#9 Millions in Poverty Get Less Media Coverage Than Billionaires Do

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

In June 2014, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) published a study showing that ABC World News, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News give more media coverage to the 482 billionaires in the US than to the fifty million people in poverty, airing almost four times as many stories that included the term “billionaire” as stories including terms such as “homeless” or “welfare.”

“The notion that the wealthiest nation on Earth has one in every six of its citizens living at or below the poverty threshold reflects not a lack of resources, but a lack of policy focus and attention—and this is due to a lack of public awareness to the issue,” Frederick Reese of MintPress News wrote.

The FAIR study showed that between January 2013 and February 2014, an average of only 2.7 seconds per every twenty-two-minute episode discussed poverty in some format. During the fourteen-month study, FAIR found just twenty-three news segments that addressed poverty. Those segments featured fifty-four sources, only twenty-two of which were people personally affected by poverty. “That means, on average, someone affected by poverty appeared on any nightly news show only once every 20 days,” FAIR reported.

Television news coverage of the rich was not only four times more frequent, but also “painted them in a favorable light,” according to the study. For instance, during an August 2013 segment of NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams explained that billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos were purchasing newspapers “because they believe in quality work and a robust press.” (As questionable as it may have been at the time, Williams’s assessment becomes rather ironic in light of his own travails in journalistic credibility.)

In March 2014, Tavis Smiley reported that “poverty represents less than 0.02 percent of lead media coverage.” His article focused on how the media could increase the “quantity and quality of coverage of this crucial issue.” Smiley’s recommendations included calling on media to “promote our collective appreciation of the inherent values we all share in alleviating domestic poverty.” He asked, “Are we really telling the diversity of stories among the 50 million people impacted by poverty?”

“There is no legitimate justification for ignoring a story affecting tens of millions of our most vulnerable, under any circumstances,” said FAIR’s Steve Rendall. Nevertheless, the disproportionate amount of airtime corporate media have allotted to covering billionaires has—perhaps not surprisingly—not been covered by the corporate press.

Steve Rendall, Emily Kaufmann, and Sara Qureshi, “Even GOP Attention Can’t Make Media Care about Poor,” Extra!, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, June 1, 2014, http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/even-gop-attention-cant-make-media-care-about-poor/.

“Millions in Poverty Get Less Coverage Than 482 Billionaires,” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, June 26, 2014, http://fair.org/press-release/millions-in-poverty-get-less-coverage-than-482-billionaires/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millions-in-poverty-get-less-coverage-than-482-billionaires.

Frederick Reese, “Billionaires Get More Media Attention Than The Poor,” MintPress News, June 30, 2014, http://www.mintpressnews.com/billionaires-get-media-attention-poor/193174/.

Tavis Smiley, “Poverty Less Than .02 Percent of Lead Media Coverage,” Huffington Post, March 7, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tavis-smiley/-poverty-less-than-02-of_b_4921119.html.

Student Researchers: Feather Flores and Susanne Boden (Pomona College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)