Networks Air 4-to-1 Favorable Coverage of Minimum Wage Hikes in 2015

When it comes to raising the minimum wage, networks minimize balance and maximize bias.

After a year of protests clamoring for a $15 minimum wage, Christian Science Monitor reported that 14 states and several cities increased minimum wages or planned to in 2016. Several more cities and states are expected to consider a $15 minimum wage with ballot or legislative initiatives, according to USA Today.

Throughout 2015, the networks covered Americans’ wages many times. Predictably, those stories favored wage increases and often failed to mention possible negative consequences. Anchors cheered “Go, Dan Price” and “hats off” for the CEO who raised the salary of all his employees to $70,000 a year. Others stories prodded liberal politicians to chime in about wages, or interviewed multiple protesters clamoring for wage increases.

The proof that the three networks favored wage increases was obvious by who they turned to as sources in their stories. CBS, ABC, and NBC morning and evening shows included four times as many pro-wage hike opinions as wage hike critics (41 to 10).

The most egregious story came from Nightly News on April 15. It showed hundreds of “Fight for $15” protesters in B-roll footage from around the country. Reporter Stephanie Gosk’s story included seven voices for wage hikes (including five groups of protesters), without a smidgen of balance from the other side. Gosk even interviewed the now famous CEO of Gravity Payments Dan Price while he attended a pro-minimum wage protest.

Networks Cheer Dan Price ‘Boss of the Year’ for $70,000 Salary Floor

It was audacious and outrageous, but the networks reacted with praise when CEO of Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price announced he’d set a $70,000 minimum salary for all of his employees. All together, the networks spent 18 minutes, 44 seconds praising Price’s decision.

CBS’s This Morning Host Gayle King cheered, “Oh, such a nice thing. Go, Dan Price!” ABC dubbed Price, “Boss of the Year,” and NBC’s Hoda Kotb said, “Hats off.” The networks aired little coverage of possible repercussions, and said nothing three months later when the New York Times reported the problems that were surfacing. Problems included employees quitting, partly due to the fact that newer employees saw their pay double while tenured employees saw little to no bump in salary.

This Morning boosted smaller pay increases at McDonald’s as well. Instead of asking about potential downsides to raising the wage, Rose prodded McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook twice about why the company had not raised wages for franchise workers. The segment ended with King and Easterbrook singing the Big Mac theme song together.

Much later, on Sep. 1, 2015, CBS reported that Walmart cut employee hours after raising its minimum wage to $9 per hour. Walmart recently announced a 6-12 percent decline in earnings for 2016, with the company’s CFO attributing 75 percent of that decline to the company’s wage hikes.

CEO of CKE Restaurants Andy Puzder noted that in a Dec. 28, op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. Pudzer used the Walmart figures to illustrate the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) conclusions that raising the federal minimum wage would actually cost low-wage workers their jobs. The February 2014 CBO report indicated that raising the wage would reduce the amount each employee contributed to their company’s profit, and literally cost employees their jobs.

CBS Gets Pushy on Wages

Much of the network bias over wages came from CBS’s This Morning, where hosts either hyped calls for higher wages or refused to challenge a guest’s promotion of wage hikes. In two different broadcasts, co-anchor Charlie Rose also prompted politicians to weigh in on the minimum wage.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told CBS viewers she wanted to fight for the middle class and referenced her book A Fighting Chance, on  April 9, 2015. Rose interjected, “But you also talk about how the minimum wage meant everything to your mother at a time in which she needed that to survive.”

Warren said the minimum wage kept her family “above water.” Rose then asked her what the number should be. “Fifteen dollars an hour?” He pressed. When Warren did not give a straight answer, Rose complained, “It’s hard to get you to be more specific.”

Rose, clearly trying to get an answer, continued, “What we’re really trying to understand is, you represent -- you really have become the voice of a wing of the Democratic Party, and maybe all of the party. And what we want to know is, where does Elizabeth Warren want to see this party go?”

While Warren’s mother may have benefitted from the minimum wage, research suggests wage hikes could hurt many people. In Oct 2014, Vice President of the Competitive Enterprise Institute Iain Murray wrote that “The overwhelming majority of empirical studies into the effects of the minimum wage find that it erodes employment.”

One of the reasons, as Murray explained, is that an employer “sees the new wage cutting into his bottom line and he chooses to do other things rather than pay a marginally effective worker more than he thinks he is worth.”

Worse, Murray explained that some of the unemployed turned to drugs and economic crime for income. “There is evidence that high minimum wage laws also increase crime because they condemn some people to chronic unemployment. Some turn to economic crime, dealing drugs, or fencing stolen goods to make ends meet, while others turn to crimes of idleness, such as vandalism and assault,” Murray wrote.

All three democratic presidential candidates (O’Malley, Clinton, and Sanders) have called for federal minimums of at least $12. Sanders is a self-described “socialist” who introduced legislation last year to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

CBS host Norah O’Donnell boosted Sanders when she interviewed Mayor of New York City Bill De Blasio on July 23, 2015. During the interview,  Rose raised the idea of a $15 minimum, and De Blasio explained that he was “working toward it every day.” O’Donnell followed up by asking, “So why not endorse Bernie Sanders?”

In 2014, the CBO did not evaluate the impact of a $15 minimum wage. The government agency calculated that raising the wage to just $10.10-an-hour would decrease company’s profit per employee by 71 percent, and cost the economy 500,000 low-wage jobs. A higher wage would almost certainly mean more jobs lost.

Rather than trying to promote Sanders, O’Donnell should have asked De Blasio tough questions about wages, such as “what level of wage increases causes jobs to be cut?”

Methodology: MRC Business searched Nexis for transcripts from ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news programs (Good Morning America, This Morning, Today, World News, Evening News and Nightly News) that contained the phrase “minimum wage.” Each story was examined to find all the people used as experts (non-network journalists) to see if they were speaking in favor of raising them minimum wage or critical of raising it.

Groups of protesters were only counted once if their chanting was clearly audible, unless one individual said something on his or her own, then that person was counted as one voice. The count did not include various protesters speaking in the background. MRC Business found 41 people or groups of protesters promoted raising wages while just 10 were against raises.

Sam Dorman
Sam Dorman
Sam Dorman Staff Writer