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STUDY: Media Campaign Coverage Almost Never Addresses Poverty

By Jeff Spross  

"STUDY: Media Campaign Coverage Almost Never Addresses Poverty"

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The Census Bureau recently found that the poverty rate stalled at 15 percent in 2011, unchanged from the year before, when analysts had expected an increase. That still means, however, that one in six Americans are living in poverty — a level the country has only briefly reached twice since 1970.

The bad news is that poverty remains virtually invisible in the media, particularly when it comes to campaign coverage, according to a new study from Extra!, the magazine published by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting:

Extra! looked at six months of campaign coverage (1/1/12–6/23/12) by eight prominent news outlets: CBS Evening News, ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, PBS NewsHour and NPR’s All Things Considered, and the print editions of the New York Times, Washington Post and Newsweek. [...]

FAIR’s study found poverty barely registers as a campaign issue. Just 17 of the 10,489 campaign stories studied (0.2 percent) addressed poverty in a substantive way. Moreover, none of the eight outlets included a substantive discussion of poverty in as much as 1 percent of its campaign stories.

Discussions of poverty in campaign coverage were so rare that PBS NewsHour had the highest percentage of its campaign stories addressing poverty—with a single story, 0.8 percent of its total. ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, NPR’s All Things Considered, and Newsweek ran no campaign stories substantively discussing poverty.

If the search was widened to include non-substantive as well as substantive mentions of the issue, that figure rose to 3 percent. If the search was expanded further to include mentions of “poverty,” “low income,” “homeless,” “welfare” or “food stamps,” it got to 10 percent. Meanwhile, “debt” and “deficit” were mentioned 18 percent of the time.

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