All three networks on Thursday night and Friday morning avoided key factors in the bankruptcy of Detroit, skipping the city's astronomically high tax rate and ignoring Democratic dominance for the previous half century. (Detroit's last Republican mayor left office in 1962.) Instead, ABC, NBC and CBS acted as though the bankruptcy, what Brian Williams called "the slow-moving tragedy of decline," was something that just happened.
On Good Morning America, Betty Liu gently summarized, "What happened here? Well, people have been leaving the city for years. Back in the 1950s, you had almost two million people, at the peak, living in Detroit. Now, just 700,000. So they've lost half their population." She added, "When you have fewer people living in the city, you're collecting less income and property taxes." Why are people fleeing the city? Lacking curiosity, Liu didn't bring that point up. [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
On Today, Gabe Gutierrez insisted that Detroit has "been in financial decline for decades." Like Liu on GMA, he offered the raw data, noting, "The tax base dwindled as the population plummeted from about two million in the 1950s to just 700,000 today."
But Gutierrez also claimed, "Many people saw this coming, but it still hurts." Why did people "see this coming?" The NBC journalist wouldn't offer an explanation.
Although the Today segment did not identify a clip of Democratic mayor Dave Bing, an onscreen graphic did note that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is a Republican.
The previous evening's Nightly News and World News offered similar sounding reports. On July 18, Jim Avila related:
JIM AVILA: But the Motown glory years of fast cars and soul music are long gone. Now the homicide rate is at its highest in 40 years. Dubbed murder city with 78,000 abandoned buildings, 63% of its population gone. So empty the city of Paris could fit inside the vacant space. And today the Michigan Governor announced the unavoidable. Bankruptcy.
The World News segment featured no mention of the Democratic mayor or the 50 years of one-party rule.
CBS Evening News blamed Detroit's insolvency on "its manufacturing base shrinking and its population declining." Anchor Scott Pelley didn't wonder why.
The Detroit News highlighted the city's high taxes:
Detroit ranked first among the 50 largest U.S. cities in taxes and last among property values in a 2011 study by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass. Detroit taxes on a $150,000 house were $4,885, twice the national average of $1,983.
On CBS This Morning, Norah O'Donnell at least wondered, "...Isn't this really about pensions and retiree benefits and how many working-class people will – will lose a lot of their retiree benefits?"
Highlighting what the city owes, Mellody Hobson pointed out, "Twenty thousand people, who are counting on these pensions, are going to say, 'we've already paid in. We were working and paid into the system. We're owed this money. We're owed this health care.'"
A transcript of the GMA segment, which aired at 7:11am ET on July 19, is below:
JOSH ELLIOTT: We're going to turn now to the motor city, a city in crisis this morning. As Detroit has filed for bankruptcy, becoming the largest American city ever to fold. Bloomberg anchor, ABC news contributor, Betty Liu, is here with more. And Betty, we're talking about a city that, for decades and decades, was the symbol of American corporate strength.
LIU: It is incredible. There's been no event quite like this, no city as big as Detroit that's filed for bankruptcy. What happened here? Well, people have been leaving the city for years. Back in the 1950s, you had almost two million people, at the peak, living in Detroit. Now, just 700,000. So they've lost half their population. When you have fewer people living in the city, you're collecting less income and property taxes. But you still have to pay the police, the fire department, you have got to pay into the retirement fund. Now, what does this look like? $18 billion of debt in Detroit. 78,000 empty buildings. And get this, Josh. Half the street lights, almost half the street lights in Detroit are not even working.
ELLIOTT: That's hard to believe.
LIU: It is incredible. And city officials had to make a tough choice yesterday. They were running out of money. So, they said, we need to make the choice to file for bankruptcy.
ELLIOTT: And it will be felt nationally as well. Very quickly. This is all happening as the Dow soars every higher.
LIU: This heat wave is affecting stocks. Opening at all-time highs again. There's two reasons here. One, earnings are doing well. Companies are benefitting from low interest rates. At the same time, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, he's going to continue to baby-sit this economy. And if he's going to do that, t's time to buy stocks.
ELLIOTT: Good news for some folks. Certainly not there in the state of Michigan. Betty Liu, thank you so much.
DAN HARRIS: So many questions right now about the future of the motor city, once the symbol of American industrial might. Detroit has now filed for the largest bankruptcy in its kind in American history because of $18 billion in debt. During its restructuring, city employees could face layoffs. Pensions of city retirees will likely be reduced. And there might be scaling back of services like trash collection and snow plowing, although the mayor is vowing that will not happen.