Substantive Policy Takes Back Seat to Raw Politics

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jessica Levin (202) 772-8162
jlevin@mediamatters.org

Substantive Policy Takes Back Seat to Raw Politics

A look back at the media's coverage of the recovery package

WASHINGTON - 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

###

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

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