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The Media's Spotty Track Record on the State of the Union

WASHINGTON - On Tuesday night, all eyes will be on President Obama as he delivers what is effectively his first State of the Union address. Media Matters for America has documented serious flaws in the media's coverage of the financial crisis and the economic recovery package. Similarly, in their coverage of recent State of the Union addresses, the media have, in numerous instances, advanced Republican talking points, and offered panels that sharply skewed conservative.

"Media Matters will closely be watching coverage of the president's speech to ensure that the media are not using Republican terminology, or unfairly stacking panels with Republicans as they have done in the past," said Erikka Knuti, a spokeswoman for Media Matters. "Regardless of who our president is or what political party holds a majority in Congress, the public deserves a balanced and diverse discussion of one the most important speeches the president of the United States gives every year."

Some of the themes Media Matters has documented in previous State of the Union coverage include:


Pre-State of the Union Hardball featured 6 Republicans, 1 Democrat

The February 2, 2005, edition of MSNBC's Hardball, which devoted the entire hour to discussing then-President Bush's State of the Union address, featured six Republican officials and pundits and one Democratic pundit.

Republicans dominated 11-2 in MSNBC's State of the Union coverage

Following President Bush's 2005 State of the Union address and the subsequent Democratic response, Republican officials and conservative pundits far outnumbered Democrats and progressives on MSNBC, which featured five Republicans and conservatives compared to only one progressive.


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In State of the Union coverage, media adopted term "personal accounts"

The media coverage and analysis of Bush's 2005 State of the Union address and the Democratic response indicated that the Bush administration's pressure on reporters -- to use the term "personal accounts" rather than "private accounts" in discussing Bush's social security privatization plan -- worked. As Media Matters noted, polling showed that the public responded less favorably to the term "private accounts," a term Bush himself used in the past.

Matthews and crew pushed Bush administration's terminology on Social Security privatization

On the February 2, 2005, edition of Hardball preceding Bush's State of the Union address, host Chris Matthews adopted Bush's preferred terminology for his plans to partially privatize Social Security by referring to "personal accounts," rather than "private accounts" or "privatization." After stumbling on the previous evening's Hardball and acquiescing to the Bush administration's pressure on the media to abandon the term "private accounts" in favor of "personal accounts," Matthews spoke again of "personal accounts" on at least four separate occasions, and then-NBC White House correspondent David Gregory also used the term. Later, then-Newsweek chief political correspondent Howard Fineman stated that Democrats "refuse to call it 'personal accounts' -- for them it's always 'private accounts.' "

For more information on the media's coverage of previous State of the Union speeches, please visit:


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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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