Thanks to Congressional gridlock, automatic budget cuts took effect 14 days ago, threatening 700,000 jobs and gutting funds for vital programs in housing assistance, early childhood education, disaster relief, and national security. Secret Service staffing was also impacted, prompting the cancellation of White House tours last week. Republicans immediately attacked the decision as a political move designed to turn the public against the sequester and 14 Republican senators signed a letter demanding information.
The media has also latched on to preserve the White House tours, while largely ignoring other much more devastating sequester cuts. As Ari Melber of The Nation pointed out on Wednesday, there are 12,000 news stories concerning White House tours and less than 1,000 about the sequester’s impact on housing assistance programs, which disproportionately affect low-income Americans.
ThinkProgress examined this trend on three major cable news networks — Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC — since March 6. White House tours were mentioned 33 times as often (Fox News had 163 segments, CNN had 59, and MSNBC had 42) as mentions of other sequester impacts hitting the poor. Any discussion of sequestration’s steep cuts to housing assistance, food assistance programs, and Head Start early education was virtually nonexistent on all 3 networks in the same time frame. Fox News mentioned Head Start three times, ignoring housing and food stamps entirely; MSNBC mentioned Head Start 4 times, food stamps once, and did not cover housing assistance cuts at all. CNN stayed completely silent on all three issues:
While covering budget cuts, cable news channels have also largely avoided discussing military tuition assistance programs, which were suspended by the Marine Corps and the Army shortly after sequestration. CNN and MSNBC each mentioned the cuts to tuition assistance once since March 6, while Fox News took the lead with 11 segments.
The media’s silence on the most brutal sequester cuts is well in line with the fourth estate’s normal approach to poverty. During the 2012 presidential campaign, just .2 percent of campaign coverage by major TV, radio, and print outlets addressed poverty in any substantive way. More recently, the media mostly ignored the effects of spending cuts in the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012, preferring to discuss tax hikes instead.
In response to the highly publicized backlash over White House tours, Obama is now signalling some tours may resume.
SNAP, the main food stamp program, is actually exempt from sequestration. However, other food assistance programs have taken a hit. Because of cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), 600,000 women and children under 5 will be excluded from nutritional supplements.