Substantive Policy Takes Back Seat to Raw Politics in the Media

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)– As President Obama signs the economic recovery package into law, Media Matters for America looks back at how the media too often let politics drive the debate and failed to give the public an accurate and honest assessment of what is in the legislation. Since Obama took office, Media Matters has relentlessly debunked numerous myths and falsehoods in the media’s coverage of the economic recovery package and today released a video detailing some of the most ridiculous attacks. The video on the media’s coverage of the recovery package can be viewed here:

YouTube | Quicktime

“The media’s coverage of the economic recovery package was nothing short of abysmal. Not only were Republican talking points and outrageous claims by conservative media repeated as fact, but the debate on the Sunday shows and cable news was virtually devoid of actual economists,” said Erikka Knuti, a spokeswoman for Media Matters.

“When it was first realized the nation was facing an economic crisis, the media had an opportunity to stage a serious, substantive debate about economic policy,” Knuti said. “However, with economists accounting for a mere 5 percent of guest appearances during discussions of the recovery package, that debate more closely resembled a political side show.”

“In the coming months the country will need to address a number of other challenges including a housing crisis, global warming, health care, and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One can only hope that the media will have an intelligent conversation that is less about politics and more focused on how these issues affect the entire country,” added Knuti.

Some lowlights of the media’s coverage of the economic recovery package include:

FAILING TO FEATURE ECONOMISTS DURING RECOVERY DEBATE

A Media Matters study of Sunday talk shows and cable news programs from January 25 through February 8 found that economists made up only 25 guest appearances out of 460 – only 5 percent – during the 139 ½ hours of programming in which the recovery package was discussed.

JUMPING ON AN INCOMPLETE LEAKED CBO REPORT

In January, Media Matters noted several media figures falsely suggesting that a partial Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the economic recovery plan was in fact a full analysis of the bill and falsely suggesting that in that analysis, the CBO found that, in the words of The Washington Post, “the majority of the money in the Democratic plan would not get spent within the first year and a half.” According to the CBO’s most recent analysis of the entire bill, 74.2 percent of the total package would be spent within 19 months.

MISLEADING COVERAGE ON NEW DEAL

In December, Media Matters documented columnists Mona Charen and George Will cherry-picking unemployment figures to assert that the New Deal did not reduce unemployment, continuing a trend among conservative media of attacking the New Deal and President Roosevelt in an attempt to discredit Obama’s stimulus plan. Both Charen and Will ignored that unemployment fell every year of the New Deal except during the 1937-38 recession and that economists have said that it was a reversal of New Deal policies that contributed to rising unemployment in 1937-38. This cherry-picking of data continued as Obama’s economic recovery package moved through the legislative process, with a number of conservative media figures making similar claims.

AMPLIFYING REPUBLICAN FALSEHOOD ON ACORN

Echoing “fast facts” released by House Minority Leader John Boehner’s office, a number of media figures falsely suggested that $4.19 billion of the stimulus would go to ACORN, referring to the $4.19 billion in the bill for “neighborhood stabilization activities.” This falsehood persisted after the Conference bill was released (except now purportedly appropriating only $2 billion). As Media Matters documented, the bill does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding. Moreover, ACORN has denied that it is eligible for “neighborhood stabilization funds,” and has stated that it does not intend to apply for them.

FALLING INTO A REPUBLICAN MOUSE TRAP

Many in the conservative media eagerly advanced the false claim that the economic recovery package contained $30 million to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district. The story was traced back to an email from a Republican staffer that said an unnamed federal agency, when asked how it would spend its share of the stimulus money, said that $30 million would go toward wetland restoration – including work to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse. That same staffer later conceded that “[t]here is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project.”

PROPOGATING HEALTH IT FALSEHOOD SPEARHEADED BY RUSH LIMBAUGH

The week that Congress voted on the Conference version of the economic recovery package, Media Matters documented Rush Limbaugh leading several conservative media outlets in parroting former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey’s falsehood that a provision in the House-passed version of the bill grants the government authority to “monitor treatments” or restrict what “your doctor is doing” with regard to patient care. In fact, the provision in question contained no such language. It grants authority to establish an electronic records system so that doctors can access complete and accurate medical information “to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care.”

FALSELY CLAIMING UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS ELIGIBLE FOR TAX CREDIT

Following a Drudge Report headline reading “HILL REPUBLICAN: STIMULUS GIVES CASH TO ILLEGALS,” Media Matters documented several examples of the media falsely claiming that undocumented immigrants without Social Security numbers could be eligible for tax credits included in the economic recovery package. In fact, the legislation specifically disqualifies anyone without “a social security number issued to an individual by the Social Security Administration” from eligibility for the Making Work Pay tax credits. The Drudge Report headline had linked to an Associated Press article that cited a single anonymous “top Republican congressional official,” and the article was amended four hours later, making clear that the GOP official’s claim was false. Even after this correction, several media figures and outlets repeated the falsehood.

For further information about the media’s coverage of the economic recovery package, please visit
http://mediamatters.org/issues_topics/economic_recovery

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Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Media Matters for America is the first organization to systematically monitor the media for conservative misinformation every day, in real time. For more information, visit www.mediamatters.org