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The Censorship Election

How the Broadcast Networks Buried the Bad News That Threatened Barack Obama's Quest for a Second Term

In spite of massive government spending, which liberals in 2009 confidently predicted would revive the economy, a record 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty when 2012 began, more than two and a half years after the economic “recovery” supposedly began. That’s 6.4 million more impoverished Americans than in 2008, the final year of the Bush administration, an increase of 16 percent.

At the same time, monthly statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed increasing numbers of Americans forced to rely on Food Stamps, rising to more than 47 million Americans before Election Day, 15 million more than the highest number recorded during the Bush years (in January 2009), and six million more than in June 2010, when Vice President Biden announced the country was beginning a “summer of recovery.”

These statistics highlighted the social damage being caused by the terrible economy facing Americans in 2012. But on the three broadcast evening newscasts, the poor were practically invisible — hiding a potential public relations problem for a presidential re-election campaign that kept insisting the economic recovery was well underway.

From January 1 through Election Day, no reporter on ABC’s World News ever brought up the dire statistics about poverty and food stamps (although two stories included quick soundbites from Mitt Romney mentioning the high percentages of Americans in poverty). On the CBS Evening News, five stories included the deplorable statistics, including three profiles of families “struggling to get by,” while the NBC Nightly News aired two such stories.

In total, the evening newscasts discussed the depths of America’s poverty crisis just seven times in a little more than ten months — virtual silence, by TV news standards. And not a single one of these stories associated the rising poverty with President Obama, let alone suggested any blame resided in the failure of the policies he and other liberal Democrats had touted as the prescription for economic revival.

In a February 24 Evening News report, CBS’s Elaine Quijano, for example, talked about the “record 46 million Americans now on food stamps, an increase of 20 million people since the Great Recession in 2007,” but she, like all of her network cohorts, failed to wonder why the numbers were still rising after three years of expensive “stimulus.”

On September 12, NBC’s Brian Williams introduced a report on new Census statistics by correctly pointing out how the “numbers on the economy and poverty in America are both stunning and sad, especially what they say about the once-great American middle class.” But that story, too, treated the statistics as merely a sociological fact of life after the financial collapse, not an indictment of the liberal policies that promised to improve the situation.

The networks’ shielding of President Obama from blame contrasts with their eagerness to tweak Republican candidate Mitt Romney when he stumbled in an interview with CNN back on February 1, 2012. In a remark designed to show his interest in helping middle class voters, Romney said he was “not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there.”

Network reporters pounced on that “gaffe,” which was featured in nine stories on the ABC, CBS and NBC newscasts over the next several weeks, all critical of Romney. NBC’s Peter Alexander claimed the comment “seemed to show indifference to the poor,” while ABC’s David Muir suggested it would help cast “Romney as a wealthy businessman out of touch.”

As a campaign issue, Romney’s verbal stumble on the topic of poverty was given greater prominence than the real-world poverty crisis which unfolded during the Obama years. The only difference was, network reporters punished Romney for his ineloquence, but failed to ever scrutinize the President whose record included astonishing levels of poverty and record numbers of Americans requiring food assistance from their own government.