Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

April 24, 2014

JEFFREY McCALL: U.S. networks struggle to cover economic news

Numbers with no context passes for television reporting

Network television newsrooms often must cover stories for which they have no internal experts. That’s why aeronautic engineers and pilots are put on the air to analyze airplane emergencies. Judges and lawyers are paraded out to discuss whatever sensational trial hits the news agenda. When it comes to news of the economy, however, television news has little interest in talking with real economists.

A new study by the left-leaning watchdog organization, Media Matters for America, shows that economists were included in only 2 percent of all evening network television or cable news segments about the economy. For this study, Media Matters defined an economist as someone who “holds an advanced degree in economics, has worked in the economics profession or has served as an economics professor.” In other words, somebody with the kind of expertise to actually analyze the nation’s economy with keen insight and depth.

Instead of getting input from economists, television journalists like to interview each other about the economy. The Media Matters study indicates 58 percent of all guests in economic news segments were other journalists. Political operatives, hacks and strategists served as economic analysts 29 percent of the time, thus injecting a high degree of partisanship into economic news.

Whatever one might think of Media Matters’ political bent, these statistics are troubling. This data provides a picture of the vacuous manner in which television covers the important topic of the economy.

Television is not comfortable covering economic news. The Media Matters study indicates that economic news gets scant treatment from the big three networks, and not much more from CNN. Fox News and MSNBC did the most segments about the economy. Not surprisingly, MSNBC focused its economic news on income inequality and the economic harm of spending cuts, while FNC focused on how Obamacare hurts job growth and tax hikes will damage the economy.

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