Upside Down Economics

Despite much better economy, networks blamed President Bush more than President Obama for financial troubles.

The MRC’s Business and Media Institute examined Nexis transcripts from ABC, NBC and CBS, morning and evening news programs, from Sept. 1-30, 2004 and Sept. 1-30, 2012. The search was for news reports containing any of the terms: “economy,” “recession,” “gas prices,” “consumer confidence,” “GDP,” “gross domestic product,” “employment,” “debt,” or “deficit.”

BMI analyzed 392 stories and news briefs from those two periods that mentioned the terms in context of the U.S. economic situation. Briefs were included in the count because economic data often received only a sentence or two from a news anchor, rather than a full story. 


The Business and Media Institute offers a series of recommendations for the media in an effort to help journalists provide more balanced reporting on the economy, especially during a heated election season. Those recommendations include: 

  • Don't Spin the Economy: Reporters should be embarrassed over their glee at the prospect of iPhone sales boosting GDP, the same month they barely mentioned that economic growth was downgraded from 1.7 percent to 1.3 percent. They should also be ashamed of refusing to talk about sustained high gasoline prices under Obama, after years of predicting $4, $5 and $6 gasoline under Bush. Networks should drop the spin and tell negative stories negatively, and positive ones positively.
  • Be Consistent: If 5.4 percent unemployment was bad for Bush, shouldn’t 8.1 percent unemployment have been an even bigger problem facing Obama? Economic data should be treated consistently regardless of who is president. If the number discredits a Republican administration, it should also discredit a Democrat.
  • Mention Economic Data More Often and Make it Relatable: One of the sad facts about network coverage of economics is how little there is of it. In both time periods, there was little coverage of GDP, the labor participation rate and consumer confidence. The networks should try harder to talk about these data points, not with a one sentence anchor read, but with an explanation of what those numbers mean or reflect about our nation’s economy.