CNN’s “best political team on television” is proving itself to be the best at closing its eyes, plugging its ears and repeating “la, la, la, we can’t hear you” when it comes to Republicans addressing economic concerns.
CNN – along with the broadcast networks of ABC, CBS and NBC – spent time during the Democratic National Convention parroting Sen. Barack Obama’s dismal view of an economy in “turmoil.” Its coverage of the Republican National Convention (RNC) showed little change, except to incorrectly accuse Republicans of ignoring the issue.
In spite of the fact five of the Republican convention’s headlining speakers touched on economic issues, CNN claimed at least 27 times over two days (September 3 and 4) that the GOP gathering was ignoring the economy.
CNN’s Soledad O’Brien was just one example during “Newsroom” September 3. O’Brien told viewers that “No one really tackled that [the economy] last night.” Journalists like O’Brien were merely mimicking Democratic talking points.
During the Republican convention, Obama repeatedly accused his opponents of ignoring economic issues, claiming on the campaign trail that “you did not hear a single word about the economy” from Republican speakers. Fourteen of the criticisms aired on CNN came from Obama or another Democrat; the other half came from the network’s reporters and anchors.
CNN and broadcast networks continued to paint McCain as weak on the economy and highlighted bad economic news after failing to highlight good economic news during the Democrats’ convention.
The claim that Republicans ignored the economy during their convention was not just an Obama campaign criticism. In a September 3 column in The Washington Post , Harold Meyerson said he “combed the schedule of events here without finding a single forum, workshop or kaffeeklatsch devoted to what John McCain and the Republican Party propose to do about America’s short- and long-term economic challenges.”
Republicans Say What?
On September 2, the second day of the convention, former senator and presidential hopeful Fred Thompson touched on the economy , saying in his speech that, “We need a president who understands that you don’t make citizens prosperous by making Washington richer, and you don’t lift an economic downturn by imposing one of the largest tax increases in American history.” Thompson was referring to Obama’s proposal to let the Bush tax cuts expire, raising taxes on the “wealthy.”
Even President George W. Bush’s brief address touched on McCain’s tax policy . But the next day, at least 15 times (nine times directly from reporters) CNN aired the claim that Republicans were ignoring the economy.
Republicans became more direct on the economy on September 3, the third day of the convention. Another former Republican presidential candidate and McCain’s vice presidential pick both mentioned economic issues in their speeches.
“Our economy has slowed down this year, and a lot of people are hurting,” former presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in his speech . “What happened? Mortgage money was handed out like candy, and speculators bought homes for free. And when this mortgage mania finally broke, it slammed the economy. And stratospheric gas prices made things even worse.”
Romney attacked Democrats on the economy, saying they “want to use the slowdown as an excuse to do what their special interests are always begging for: higher taxes, bigger government and less trade with other nations.” He praised McCain’s promise to “rein in government spending, lower taxes, take a weedwacker to excessive regulation and mandates, put a stop to tort windfalls and to stand up to the Tyrannosaurus appetite of government unions.”
McCain’s vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, touched on the economy in her September 3  speech as well, criticizing what she said was Obama’s plan to increase taxes. “How are you going to be better off if our opponents add a massive tax burden to the American economy?” she asked.
Still, CNN echoed the Obama campaign’s claim that Republicans were ignoring economic issues. In its September 4 coverage, the network leveled the charge at least 12 times, including four times by reporters rather than campaign surrogates or other Democrats.
Sounds Just Like Obama
At a campaign stop in
Well, he was more than exaggerating. Fred Thompson talked about the economy and Bush talked about taxes on the second day of the conference. Romney discussed Republicans’ economic proposals and Palin slammed Democrats’ approach on the third. But that didn’t stop CNN from repeating Obama’s claim.
“The only thing that we really haven’t heard from last night coming out of the RNC was talking about the economy,” anchor Soledad O’Brien said on “Newsroom” September 3.
Later in the day O’Brien cited “a lot of criticism about no talk about the economy yesterday. I mean, a lot of talk that, you know, flags and warm feelings, but no, you know, no sort of here’s where we are. The number one issue on the minds of the American voter is the economy. No one really tackled that last night.”
O’Brien even managed to level the charge immediately after showing a clip of Thompson talking about the economy during his speech. O’Brien wrote it off as “one of the very few times that the economy actually came up in a speech. It wasn’t really the theme last night.”
But O’Brien wasn’t the only CNN correspondent to toe the Democrats’ line.
John Roberts told CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider that Palin’s speech had “a lot of red meat, but analysts are saying not a whole lot of substance on issues of great importance to Americans.” Schneider responded that economic references were “missing,” even though Palin discussed taxes in her speech.
When reporters and anchors weren’t reciting the theme, they were letting Obama, his surrogates or other Democrats repeat the claim without correction. The network featured Obama or one of his campaign advisers at least five times over the two days making the claim.
“I heard nothing on the economy,” Democratic strategist Lisa Caputo told Kiran Chetry on “American Morning” September 4. “And for somebody to stand before a crowd of the American people and a national television audience, to not talk about the economy when we’re facing huge unemployment rates, a deficit, rising gas prices, to me means it’s a little bit out of touch.”
Caputo claimed gas prices were rising, but they weren’t. They’d actually been falling since reaching a high of $4.11 a gallon on July 11. By the time Caputo made the claim September 4, the price of a gallon of gas had fallen more than 10 percent to about $3.68.
But the complaint that Republicans weren’t discussing the economy continued to come from CNN. Even after McCain’s September 4 nomination acceptance speech, in which the candidate touched on his own proposals from jobs to taxes to the energy economy, CNN unquestioningly allowed Obama supporters to claim otherwise.
Robert Gibbs, senior adviser to the Obama campaign, told CNN host Larry King after the speech that people wondered “why they didn’t hear any of that tonight,” referring to the economy, health care, special interests and foreign oil.
Later, former Democratic presidential hopeful Mario Cuomo told King that McCain “said nothing useful with the economy.”
Thorn in McCain’s Side
The Democratic and CNN campaign against McCain went beyond ignoring Republicans’ economic proposals. It painted McCain as weak on the issue.
CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger declared on “
Soledad O’Brien told former
As if completely ignoring other Republicans addressing the economy wasn’t bad enough, CNN correspondents criticized McCain for not focusing on the economy enough during his own speech.
CNN’s Dana Bash complained immediately after the speech that McCain didn’t say anything new. “[W]e’ve heard a lot of these things before,” she said. “Many of these themes, many of the specifics, whether it’s on the economy or on the idea of service, he talks about constantly almost every day either in his prepared remarks or in response to questions he gets in the town hall meetings.”
Highlighting Bad News
CNN highlighted bad economic news when it wasn’t busy leveling false charges against McCain or painting him as weak on the economy. But the media largely ignored good economic news in advance of Obama’s own acceptance speech the week before.
In the early morning hours of September 5, after McCain delivered his acceptance speech on the last night of the convention, host Larry King told former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis that “you’ve got an unpopular war, a very unpopular president, the economy down the tubes. Why is this race close?”
Just hours before McCain’s acceptance speech, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen – a former Republican adviser – pointed to a rough day on Wall Street and said there is a “great deal of concern that this economy is not turning up in the next few months. The next president is going to have to solve a lot of problems on the economic front.”
In another segment, Gergen said Republicans were “in danger of saying too little about where they’re going on the economy.”
“Energy prices are high,” reporter Susan Lisovicz said September 4. “People are losing their jobs. No surprise that consumers are pulling back. And we do have reports on that front, the number of new jobless claims unexpectedly rose last week to 440,000.
CNN’s Don Lemon even reported good news as bad when he suggested falling gas prices were nothing to be happy about on September 3. Lemon acknowledged that “gas prices have been falling recently, but that doesn’t undo the damage in
CNN’s economic coverage during the Republican convention stood in stark contrast to its coverage ahead of Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. The same day Obama was set to deliver a speech focused on an economy in “turmoil,” the Commerce Department announced second quarter gross domestic product (GDP) was 3.3 percent – up from initial estimates and above economists’ expectations.
Reporter Stephanie Elam announced the upward revision on August 28. But she warned viewers not to be optimistic about the revision: “So despite the strong reading, we still have to see what the second half of the year has in store for us.”
Downplaying good news ahead of Obama’s speech and playing up bad news ahead of McCain’s was not exclusive to CNN. The CBS “Evening News” ignored the GDP revision in its August 28 broadcast. But anchor Katie Couric found time September 4, before McCain’s speech, to report on “disappointing” employment  and retail figures.