It been almost a year since the Democrats in Congress rammed through what till then was the most expensive bill in American history “Porkulus” the stimulus bill which is now estimated to cost over $800 Billion Dollars. During the debate of the bill the President’s bully corner, ABC,NBC and CBS news, promoted the bill and helped to get it passed. In the year since its passage the three networks have continued with its sell job on the President’s plan.
The Business & Media Institute analyzed 172 stories about the stimulus from the time it was signed until two weeks ago at the end of January. During that period they found that over 70% of the stories featured a pro-Stimulus stance even though stories of wasted funds and and the lack of any real benefit to the economy were appearing elsewhere.
…Network journalists didn’t just back the bill during that debate. Once it had passed, ABC, NBC and CBS spent nearly a year promoting “President Obama’s stimulus cavalry,” as NBC’s Lisa Myers put it.
…ABC, CBS and NBC served as unofficial boosters of what NBC called “President Obama’s stimulus cavalry.” The networks favored pro-stimulus speakers 71 percent to 29 percent (269 to just 111).
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Nearly Half of All Reports Included Zero Criticism: Both NBC and ABC stories included no criticism roughly half the time. Overall, the networks cited criticism of the stimulus plan just 52 percent of the time (90 out of 172 stories). Instead government was depicted as fixing “rickety wooden bridges” and “performing much-needed maintenance on national parks.”
It appeared that reporters had their answers before they went out and asked questions. Most of the time instead of trying to see how the stimulus was working, they were trying to prove the stimulus worked.
That much money was supposed to enter the economy through many different channels. Typically, where stimulus dollars went, journalists followed. They roamed the nation looking for proof the stimulus was succeeding, and sometimes proof it wasn’t.
..Reporters called the Obama program or its many offshoots “good news,” or turned to others whose positive views on the stimulus went further, with one calling the program a “lifesaver.”
“It’s the government that`s going to have to pull us out of this recession,” Anthony Mason of CBS “Evening News” said on March 6. That was a consistent theme for the journalists involved. With the economy beaten down by the Great Recession, Americans needed Obama and the government to fix things and boost employment.
Anchor Katie Couric added to that theme when she introduced the story. “In a moment, we’ll be telling you about all the jobs the stimulus plan is creating, but first why those jobs are so desperately needed.”
Despite for Couric’s exuberance for anything Obama, the truth is we are still waiting for the stimulus to create those jobs “so desperately needed.”
That pro-stimulus approach impacted the reporting. All three broadcast networks promoted the stimulus prior to the vote. The same news media that backed Barack Obama during the election then turned to his “bold” push for a stimulus plan. Two broadcast networks – ABC and NBC – showed particularly strong support for the president by relying on pro-stimulus voices by a more-than 2-to-1 ratio (139 to 56). As reporter Scott Cohn told the NBC “Nightly News” audience about a struggling Indiana community. “Economic stimulus isn’t just a political debate around here. It could be a matter of survival.”
Unbeknown to those network, others strongly felt that a tax cut was the way to create jobs and fix the economy, that was not really discussed. Instead of doing an investigation, they even bought the “Jobs Saved” hoax, hook, line, and sinker.
In the year following the passage of the stimulus package, network journalists embraced both the spending and the programs that went along with it. Story after story detailed how a few hundred thousand dollars or a few million dollars would aid essential programs and, in Obama’s words, “save or create” millions of jobs.
That was what viewers of ABC’s “World News with Charles Gibson,” CBS “Evening News” and NBC “Nightly News” heard for almost a year. Those three favored pro-stimulus speakers 71 percent to 29 percent (269 to just 111).
NBC was the worst of the three networks. It relied on stimulus supporters in its stories by more than a factor of 3-to-1 (110 supporters to just 31 critics). At the same time, NBC only included any sort of criticism of the $787 billion plan in 43 percent of its stories.
Now I am sure that the NBC record had nothing to do with Chairman of GE Jeff Immelt’s close relationship with the Obama administration.
While CBS included some criticism of the stimulus in three fourths of its stories (30 out of 40), the network still found several ways to boost the president. During an April 29 broadcast, Anthony Mason described Obama in laudatory terms. “As he’s tried to lead the country through the crisis, President Obama has offered both caution and hope.”
Another CBS story celebrated how D.C. had turned into a new financial capital. Mason told viewers about “matchmaking sessions to link them with government agencies giving out stimulus money.” He even quoted Washington power broker and “King of K Street” Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. who seemed thrilled that the “total pie is way over $2 trillion” to grab for clients. As Mason added, “Government officials like these at the Transportation Department can’t give it out fast enough.”
ABC’s coverage of the stimulus also ignored critics more than half the time, but lacked CBS’s blatantly positive comments about the plan or the president who promoted it.
Even when reporters showed some of the obvious flaws of the stimulus program, they still depicted it as “working.” NBC’s Lisa Myers pointed out one of the marketing angles of the Obama bill including signs crediting new work to the government. “At this road project in Maryland a sign tells all who pass by that the money for repaving came from the stimulus package.” She went on to say that the Obama administration has urged states to put up such signs, even though they “can cost as much as $1,200.”
But Myers then followed with a more typical report including three people, two supporting the program and just one opposed.
The pro-stimulus position of the three networks was almost identical to the one taken leading up to the passage of the bill. Then both ABC and NBC showed particularly strong support for the president by relying on pro-stimulus voices by a more-than 2-to-1 ratio (139 to 56). That 71 percent total was the same percentage of pro-stimulus voices these two networks used throughout the year (183 positive to just 74 critics).
During the year, it seemed nearly every stimulus program found its time in the sun. Media reports bounced from Baltimore to recession hot spot Elkhart, Ind., to Puget Sound near Seattle. Every story used an almost identical template. Here was a school/environmental concern/business/police department that would just collapse without more funding from Uncle Sam.
Government was “replacing this crumbling bridge over the Osage River,” went a May 28 story. NBC’s Myers first acknowledged critics who said it was “a bridge to the middle of nowhere.” Then she totally undercut them: “But in struggling Miller County, that $8.5 million bridge means jobs.”
ABC’s Bill Weir profiled how programs around the nation were using stimulus money to buy hybrid buses at $700,000 a piece. Weir did his own salesmanship for the buses in his April 13 broadcast. “Well, the next time you ride any bus, consider how many sets of American hands went into making it. It comes to life as a steel skeleton at this plant in Riverside, California, but then all the parts that get added on are built in manufacturing plants across the country,” he enthused.
The price tag: $115 million for 15 communities. Weir interviewed four different people for the piece and every one of them liked the idea. As Nick Golzynski, a bus manufacturing employee, put it, “If the stimulus package didn’t go through, we’d probably be laying off.” Weir didn’t find any critics or any unhappy taxpayers to vent.
Chris Bury, also from ABC, waved the flag with an April 8 stimulus story about Filipino veterans. Anchor Charles Gibson introduced the segment: “Now, finally, the U.S. government is making a long overdue payment to some of the survivors [of the Bataan Death March.]” Naturally, they had the stimulus bill to thank. “Tucked away in President Obama’s stimulus package is a measure that fulfills at least some of President Roosevelt’s promise” to pay the veterans.
When they weren’t citing patriotism, network reporters turned to saving the children or helping the environment as rationales for the stimulus. CBS’s Randall Pinkston said the money would help save young lives in his Oct. 7 story. “The Justice Department is pledging $16 million to boost school security around the country, a half million for Chicago. The city is also using $30 million in federal stimulus funds to identify and help 1,200 children who are most at risk of getting shot. The students from 38 schools will be selected based on poor academic performance, family environment, and location, focusing on areas where other deaths have occurred.”
Over at NBC, Rehema Ellis defended nearly $100 million in educational expenses. “For Baltimore, Maryland, an older city with inner city problems, its $95 million in federal education stimulus money will be more than a help to its school system of 193 schools, almost 6,000 teachers and 82,000 students,” she told viewers Aug 24. Her story included a clip of Dr. Andreas Alonso, who made sure the audience understood how necessary the stimulus had been. “It’s been a lifesaver,” he said.
Even a piece on environmental groups paying to “retrieve abandoned fishing nets” received favorable coverage. “The cleanup might have taken 15 years, but with the stimulus money, 90 percent of the nets will be removed in just 18 months, employing nearly 40 fishermen,” Lee Cowan, of NBC, said Sept. 29.
Clearly this study shows what we have already suspected, coverage is biased. The networks haven’t figured it out yet, but its precisely the reason why Fox News is having its best year ever.
You can read the full report at Business and Media by clicking here.