Networks Paint Bush Economy As Bleak No Matter What The Facts Really Say

Networks Paint Bush Economy As Bleak No Matter What The Facts Really Say
Medias bad news bears deliver negative news 62 percent of the time despite economic expansion.

By Amy Menefee
August 17, 2005

    Economic news heavily negative: Coverage of economic news on the three broadcast networks was negative 62 percent of the time, despite ongoing good news of more jobs, low unemployment and economic growth.
    Good news undermined: Even when good news made it to viewers, journalists undermined it with bad news 45 percent of the time.
    Negative stories given more air time: Good news stories were relegated to briefs roughly two thirds of the time. Negative news received longer stories and outnumbered positive stories by almost 4-to-1 in that category.

     Which do you want first the good news or the bad?

     The good news is that the economy is strong and growing. The bad news is the news about the economy.

     The federal deficit is shrinking, unemployment has fallen, and America has seen more than two straight years of job growth. But broadcasters have been describing the economy as dicey, volatile and slow. A Business & Media Institute analysis of economic stories on network evening news shows since President George W. Bushs second inauguration showed negative news prevailing 62 percent of the time (71 out of 115 stories). That number was deceiving, however, because even good news often was portrayed as bad. In 40 stories classified as good economic news, journalists undermined the good news with bad 45 percent of the time.

     Good news was relegated to short reports, or briefs, 68 percent of the time, while bad news was treated with full stories. When briefs on both sides were excluded, the comparison of full-length news stories showed an overwhelming ratio: negative stories outnumbered positive ones almost 4-to-1.

     NBCs Nightly News illustrated the reporting trend with a glaring disparity between its Aug. 15 stories. Anchor Brian Williams took about 25 seconds to tell the brief good news of the federal deficit reduction, which he admitted was due to higher-than-expected revenues and a steadily growing economy. Immediately, however, he led into another story warning of financial hardship for all, coming from rising gas prices and that story went on for more than two and a half minutes. Reporter Martin Savidge asked, How long til the economy as a whole feels it?

     Journalists werent consistent from one report to the next. On the April 26 CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer said, Americans are getting a little concerned about where the economy is headed. That was just before he reported that new homes were selling at the fastest pace on record.

     Amidst the confusion, network news has been devoting far more time to gloomy and often unfounded predictions than to real news that is positive. ABCs Betsy Stark went so far as to predict a slowdown in the economy three days before a jobs report that delivered 270,000 new jobs, coming in far above projections.

     On the July 20 CBS Evening News, Trish Regan found a voice for the medias economic deathwatch mentality. She went to the streets, where, as she put it, reality trumps forecasts. Her man in the street articulated the news shows recurring view of the economy: Its very tenuous. It could fall apart at any moment. One bad piece of news, one additional terrorist attack, one negative corporate earnings, and it goes right down again.