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Media Fail to Stimulate Honest Debate on Economic Stimulus Package

Message Media Matters

After weeks of advancing false and dubious conservative talking points, media declare Republicans winner in the recovery message war.

Washington, DC -- While the debate on the economic recovery package has been raging on Capitol Hill, Media Matters for America has documented numerous media figures naming Republicans as the winner in the "stimulus message war."

In declaring the Republicans as the "winner," though, they have ignored the role their colleagues played in advancing conservative talking points about the economic recovery package, including falsehoods and claims that have been completely rejected by economists. Republicans have also had more than their fair share of airtime to repeat these talking points, outnumbering Democrats by a ratio of 2 to 1 on the cable news and business networks, according to Think Progress.

"With a 2-to-1 advantage in television appearances for members of Congress and a slew of commentators uncritically repeating right-wing talking points, it is not surprising that the media has declared the Republicans the 'winner' in the stimulus message war. Unfortunately, it is the American people who have lost," said Karl Frisch, a Senior Fellow at Media Matters. "It is time for the media to give the public what it deserves -- an intellectually honest debate on the economic recovery package."

Howard Kurtz, who hosts a news program about the media on CNN, claimed Republicans "did manage to take control of the [stimulus] debate." Jeanne Cummings, the Politico's chief lobbying and money correspondent, wrote that Obama is "losing [the] stimulus message war." They are far from alone: The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek have all declared Republicans as winning the message war on the economic recovery package without noting the role the media has played in advancing that message.

Additionally, ThinkProgress released two reports, analyzing the number of television appearances by Members of Congress on the cable news and business networks and found that, in recent weekday coverage, Republicans have outnumbered Democrats by a ratio of 2 to 1. In an article that discussed this advantage, Politico's Michael Calderone asserted that "with so much network attention being paid to the Obama administration -- including roughly 40 minutes a day devoted to Robert Gibbs' press briefing -- it's understandable that bookers would seek out House Republicans to provide a counterbalance."

However, Republicans have also enjoyed an advantage on the networks' influential Sunday morning talk shows going back to 1997. Two reports issued by Media Matters analyzed the political ideology of guests on those programs and found that conservative voices outweighed progressive voices -- no matter what political party held the majority.


Media Matters has documented the following examples of media echoing, repeating, or advancing variations of Republican talking points about the economic stimulus plan, many of which are false or misleading:

The bill will not stimulate the economy

  • The Associated Press
  • ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson

    Government spending in the bill is not stimulus

  • CBS Evening News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson
  • CNN contributor Carol Costello
  • ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson

    There is no reason for stimulus after a turnaround begins

  • The Wall Street Journal
  • CNBC anchor Melissa Francis and MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer

    Corporate tax rate cuts and capital gains tax rate cuts could provide substantial stimulus

  • CNBC host Erin Burnett

    Undocumented immigrants without Social Security numbers would be eligible for the "Making Work Pay" tax credit

  • The Associated Press
  • CNN host Lou Dobbs

    CBO analysis found the majority of stimulus won't take effect for at least a year and a half

  • The Washington Post
  • CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry
  • NBC senior White House correspondent Chuck Todd

    Food stamps and/or unemployment payments are not stimulus

  • CNN host Campbell Brown
  • CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi
  • MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski
  • MSNBC host Chris Matthews

    The economic recovery bill would amount to spending more than $200K per job created

  • ABC host George Stephanopoulos
  • New York Times columnist David Brooks

    Up to $4.19 billion of stimulus bill "would go to" ACORN

  • The Hill
  • San Francisco Chronicle

    Family planning provision is like China's "one-child policy"; could allow government "to regulate the amount of kids people might be in the moods for"

  • MSNBC host Chris Matthews
  • CNN commentator Jack Cafferty
  • The Wall Street Journal

    It "may take years before the stimulus plan spurs real job growth" or the plan may not "create any new jobs"

  • The Politico

    For more information on the media's coverage of the economic recovery plan, 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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