Hurricane Sandy Relief: Networks Attack GOP, But Mention Pork Only 1.5% of the Time

After disaster, ABC, CBS, NBC scarcely mention billions of wasteful spending in relief package.

Striking the Northeast on Oct. 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy tragically devastated communities causing an estimated $50 billion in damages. By the end of January 2013, a relief bill was passed for Sandy aid, after an earlier bill was rejected because of wasteful spending.

House Republicans opposed a pork-ridden $60 billion Senate bill ($10 billion higher than damage estimates) and chose not to vote on it. Politicians, including some Republicans, and the media criticized them for delaying this legislation. A $51 billion bill was passed by both houses of Congress by the end of January, after a $9.7 billion flood insurance bill passed in early January.

Rather than examine what conservatives were objecting to in the initial bill, network news programs instead launched a widespread attack on the GOP. ABC, CBS, and NBC spent 31 minutes and 41 seconds covering Sandy relief on morning and evening shows between Dec. 1, 2012 and Jan. 30, 2013. But in those stories about Sandy relief, the broadcast networks spent only 31 seconds discussing pork spending: a meager 1.5 percent of the report time even though wasteful spending was a major reason for conservative opposition to the bill.

ABC, CBS, and NBC showcased Northeastern politicians attacking the House for this aid delay, including angry Republicans from affected areas criticizing congressmen opposed to pork-barrel spending. Those networks gave the most attention to New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is often a favorite of the news media on other subjects, criticized the bill’s pork spending. But he was not quoted in those reports.

King accused Republicans saying they “put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans.” The Heritage Foundation wrote in December 2012, that of the president’s request for $60 billion in Sandy relief, roughly $47 billion would go to unrelated projects. The networks were apparently too busy attacking Republicans to cover such unrelated funding such as the millions of dollars to repair Alaskan fisheries over 4,000 miles away.

Throughout December, the broadcast networks largely ignored Sandy relief, running only six stories on the subject. But their coverage intensified in early January.

Christie accused House Republicans on Jan. 3 of “callous disregard of [New Jersey],” specifically attacking “the House Majority, and their Speaker, John Boehner.” He added “Shame on you. Shame on Congress.”

In addition to the parade of politicians, the networks explicitly promoted such criticism, referring to how Christie “blasted” or “spanked” the House. Notably, on Jan. 2, CBS “Evening News” aired video of news correspondent Elaine Quijano at a Christie press conference. She set him up to express outrage, asking, “Do you feel betrayed right now, governor?”

The media also repeatedly attacked the House directly in reports. On Jan. 5, David Muir, anchor of ABC “World News Saturday” wondered, “Did some lawmakers choose politics over people?”

ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Jan. 13 showcased the media’s attitude about the political debate over Sandy relief spending. ABC’s Dan Harris referred to the “hypocrisy and absurdity” of Republicans and stressed the outrage of Northeastern politicians.

According to Reuters, after the hurricane, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut together asked for $82 billion in aid. The president only requested $60 billion. By February 2013, The National Hurricane Center estimated the damage at $50 billion, $5 to $10 billion of which was covered by insurance, according to risk modeling firm Eqecat.

According to these numbers, $40 to $45 billion would have been sufficient to repair the damage, making the first proposed bailout of $60 billion at least $15 billion more than necessary, ignoring private donations and state spending.

Between two bills, $60 billion in taxpayer dollars would be spent, ostensibly on relief and flood insurance. But it turned out to have billions in wasteful and unrelated spending. Between Jan. 2-5, the networks aired 10 stories covering the Sandy aid debate. But they included only one mention of pork spending, buried in ABC’s Jan. 5 “World News Saturday.” That night correspondent David Kerley stated “Among the Republican complaints in that $51 billion are $400 million in what they call pork barrel spending.”

Even that little admission about wasteful spending, wildly missed the mark. It drastically underestimated the amount of pork according to the Heritage Foundation.  They wrote that of the roughly $60 billion being requested by President Obama, about $47 billion (79 percent) would not even go to help Sandy victims.

The Sandy aid bill was loaded with pork and flexible spending that was not earmarked for Hurricane Sandy. Among the most egregious provisions compiled from both the liberal Huffington Post and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal were:

  • $13 billion to mitigate against future disasters including $188 million for Amtrak

  • $12.1 billion for the Community Development Fund, flexible spending often used to fund liberal activists

  • $600 million for climate change research

  • $348 million for the National Park Service

  • $150 million for fisheries in Alaska and Mississippi

Even a liberal objected to this spending. According to Politicker, outspoken Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized “extraneous” provisions in the Sandy relief bill in a radio program and said it was to blame for the House’s delay in voting on the bill.

In addition to ignoring wasteful spending, the networks portrayed federal Sandy relief as an immediate and urgent need. On Jan. 3, CBS “This Morning” Quijano emphasized “It has now been 67 days since Sandy made landfall, and people here in the Northeast are still waiting.”

Contrary to this, The Wall Street Journal noted in December that much of the spending in the Senate’s $60 bill would not be immediate. Citing Congressional Budget Office estimates, WSJ said $38 billion of the $60 billion would not be spent until 2015.

Even the liberal New York Times agreed that much of the relief spending was not immediate. On Jan. 14, the Times admitted that that “the list of nonemergency items [in Sandy relief] is considerable,” explicitly enumerating over $18 billion in non-emergency spending.

— Sean Long is Staff Writer at the Media Research Center. Follow Sean Long on Twitter.