Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report which finds that “the media ignores ordinary workers and instead covers economic issues from the perspective of business.”
Wednesday’s Washington Post article on why Americans are “gloomier than the economy” exemplifies this trend. The reporter, Neil Irwin, sets out to prove that the economy is not as bad as most Americans believe:
Ask Americans how the economy is doing, and their answer is stark: It is not just bad, it is run-for-the-hills terrible…But the reality is different…This has left economists trying to figure out why Americans’ perceptions are so much more negative than the data analysts use to measure how things are going.
But, Irwin’s reliance on elite economic sources and his disregard for the views and opinions of average working class Americans provides little insight into “Americans’ perceptions.” While Irwin’s five economic sources speculate on why Americans feel “gloomier,” by avoiding talking to a single ordinary worker, the article fails to mention that incomes for most workers have declined since 2001, that healthcare and retirement benefits have become scarcer and more expensive, and that inequality has risen to unprecedented levels.
Unfortunately, this type of coverage is the norm, not the exception. According to the report, which looked at newspaper and television coverage of unemployment, minimum wage, trade, and credit card debt issues in 2007, “the perspective of workers is largely missing from media coverage, while the views of business are frequently presented”:
- Representatives of business were quoted or cited nearly two-and-a-half times as frequently as were workers or their union representatives.
- In coverage of both the minimum wage and trade, the views of businesses were sourced more than one-and-a-half times as frequently as those of workers.”
- In stories about employment, “businesses were quoted or cited over six times as frequently as were workers.”
- Only in coverage of credit card debt “was coverage more balanced, presenting the perspectives of ordinary citizens in the proportion as those of business.”
During a panel discussion about the report, Philip Dine, Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and author of State of the Unions, also noted the unfair language the media uses to cover labor issues:
Why do we talk about a labor dispute when it’s a labor-management dispute?…Why do we talk about labor bosses when they’re the only ones in the workplace who are elected, democratically, and can’t fire or hire people whereas the people who aren’t elected and can fire and hire, we call executives…And why do we always say unions are demanding something, during a contract situation, and companies are offering? Why don’t we switch that around say labor or union is offering to work for certain conditions but the company is demanding they accept something else?
As David Madland, author of the report and Director of CAP’s American Worker Project, argues, such bias matters. In fact, the media “has the ability to help determine which issues people think are important” and “can even influence how people vote.” Some studies have found that as Fox News expanded into new towns, these areas were increasingly likely to vote for Republican candidates,” while viewers of ABC News were “influenced to vote for Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale because Peter Jennings used more positive facial cues when talking about the president than he did about the challenger.”
Fortunately, the study’s conclusion that the media provided fairly balanced coverage of credit-card debt, suggests that it’s capable of covering economic issues more fairly. Americans deserve and should demand better.