Among the policy catastrophes inflicted on Americans by the Biden administration, the rampant inflation of the last two years is the most devastating because its damaging effects are felt across the entire society. Yet a new study from the Media Research Center finds the overwhelming majority (84%) of TV news coverage of this inflation disaster failed to mention President Biden or his administration — and when reporters did discuss the President, they mostly depicted him as working to solve the problem, rather than blaming him for causing it.
For this report, MRC analysts looked at ABC, CBS and NBC evening news coverage of inflation from May 1, 2022 through January 31, 2023, including weekends. This period includes some of the worst months for inflation (with the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, registering a shocking 9.1% in June 2022, the highest since 1981), as well as gasoline prices reaching an unprecedented $5/gallon across the country.
All three evening newscasts spent considerable airtime documenting the distress of American consumers, with NBC Nightly News devoting the most (233 minutes) to the story during the nine months we examined. The CBS Evening News was close behind, with 216 minutes of inflation coverage, while ABC’s World News Tonight lagged, spending 93 minutes on the subject.
Combined, that’s a hefty 542 minutes of airtime, an average of about an hour every month since last spring. Virtually all of the networks’ full-length reports included multiple interviews with consumers angry about the high prices, plus families on tight budgets who were being financially crippled.
One example: the July 14 CBS Evening News reported on an Indiana family that, thanks to rising prices, were “forced to take out high-interest loans just to afford the gas they need to take their daughter for lifesaving medical treatment” an hour’s drive from their home. The networks also covered the growing numbers of Americans seeking charity at food banks as grocery prices soared, and those who could no longer afford their rent as rates skyrocketed.
But the networks rarely connected the widespread misery to the President and his policies. Out of the 542 minutes of coverage we documented, nearly 84 percent (454 minutes) omitted any reference to the Biden administration. So while there was a lot of coverage of consumers being harmed by inflation, there was far less scrutiny of the leaders responsible for it.
Of the 88 minutes that focused on President Biden and his administration, more than half of that (52 minutes) was spent depicting Biden as working to solve the problem. These “solutions” include Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to boost oil production; his short-lived proposal for a national gas tax holiday; and the passage of the so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” in August.
Thus, viewers heard reporters list the supposed inflation-fighting elements of the law, as ABC’s Cecilia Vega did on August 16: “Expanding subsidies to help 13 million Americans pay for insurance, and capping prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients at $2,000 a year.” On August 8, NBC reporter Ali Vitali assured that the law would help average Americans, telling viewers that “top economists say this bill will put downward pressure on inflation.”
It’s not as if there were no critics of Biden’s policies. Viewers heard a combined 8 minutes, 10 seconds of criticism of Biden from Republicans. On the October 16 CBS Weekend News, for example, correspondent Debra Alfarone said “Republicans are pouncing on the price at the pump and blaming Democrats,” before this soundbite from GOP Representative Steve Scalise: “They are talking and bragging as if gas prices are lower. Gas prices are about 60 percent higher today than when Joe Biden took office.”
There was almost as much airtime (8 minutes, 5 seconds) from non-partisan sources, including disgruntled voters, angry consumers, and the occasional challenging comment from a reporter. NBC’s Kristen Welker on July 28 reminded viewers that the President “declared a year ago that inflation would be temporary.” She was shown confronting White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre: “Why should Americans take his word for it now when the President got it wrong on the economy a year ago?”
But add up all of the criticism, and it amounts to just 16 minutes, 15 seconds over nine months. That’s not much out of 542 minutes of total coverage, and doesn’t even begin to match the 52 minutes of coverage presenting Biden’s as America’s inflation-fighter-in-chief.
Yet even experts you’d expect to be friendly to Biden blamed his monstrous $1.9 trillion spending spree dubbed the “American Rescue Plan.” The law included sending $1,400 checks to tens of millions of citizens on top of the lucrative handouts they’d received during 2020 under Trump.
Even before that bill had become law, Democratic economists were warning that it would spur exactly the inflation we saw. While most of the media championed the big-spending bill, CBS correspondent Ed O’Keefe on the February 5, 2021 Evening News offered a rare peek at responsible Democrats’ warnings: “Even Democrat Larry Summers, a former top economic adviser to President Obama, said the plan might overheat the economy and spark inflation.”
After the bill passed and inflation began its devastating rise, sites like FiveThirtyEight.com, hardly conservative, admitted the connection: “There is also evidence that the stimulus, especially the last round, likely stoked higher and higher prices for the very people it was intended to help.”
The liberal site Vox reached a similar conclusion six months later: “While many economists agree that the stimulus law did worsen inflation by giving people more money to spend, they continue to disagree about the extent.”
So exactly how much of the blame can be rested at Joe Biden’s feet? “Last month, consumer prices grew at a 7.5 percent annual rate — a new four-decade high. How much of the surge in prices is due to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion March stimulus, known as the American Rescue Plan? My answer: around three percentage points in 2021,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Strain, a right-of-center economist, concluded last February.
That squares with a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco last March, on the impact of those stimulus checks: “U.S. income transfers may have contributed to an increase in inflation of about 3 percentage points by the fourth quarter of 2021.”
Among experts, there’s little doubt about Biden’s role in fueling a significant amount of this high inflation, and the resulting hardship to tens of millions of American families. Yet the national news media are doing the President a huge political favor by mostly keeping his name, and his blame, out of their coverage of America’s epic inflation nightmare.