A Summer of Skewed News

The Liberal Tilt in TV’s Economic Reporting

Executive Summary

Liberal politicians have made no secret of the fact that they hope this fall’s congressional elections revolve around economic issues, including the federal budget deficit, lack of a prescription drug entitlement for senior citizens and this year’s corporate accounting scandals. Perhaps one reason for this desire is that liberals watch Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings every night, and they recognize that TV news has framed the discussion of all of these important economic issues in a way that benefits liberals and gives short shrift to conservative arguments. 

This summer, the Media Research Center reviewed ABC, CBS, CNN, FNC and NBC news programs and Sunday morning interview programs, along with the broadcast network morning news shows. Primetime magazine shows such as NBC’s Dateline and discussion programs such as FNC’s The O’Reilly Factor and CNN’s Larry King Live were not included.

Our analysts found that coverage of the key economic issues was almost entirely organized around liberal themes and arguments. For instance, liberals blame President Bush’s tax cut for the declining budget surplus, while conservatives blame government spending that is rising far faster than economic growth. In their coverage, network reporters aided the liberal cause by focusing almost exclusively on the tax cut, not the problem of rising spending. Balanced coverage would have equally featured both liberal and conservative arguments.

There were rare instances when network reporters deviated from this pattern and offered viewers a balanced perspective or questioned politicians from both the liberal and conservative perspectives. Thus, in addition to documenting the media’s prevailing liberal skew, this report will also spotlight those episodes of even-handed reporting, in the hope that journalists will emulate their colleagues’ neutral tone. But the presences of occasionally balanced reports does not detract from the damage done by biased and condescending remarks by reporters such as ABC’s Terry Moran, who dismissed Bush’s 2001 economic program as “a tax cut that was, frankly, cooked up during the heat of a political campaign.” Moran made his remark on September 11, during ABC’s commemoration of last year’s terrorist attacks.

This report will also offer recommendations for more accurate and less biased economic coverage. The objective is not news coverage that is skewed in favor of conservative proposals and ideas, but coverage that finally places liberals and conservatives on an even playing field, and lets viewers make up their own minds.