CBS Evening News Touts Financial Discipline Expert, but Omits Her Faith Motivation

Mary Hunt, a woman who ran up $100,000 in shopping debt, was in the Evening News spotlight May 7, but not for the reasons you'd think.  Hunt has made a cottage industry out of helping people get out of debt, and CBS Evening News used her story as part of a commendable trend of featuring stories focused on financial responsibility and wise money management.

Reporter Richard Schlesinger told viewers that Hunt had a unique perspective on debt because, at one time, she was drowning it.  The story revealed that Hunt racked up $100,000 in debt over 12 years, and spent 13 years paying it off.  Hunt told Schlesinger she worked full time and took several part time jobs to get rid of the debt.  The experience so profoundly changed her view about money that she launched a newsletter called Cheapskate Monthly.  That enterprise was so successful that it launched Hunt into a new career.  She now runs an organization called Debt- Proof Living, is a syndicated columnist and financial advisor.

SCHLESINGER: Mary Hunt teaches three easy ways to say out of debt, two you'd expect.  She says live on 80 percent of your income and put 10 percent in a bank.  The third one is a little surprising.  She says give the remaining 10 percent to charity.

HUNT: It just kind of quiets that greed and says you know what?  I've got enough.

Not mentioned in the story is the fact that Hunt's change of heart about being in debt was informed by her faith.  She states in her biography “Mary's Story” on her Web site, “I vividly recall that Saturday afternoon in 1982 when I was alone in my mother-in-law's kitchen. I fell to my knees and begged for God's forgiveness and made a new promise: I would stop my totally irrational spending and debting and would seek a means by which to climb out of this financial pit. I had to change.” Hunt's principle of giving 10 percent to charity derives from the Biblical principle of tithing.

The networks have been beating the drum of economic hard times for most of 2008.  In that story arc there have been countless features (click here, here and here) on individuals facing dire circumstances due to financial hardships.  In the last month however, CBS has also made an effort to report stories that offer sound financial advice, promote savings and budgeting. 

In addition to the feature on Hunt, CBS Evening News has also run a series called “Life and Debt in America” in the past month.  In that series stories have focused on teaching kids about money management in school, how to respond proactively when debt collectors call, and steps senior citizens can take to avoid running up credit card debt.

This focus on personal financial responsibility is a positive trend on CBS Evening News that so far has not been matched by ABC and NBC.  In looking at news stories over the past month CBS has tackled the issues of debt and thrift more positively than its competitors.  This mirrors a finding made in CMI's recent study, “Debt: Who$ Responsible”, which noted that CBS did a better job of addressing personal responsibility than either of the other two networks in stories related to debt over a nine-month study period.

Mary Hunt Photo via

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.