August 19, 2022

Economix: Media Culpa? Coverage of Jobs vs. Deficit



Dollars to doughnuts.

I’ve suggested several different explanations for why the jobs crisis has gotten so little attention in Washington, especially compared to the deficit. In response, a lot of frustrated readers e-mailed me to argue that I’d left out one other explanation: the media. Major news organizations have devoted much more air time, ink and pixels to America’s debt concerns than to the 14-million-person army of jobless workers, they argued.

As a reader named Cindy writes:

If any of these big media conglomerates really cared about the millions of people that are being tossed like road kill, they would be doing something to help us organize and give us the coverage we need to be heard once and for all.

Another reader, Virgil, writes:

People hear in the media that it is not that bad out there, so they turn on their friends that are unemployed and call them deadbeats and state that their taxes are so high because they have to pay for those that won’t get a job.

Complaints about media coverage do appear to be supported by a cursory review of articles from the last two years.

In May, the National Journal published a report on economic coverage in the five largest newspapers in the country by print circulation: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and The Washington Post. They did this by searching for the words “unemployment” and “deficit” (excluding articles that also used the words “Europe,” “European,” “Greece” or “Greek”). This was not the most scientific (or comprehensive) study ever conducted, but it did show that over the last two years, the number of articles on “unemployment” had fallen while those on the “deficit” had exploded.

One can argue about the extent to which policy makers guide news coverage, and whether news coverage guides policy makers. Whichever way (or ways) you think that relationship works, it appears that both Washington and news organizations have been emphasizing long-term debt reduction over near-term job growth.

That balance may change, though, in light of Friday’s weak employment report, and as more workers exhaust their jobless benefits.

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