The economy was pervasive in every media sector last week, ranging from filling 39% of the newshole in online news to 75% in cable news. On the cable and radio talk shows, where ideology and debate take center stage, the economy accounted for 90% of the airtime studied by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Several different but related subplots emerged. At the outset, the media narrative focused on the hardening battle lines between Democrats and Republicans. “President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner escalated their battle over the national debt on Monday pressing their arguments in a pair of prime-time television addresses…” stated a July 26 Washington Post story.
“Obama used his 15-minute address from the White House to urge ‘shared sacrifice’ in tackling the debt, calling for deep cuts in federal spending to be coupled with higher taxes on the wealthy and on large corporations,” the story said. “Boehner countered with a shorter speech from the Capitol, in which he blamed the fiscal crisis on Washington's spending and urged deep cuts to cure it.”
As deadlock appeared to deepen, some coverage began homing in on public anger. Introducing the lead story on ABC’s July 26 evening newscast, anchor Diane Sawyer talked of “Americans up in arms” with “frustration boiling over, fed up messages pouring into Congress…flooding the phone lines, crushing the websites.”
Added correspondent Jim Avila: “The masses [are] telling Washington deadlock on the nation’s debt is not acceptable.”
A second significant storyline involved turmoil in the Republican ranks as Speaker Boehner scrambled to convince his conservative colleagues of the virtues of a debt ceiling deal.
An editorial from the conservative opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal noted that “the Speaker has made mistakes in his debt negotiations.” But it added, “If conservatives defeat the Boehner plan, they'll not only undermine their House majority. They'll go far to re-electing Mr. Obama and making the entitlement state that much harder to reform.”
As the week wore on, the media also began reporting on the problems Obama was having with unhappy liberals in his party.
On the morning of July 31, just hours before the agreement, the New York Times reported that “however the debt limit showdown ends…President Obama has moved rightward on budget policy, deepening a rift within his party heading into the next election… Mr. Obama, seeking to appeal to the broad swath of independent voters, has adopted the Republicans' language and in some cases their policies, while signaling a willingness to break with liberals on some issues.”
In the aftermath of the deal between Obama and the GOP, that narrative is likely to continue for a while.