The nation is nearing a “fiscal cliff” of huge tax hikes and major cuts in government. It’s all the result of a debt deal  made between the Obama administration and Republicans in Congress.
But in the six months leading up to the presidential election, that wasn’t how the media portrayed it. Instead, they blamed Congress – specifically Republicans in Congress. ABC, CBS and NBC exclusively blamed Congress 16 times more than President Obama for the “fiscal cliff” in the six months prior to the election (16 stories to one story). Seven stories correctly blamed both Congress and president. Some stories blamed no one.
No surprise then, that a new Washington Post-Pew poll  shows “53 percent are inclined to blame Republicans in Congress” over the issue.
Many economists on both sides of the aisle argue that going over the fiscal cliff could cause the U.S. economy to slide back into a recession. It would spell an end to the payroll tax cuts, no fix on the Alternative Minimum Tax and a tax hike  for “most Americans.” Yet those issues weren’t enough to make the issue a key part of the campaign, even when Obama said during the Oct. 22 debate that the budget cuts “will not happen .”
CBS summed up its view on the CBS “Evening News” Oct. 20: blame Congress. “If Congress does nothing, the fiscal cliff will come at midnight on December 31st,” said business and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis.
Of the three networks, only CBS gave the “fiscal cliff” any serious consideration from May 1 through October 31 on its morning or evening news shows. The network had 23 stories and four brief mentions. Unfortunately, CBS used that coverage to blame the GOP most of the time. The network blamed Congress and Republicans in close to half of those stories (12 out of 27).
On May 4, CBS “This Morning,” anchor Charlie Rose made sure to blame Congress by mentioning it three times in one sentence. “And, is Congress prepared, I mean, when you talk to people in the business community they believe Congress will act on this or do they believe that this dysfunction that has pervaded Congress will continue?” he asked Jarvis.
It was the same theme on July 16, on the same show, when Norah O’Donnell asked how is Obama “going to break the fever and break the stalemate if Republicans hold on to the House and they might win the Senate?”
When the two political parties gathered Oct. 9, to discuss the fiscal cliff, CBS mentioned that group included both the architects of the Simpson-Bowles budget compromise. Only they didn’t mention that Obama had rejected that compromise. They blamed “Congress.”
According to The Hill , Treasury Sec. Timothy Geithner explained why the Obama administration did not embrace Simpson-Bowles. “Geithner, under heavy fire from the Senate Budget Committee, said the Obama administration “did not feel” it could embrace it because the cuts to defense were too deep and the reforms to Social Security relied too much on benefit cuts.”
CBS repeatedly relied on liberals and Democrats to discuss the “fiscal cliff” by more than 2-to-1. The people the network turned too read like a Who’s Who of the left. Treasury Secretary Geithner, then candidate, now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), economist Mark Zandi, who aided the Obama campaign, former President Bill Clinton, David Rubenstein, and the billionaire head of the Carlyle Group who The New York Times  called “a lifelong Democrat.”
In a September 4, CBS “This Morning” interview, Warren naturally complained that Republicans were “obstructionists” and that they could “dig their heels in and simply declare that a Democratic president is going to be a failure.”
CBS also had Obama supporter Colin Powell blaming Congress, too, on the Oct. 25, “This Morning.” “This is something put in place by Congress,” he said of the fiscal cliff and blamed the institution for “many of the problems we have now.”
Even when CBS “Evening News” decided to interview two Republicans for its July 16, fiscal cliff story, it relied on one who blamed the GOP. Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell came out against the conservative pledge not to raise taxes. “Certainly, in my view, the pledge has worked against finding common ground,” he said.
NBC covered the “fiscal cliff” nine times – five stories and four mentions – blaming Congress solely in four of those. NBC’s “Today” anchor Matt Lauer also blamed Congress during his Oct. 10, description of the fiscal cliff. “If Congress fails to act by the end of the year, a package of tax increases and spending cuts threatens to throw the country back into recession,” he said.
Financial Editor Jean Chatzky did explain that the cost of such a failure would range from $400 for the lowest 20 percent of earners to $120,000 for high-income earners.
ABC gave the whole issue short shrift. One of the most compelling comments came from an undecided voter on the Aug. 19, “World News Sunday.” “For me, the fiscal cliff is very startling to me and very scary.” ABC called the cliff “looming” or “approaching” but its own information about the issue was neither. During those six months ABC did no detailed stories about it and only mentioned it five times.