Broadcast networks barely covered the skyrocketing national debt in the past year, but spent far more time on toy animals called Hatchimals. ABC and NBC gave the toy sensation three times more coverage than the debt.
As of Jan. 9, the United States’ national debt was nearly $20 trillion ($19,955,343,885,377.73), according to the Treasury Department. The rising debt, according to multiple sources, threatens economic growth and fiscal stability.
But ABC and NBC evening news programs barely covered that issue. Between Jan. 9, 2016 and Jan. 9, 2017, those networks spent only 124 seconds on the national debt compared to 363 seconds (almost four minutes more) on the “toy hysteria” surrounding Hatchimals. The two networks spent more time on the “sold-out hottest toy,” in one month than they did on the national debt for an entire year.
Worse, none of the networks’ stories touched on the debt’s consequences for economic growth. Instead, most of the network’s stories mentioned debt in the context of attacks on President-Elect Donald Trump. And guests on evening news shows, not reporters or anchors, often brought up the topic. On the other hand, networks devoted several stories just to Hatchimals.
ABC World News Tonight spent the least amount of time on the national debt, with only 45 seconds. Hatchimals received the most hype on NBC Nightly News, which saw the greatest discrepancy in debt vs. Hatchimals coverage. Nightly News spent nearly two and a half minutes more on the fuzzy toys (228 seconds) than it did on the national debt (149 seconds).
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Part of that 228 seconds included a story from NBC News Correspondent Kevin Tibbles, who suggested that parents sought Hatchimals with the same fervor as pilgrims seeking the Holy Grail.
“Way too cold and way too early, yet here they come. Not pilgrims seeking the Holy Grail, but parents in search of one of these things: a Hatchimal,” Tibbles said during the Dec. 8, 2016, broadcast.
That 119 second story was the longest of any other evening news stories on Hatchimals.
CBS Evening News completely ignored Hatchimals and spent 92 seconds on the national debt.
Nets Ignore Debt’s Potential Impact on Economic Growth
Evening news shows spent plenty of time covering furry animals, but completely ignored President Barack Obama’s impact on the debt and the debt’s impact on economic growth.
When ABC and NBC did report on debt, it almost always reported on attacks on then-Republican nominee Donald Trump. Nightly News, for example, showed clips of both Republican and Democratic politicians criticizing Trump’s economic agenda for the amount of debt it would create.
Those networks missed the fact that the U.S. already surpassed debt to GDP ratios that economists said hurt economic growth.
Acton Institute Research Director Samuel Gregg reported on Jan. 5, that America’s public debt amounted to roughly 107 percent of nominal economic growth or gross domestic product. That was much higher than the 85 and 90 percent Gregg said economists use as benchmarks for when debt slowed economic growth.
According to Gregg, high debt and slower economic growth would have a ripple effect on multiple economic indicators including job and wage growth and living standards. He concluded his blog on The Stream, arguing that “excessive public debt is one of those long-term problems that undermine a country’s well-being.”
Gregg also highlighted the fiscal impact of high national debt. Because low economic growth produced less tax revenue, it would be more difficult for a nation to pay off its debt.
Mercatus Center Senior Research Fellow Veronique De Rugy agreed that high debt could have adverse consequences for the economy and for the country’s fiscal situation. She warned that rather than having a debt crisis, the U.S. could experience a “slow trend toward slow growth.” That slow trend would preclude a catastrophic event that might provoke public officials to take action.
Under President Barack Obama, the debt soared by $9 trillion, nearly doubing, according to CNS News. In October of 2016, CNS reported that the debt rose from $10,626,877,048,913.08 to more than $19 trillion under President Obama’s watch. But you wouldn’t have heard about Obama’s contribution on Nightly News or World News Tonight.
University of Maryland economist Peter Morici argued that media outlets biased their coverage of the debt and deficit based on which party was in power. “The media doesn’t cover the deficit fairly. It basically covers it in a way to to paper over the indiscretions of the party it’s supporting when it’s in power and to criticize the indiscretions of the party it doesn’t support when it’s in power,” Morici said.
The media’s reporting on the debt fit a pattern of protecting the party that aligned with its ideology when that party was in power. ABC and NBC fluffed their broadcasts with animated hatchlings rather than highlighting how debt under President Barack Obama threatened the country’s fiscal and economic future.
Methodology: MRC Business searched Nexis and video archives for mentions of the word “debt” and “Hatchimal” from Jan. 9, 2016 to Jan. 9, 2017. If a story mentioned either of those topics, MRC Business tallied the number of seconds used for that topic in the broadcast.