Hit Job: Executive Summary

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More than 2 million new jobs were created in 2005 but that wasn’t the story presented by the evening news. The three broadcast networks downplayed strong growth and, instead, emphasized negatives such as corporate layoffs and outsourcing in more than half the stories about jobs or unemployment. As Trish Regan of “CBS Evening News” put it in the July 20 broadcast, “Twenty-five thousand layoffs and more on the way. I’m Trish Regan with why the jobs picture is looking very ‘pink’ these days.”

     Colored reporting like that has left the Bush administration’s economic record black and blue. With the president’s upcoming State of the Union address on January 31, the economy will come under fresh scrutiny, so it is essential to separate the facts from the media spin. Roughly 4.8 million jobs have been added since August 2003 – 29 straight months of positive job growth. Unemployment dropped down to 4.7 percent, lower than the average of all three recent decades.

     These findings are the result of a detailed analysis of job and employment coverage by the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute (BMI). BMI studied 151 stories on the 2005 evening news shows from all three broadcast networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – to assess how they had reported on both job losses and gains during a year of strong employment growth. Here are the conclusions:

    Job Losses, Not Gains: The networks focused on job losses in slightly more than half the reports (76 out of 151). Just 35 percent of the stories addressed job gains (53 out of 151). In one typical report, Jim Acosta of the “CBS Evening News” left his viewers with a memorable image of the 8,700 job cuts at General Motors in his November 21 story: “Just three days before Thanksgiving, GM is carving up its work force like a Butterball turkey.”

    Government Spending Promoted: Two of the big Washington stories – the transportation bill and cutbacks at military bases – showed how hypocritical the media were. The $284 billion transportation bill was filled with pork, but created thousands of new jobs that news reports barely mentioned. But when military bases were cut to save $48 billion over 20 years, the news shows did three-and-ah-half times as many stories bemoaning the job losses.

    283,000 Jobs Ignored: Initial unemployment reports are later revised, but the networks ignored those revisions. In 2005, most of those changes added jobs, so network news skipped nearly 300,000 jobs in all of the stories except those few that included cumulative totals.

    CBS the Worst Network: By embracing the highest percentage of job loss stories and the lowest percentage of stories about job gains, CBS presented a skewed picture of employment. Reporter Trish Regan’s July 20 broadcast was one of the year’s worst. After a quote from Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan about “sustained economic growth,” she undermined it. “But his sunny forecast isn’t being felt on the factory floor – Kodak cutting up to 10,000; Hewlett-Packard 14,500 layoffs – or on the streets, where reality trumps forecasts.” Despite those numbers, the overall economic picture doesn’t reflect Regan’s “reality.”

    ABC the Best: ABC presented the highest percentage of stories about job gains of all three networks. In addition, “World News Tonight” did nearly as many stories about jobs gained as a result of the transportation bill as it did about jobs lost due to the military base cutbacks.