Show the Real Deal about Market Economy

By Pines, Burton Yale | Insight on the News, September 19, 1994 | Go to article overview

Show the Real Deal about Market Economy


Pines, Burton Yale, Insight on the News


While they were watching television in 1992, what kind of economic information did Americans receive?

To answer this, the staff of the Free Enterprise and Media Institute monitored and analyzed every minute of the year's ABC, CBS, Cable News Network and NBC morning and evening newscasts and newsmagazines. In addition, the FEMI staff analyzed 12 weeks' worth of 1992 prime-time entertainment television -- one week selected randomly from each month -- for plots, characters and portrayals that possibly taught an economic lesson or sent an economic message or signal. From this monitoring and analysis, unprecedented in its scope, a worrisome conclusion emerged: TV treats America's free-enterprise economy in the same way that TV treats the tarantula -- with massive distortion.

How the hapless tarantula has fared at TV's hands is described by Cornell University psychologist John Condrey in The Psychology of Television. He writes:

"We have knowledge about tarantulas [from TV].... A person who had never seen a real tarantula could still learn what they look like, could learn to discriminate tarantulas from other spiders, and a person watching films on television could learn to fear tarantulas too.... How many people know that although these are very large and photogenic spiders (making them useful for film and television), they are also quite harmless and delicate animals?

"Clearly, we learn some attitudes from television, perhaps especially about things like tarantulas where we have little or no experience."

Just as American attitudes toward the tarantula have been distorted by TV, so too has TV distorted and misrepresented the fundamentals and workings of the economy. In 1992, to a great extent network newscasts and prime-time entertainment made businesspeople, businesses, business transactions and free-enterprise principles something as fearful and as far from reality as TV's depiction of what in actuality is that hairy, large, delicate -- and harmless -- spider.

During 1992, according to the data compiled by the Free Enterprise and Media Institute, network-television viewers were about 50 percent more likely to hear a newscast segment that distorted free enterprise or was antagonistic to it than one that portrayed it accurately or was favorable to it.

In that year, network newscasts aired 68 hours and 34 minutes of economic policy and business matters. Most of this, about 56 hours and 32 minutes, was background material -- often factoids of little importance. But much of the reporting was explicitly or implicitly didactic. Of this, six hours and 59 minutes misinformed viewers about the facts or principles of the American economy and business, compared with five hours and three minutes in which the free-enterprise economy was portrayed accurately and fairly.

This meant that a random tuning-in of TV was more likely to give a viewer information that distorted or undermined free enterprise than supported it. If a viewer, for example, happened to be interested in the Los Angeles riots, he or she would have had a nearly 2-to-1 chance of hearing and seeing an inaccurate description or analysis misrepresenting free enterprise. Specifically, for every minute of 1992 newscast about health care coverage that was accurate or favorable to free enterprise, 2 minutes and 16 seconds were inaccurate and antagonistic.

The single economic issue covered most intensively in 1992 was regulation. On it, a viewer had a one-third greater chance of watching coverage that misstated free-market economic principles and facts than coverage that was accurate.

The only time that network news reporting on economic issues did not tarantualize America's free-enterprise economy was in stories dealing with taxes. For every minute of news reporting or analysis devoted to tax matters in 1992, the viewer could have heard 32 seconds accurately dealing with free-enterprise concepts, vs. …

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