to 12 companies, with their ties to the government completely severed," as he explained in the August 11 edition.
According to Forbes, getting 10 to 12 smaller private companies involved in mortgages "will help revive and reinvigorate that sector."
The broadcast networks exhibited gross mismanagement in their coverage of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage powerhouses now in need of a $25-billion government rescue.
"It's partially a bias and partially just sort of gross mismanagement on their part," Business & Media Institute Vice President Dan Gainor said on CBN's "Newswatch" July 30. "All they had to do was pick up a Wall Street Journal. You know people at the network news shows read the Wall Street Journal at least sometimes. The Journal's been on this case since February 2002 when they had a piece headline, ‘Fannie Mae Enron?'"
The networks - ABC, CBS and NBC - ignored six years of concerns about the two companies' management, Gainor wrote July 28.
"The combination of stock losses, government fines and proposed bailout comes close to $150 billion," he wrote. "It's a huge story largely ignored by network news until a taxpayer bailout was almost guaranteed."
But the networks were more interested in attacking private companies with Enron comparisons than likening Fannie and Freddie to the infamous corporate debacle.
Disclaimer: Yes, Joe and Chris. We know Jim was joking.
Money maven Jim Cramer is a self-described Democrat, one who idolized Lenin back in his Harvard days [Cramer's, not Lenin's] and was on the verge of tears over the downfall of his old college buddy Eliot Spitzer. But one Dem not high on Cramer's list is Jimmy Carter, so much so that Cramer feigned dismay to be informed that—contrary to his [tongue-in-cheek] belief—the former president is still among the living.
The host of CNBC's "Mad Money," a guest on today's Morning Joe, was buoyant about the economy, saying the surge in oil prices is over and that happier, if not downright happy, days are ahead. It was when he cautioned people about being sure not to exceed FDIC insurance limits on their bank deposits that Carter came up . . .
Don't blame Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., member of two influential banking committees - the Senate Finance Committee and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs - for IndyMac's collapse, says CNBC's Erin Burnett.
Burnett, host of CNBC "Street Signs," disagreed with a claim by MSNBC "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough that a letter to regulators from Schumer caused a run on the beleaguered bank IndyMac, which eventually led to its failure and takeover by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
"I don't think Chuck Schumer caused a run on the bank," Burnett said on MSNBC's July 24 "Morning Joe." "This is the new world of banking. Companies, banks come out and they say, and they say, ‘Oh my gosh - our stock's down 20 percent. It's being manipulated. Please come in and help us government. Oh my gosh, there's a run on our bank - let's blame it on a senator.'"
We can debate the propriety of mentioning the name of banks that might be in financial trouble. But one thing appears clear to Chris Cuomo [file photo]: it would be wrong to mention the name of a Democrat who could be in hot water. Wouldn't want to cause a run on the Dem's political capital, after all. Cuomo's discretion was on display during today's Good Morning America. Anchoring in the absence of Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts, Cuomo was discussing the run on Indymac and the advisability of publicizing the names of other banks that might be in trouble with ABC financial consultant Mellody Hobson.
CHRIS CUOMO: People are so desperate in markets right now that negative information that allows them to short-sell or bet on banks not doing well is very popular.
MELLODY HOBSON: So I'm suspect about where the lists are coming from; the motives of some of the people putting the lists out here.
CUOMO: We saw the impact of panic not just on people but even in Congress, right? A senator gets up and says "I've heard something about a certain bank." It's in trouble the next day.
Update (13:40 EDT): You can see in bold some of the questions I thought particularly biased. I've clipped Mark Smith's first question about turning the thermostat down and driving less and posted that video on EyeBlast.tv. You can find it embedded at right. [Official White House transcript available here.]
10:17 EDT: President Bush will hold a press conference in a few minutes, I'll be watching and live-blogging questions from the press corps. I'll update the blog post after the fact (assuming President Bush takes questions) with a link to the official White House transcript. If warranted, we may also post video of the most biased questions.
11:09 | President thanks reporters for their time, closes conference.
11:06 | Olivier (sp?): "Is President Karzai correct and do you think the new government in Pakistan is willing to combat terrorism?"
11:02 | Ryan: Do you think it [the economy] changes before you leave office?
10:59 | April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks: "When in your guestimation will this country see a turnaround on the soft economy?" Also asks about what's happening in Sudan.
10:57 | Compton presses again on oil company question.
10:55 | Ann Compton, ABC Radio: "You never mention oil companies. Are you confident that American oil producers are tapping all the sources they have out there, including offshore?" Compton also asks about Iraq and what Bush will leave his successor.
10:53 | Smith of AP Radio asks if President Bush sees the "value" of a campaign to push for conservation.
10:52 | Mark Smith, AP Radio: "Mr. President, understanding what you say about energy supplies being tight and the debate over energy, which has gone on for years and will continue long through the campaign and into the next administration -- one thing nobody debates is that if Americans use less energy the current supply/demand equation would improve. Why have you not sort of called on Americans to drive less and to turn down the thermostat?"
10:50 | Roger Runningen, Bloomberg News on a second stimulus: "Is it too late to consider a second one?"
Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, has remained largely unhurt by the controversy over his "sweetheart" deal with mortgage lender Countrywide. But CNBC's "Squawk Box" co-host Carl Quintanilla finally bucked the media trend of ignoring the scandal and brought the loan up in an interview July 14.
In the wake of former Sen. Phil Gramm's statements earlier this week about this being a nation full of whiners, the good folks at ABC's "Good Morning America" brought on a consumer psychologist Sunday to discuss whether or not the McCain advisor had a point.
Shockingly, not only did Kit Yarrow tell host Kate Snow that "the way consumers feel about things is very emotional," but also these "emotions are trumping reality" thereby creating a snowball which makes the economy worse.
Yarrow not only believes that things are "not as bad as consumers feel like it is," but also that the media are at fault because "everything is described as a crisis."
What follows is a partial transcript of this rather shocking and refreshing exchange (video available here, photo courtesy ABCNews.com):
I hate to say I told you so, but what the heck. We did. The Business & Media Institute warned that Fannie Mae was a looming taxpayer-backed disaster - in 2005. Only the network news shows didn't like to tell you about it. An op-ed I wrote appeared in The New York Post under the headline: "The $30B Scandal That TV Forgot." I think $30 billion is small potatoes now. $100 billion is the number being used now.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are Government-Sponsored Entities, which means they are publicly listed yet still backed by taxpayers. They have also been mismanaged and embroiled in accounting fiascos. Fannie was run by prominent Democrats like former Chief Executive Officer Franklin Raines and former Vice Chairman Jamie Gorelick - both instrumental figures in the Clinton administration.
A Dec. 23, 2004, Washington Post article explained that Franklin Raines "was a director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration, and his name was mentioned as a possible Treasury Secretary had Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) been elected president."
See Bonus Coverage at foot: Barnicle accuses Jesse Jackson of "corporate blackmail."
Two veteran members of the Senate, two entirely different treatments from Andrea Mitchell. Reverence for Ted Kennedy; scorn for Strom Thurmond. Guest hosting in Mika Brzezinski's spot on Morning Joe today, Mitchell, emotion in her voice, hailed Kennedy as "valiant" and a "hero." As for Thurmond, Mitchell mocked that he wasn't alive even when he was in the Senate.
The reference to the late South Carolina senator arose in the context of a discussion of the way in which, with the nomination of Barack Obama, the torch of Dem leadership has been passed to a new generation, whereas the same isn't true in John McCain's GOP.
As Congress takes new aim at speculators for the high price of gasoline, some media reports seem to be following suit. But as The Biz Flog explains this week, there is considerable debate over whether speculators should be blamed for the high cost of oil.
June 23, the same day Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee condemned oil speculators, the "CBS Evening News" and ABC's "World News" blamed oil speculation for a large chunk of the spike in prices.
"There's no doubt speculation plays a role in the skyrocketing price, but how much?" ABC correspondent Ryan Owens said June 23. "Experts say if it were just simple supply and demand a barrel would cost $75. Today it closed north of $135."
Scott Horsley explained oil speculation on June 29 for National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," where he pointed out that there have always been financial players in the oil market and there is still a debate over what influence they really have.
The network news outlets - ABC, CBS and NBC - have missed a great opportunity to cover actual political news in the last week by failing to report on the loan scandal surrounding two Democratic senators, Business & Media Institute Managing Editor Amy Menefee told "Fox & Friends Weekend" June 21.
"This story has everything," Menefee said. "It has a former presidential candidate, Chris Dodd. It has two senators who are getting, like you said, sweetheart loans. It has Kent Conrad, another senator, who called the CEO of the lender to get his loan, which is not what we normally do, and then said, ‘Oh, I didn't get any preferential treatment and I didn't do anything wrong, but I'm going to give a charitable donation to remedy the fact that I didn't do anything wrong.'"
Menefee said it was "very sad" that the networks failed to report the scandal - not just because they refused to go after two Democrats, but because they missed an opportunity to expose the bailout plan Dodd has been defending.
While print media and cable news channels are all over the "sweetheart" mortgage deals given to two Democratic U.S. senators, network news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC are keeping mum even though the scandal involves one of their favorite targets: Countrywide.
"This is a huge story ever since Portfolio magazine broke with this story. Print media outlets have covered it, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, the cable networks are there," Business & Media Institute Vice President Dan Gainor told "Fox & Friends" June 20. "And then you look at the evening news shows: they're non-existent."
As we've noted at NewsBusters, there's been scant coverage of a new scandal involving Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.). Both senators chair committees with oversight of the financial industry and Dodd is behind a bailout package for mortgage lender Countrywide. Both senators got "VIP" treatment from Countrywide Financial for refinancing agreements on their respective mortgages.
So today I thought I'd check our internal records at the MRC and the transcripts at Nexis to see what sort of coverage the three broadcast networks have devoted to this story.
What I found was a big fat zero.
Countrywide did, however, pop up three times on NBC newscasts between the beginning of June and today. All three stories were about celebrity Ed McMahon's foreclosure woes.
Townhall.com's Amanda Carpenter rips into the Washington Post today over its editorial about Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) and their cozy arrangement for mortgage refinances with Countrywide.
Washington Post: GOP tool? Might sound a tad far-fetched to you. But you're not Howard Dean.
Appearing on today's Morning Joe, DNC Chairman Dean claimed a Washington Post article about Jim Johnson, whom Barack Obama has chosen to head up the vetting of potential VP picks, was "planted" by the McCain campaign. Johnson's appointment has become an embarrassment to Obama because the former CEO of Fannie Mae has been linked to the mortgage crisis. As WaPo reported:
The questions about Johnson began after the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that he received more than $2 million in home loans that might have been below average market rates from Countrywide Financial, a partner of Fannie Mae and a leading purveyor of the kind of subprime mortgages that spawned a national housing crisis.
I always find it amazing when writers in the mainstream press seem to have so little knowledge of America and its history. Of course, I suppose that being blissfully ignorant of US history does help paper over their betrayal, substituting the feeling that they can maintain allegiance to American "ideals" as they attempt to advocate for the sort of socialist/communist vision that they want America to become, quite despite its true character and principles. Heck, if you don't know you are betraying your own country, you can't be ashamed of yourself for it, right? In any case, here we have another prime example of such a betrayal by The New York Times' Thomas Friedman from his May 4 piece where he has decided that America is finished, done, kaput. And guess what? It's all George W. Bush's fault -- shocking, I know.
Freidman imagines that he has found the pulse of the people and he has found that they are aching for nation building. Not nation building in Iraq or Afghanistan, but in the USA. He says we have little to show for our efforts in Iraq, that "we’re just not that strong anymore." He also claims that we have no "leverage" in Iran.
Heck, he should know. After all he and his paper have been attempting to foster these very situations for 8 years. If what Friedman is saying is true, then he and his anti-American paper deserve hearty congratulations for their success at nation destroying -- ours.
Mystery is in the eyes of the borrower–and the MSM. The term "variable rate" in a mortgage might seem straightforward enough to George Will and our erudite NB readers, but to a college-educated homeowner–and ABC's Kate Snow–it's apparently a real brain twister.
Snow hosted a segment on this morning's GMA dedicated to determining how the various presidential candidates' proposals would address the problems of sub-prime borrowers. As is the MSM's wont, ABC focused on a single sympathetic case, that of the Cruz-Rivera family in Philly.
John McCain not only surprised and pleased many with his hands-off stand against government intervention in the home mortgage "crisis," he broke through the liberal media's fascination with Obama-Clinton, but at a cost -- the New York Times's front-page story from March 26 was notably unsympathetic, relaying only criticism from his Democratic opponents. Hillary's plan, by contrast, had been warmly received by the Times the day before.
Late last week McCain pivoted toward calling for more federal help for struggling homeowners, and the Times took another bite, in "McCainShifts on Aid to Some Mortgage Holders," Friday's piece by reporter Michael Cooper:
The average American will receive a $2,500 tax refund this year, a statistic that left CBS “The Early Show” host Harry Smith “stunned” on the April 11 broadcast.
“I am stunned to know what the average refund is,” Smith said. “$2,200 [in 2007], that’s too much, right?”
“It is too much,” said Money magazine senior writer Janice Revell.
She explained that the checks actually represent an interest-free loan between the government and taxpayers.
“When you get your refund it feels like this big windfall, you’ve won the lottery, but in essence what you’ve done is you’ve loaned your money, interest-free, to Uncle Sam for the year,” Revell said. “It just makes no sense.”
Business & Media Institute Vice President Dan Gainor told the Fox Business Network on April 4 that the government might be intervening too much in the financial markets to address credit problems, and he criticized the media for failing to cover both sides fairly.
"The networks are not portraying at all the other point which is: maybe we're using too much government intervention. Maybe we're using too much regulation," Gainor said. "Instead they're using the worst-case scenario reporting" to support government intervention.
In a news brief on Thursday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Russ Mitchell reported: "Homeowners struggling to pay the mortgage may soon be getting help from Congress -- Congress, rather, but efforts may fall short." Correspondent Wyatt Andrews went to explain why the measures may not help enough people: "Senate leadership believes it finally has a tentative deal in place to help some, but certainly not all, distressed homeowners stay in their homes...Senate Democrats wanted a much larger package, reaching tens of thousands more homeowners, but compromised with Republicans to get this deal done."
Andrews went on to describe the overwhelming desire for a government bailout plan while also pitting Wall Street against main street: "As Congress took off for the last two weeks, both parties took heat at home for doing nothing, letting average Americans absorb the loss of their homes while losses at Bear Stearns, $29 billion worth, were being absorbed by the Fed." Andrews followed with a clip of Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney: "Wall Street has been helped. Now it's time to help main street."
When This Week assembled a round-table of four liberals versus one conservative yesterday, I kvetched. Maybe I should have cheered. ABC's idea of balance looks good compared to that of CBS. This morning's Early Show preview of the Bush admin's plan, to be announced later today, to regulate the financial industry was essentially conservative-free. OK, to be absolutely accurate, there was a brief clip of Treasury Secretary Paulson saying the plan would protect the Fed's balance sheet and US taxpayers.
But in her set-up piece, CBS's Kimberly Dozier emphasized the negative: "critics say it's win-win for banks, not the consumer. Less regulation, but no new legal limits to stop questionable lending practices or to stop the shell-game financial structures that led to the current mortgage debacle." The only expert she aired was University of Maryland economist Peter Morici who griped that under the plan: "[banks] can still engage in sharp practices that got them in trouble. There's no reason to believe that this regulatory format will keep the kind of crisis we just had from happening again. Nor will it get us out of this recession."
Co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez took the baton from there. She first interviewed Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), who claimed Congress had already given the Fed "massive" regulatory authority. Dodd predictably blamed the current situation on "a failure of leadership." Then it was on to Rodriguez's in-studio chat with CBS News biz correspondent Anthony Mason who--surprise!-- was also a critic of the plan.
Challenged by George Will during This Week of March 30th, liberal economics professsor Paul Krugman looks nervously to liberal economics professor Robert Reich. Krugman was one of four liberals at the round-table versus the sole conservative, Will.
Have a look at the screencap from today's This Week, then please answer this serious question: has ABC no shame? How does the network justify a round-table consisting of four liberals against one conservative?
Let's review the batting order:
Robert Reich: Clinton's former Labor Secretary comes from the leftward reaches of the Dem party. He's a co-founder of the liberal American Prospect magazine.
Paul Krugman: Like Reich, a very liberal professor of economics, and a NYT columnist.
Donna Brazile: Dem activist, Gore 2000 campaign manager.
George Stephanopoulos: The show host was a senior political adviser to Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and later became Clinton's communications director.
George Will: conservative columnist and [since we're talking batter order and this is Opening Day after all] baseball aficionado.
Just how obvious is it that the media's economic and business coverage is so negatively skewed that it has to be part of a political agenda in an election year?
Obvious enough for the folks at Fox News to do an entire segment Saturday morning asking the extraordinary question: "Media ‘Talking Down' the Economy to Get a Dem Elected?"
Despite my surprise seeing "Cavuto on Business" begin with such a question framed at the bottom of the screen, I was almost enraptured by the comments from Neil's guests which not only included regular assertions that this is clearly about getting a Democrat in the White House, but also that media are "committing a crime against the general public" by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that will end up costing people their jobs in the long run.
More importantly, "if we have a serious recession, a great deal will lie at the media's feet."
When is a billion-dollar loss a bonanza? When the person suffering it is one of those greedy Wall Street types the MSM loves to hate. Check out how, in opening this morning's show, Today cast the situation of Bear Stearns Chairman James Cayne:
MATT LAUER: Payday! His company imploded and thousands of stockholders went bust, but the Chairman of Bear Stearns cashes in and gets $61 million dollars. Will there be a backlash?
Watching the intro, I assumed the Chairman, despite Bears' fall, had received some kind of bonus or golden handshake. It wasn't until Maria Bartiromo came on later that we learned that Bear Chairman James Cayne, far from receiving a bonus or bonanza, had incurred one of the worst personal financial losses in the history of the street.
If there was ever an obvious conflict of interest in economic reporting, this may very well qualify.
NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell evaluated the housing crisis solution proposals of both Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) on the March 25 "NBC Nightly News."
"Clinton was the first of the two to sound alarms about the subprime mess with a plan a year ago," Mitchell said. "Obama followed a week later with a call for a summit. Since then both have gotten more specific."