Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Americans are sour on Biden's handling of the economy. The media may be to blame

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to find out tomorrow how much prices rose in December, but the expectation is very little. As far as the economy goes, the picture looks brighter than it has for years. Unemployment is low, very low, yet Americans are currently pretty sour about the economy and the Biden administration's handling of it. And now there's some evidence to suggest that one factor may be the media. NPR's David Folkenflik joins us to walk us through why that may be the case. David, good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So, David, look, you know, watch the news, read the headlines - it's Anxiety City out there.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look, there are two baskets, right? There's the disingenuous and the discouraging. Disingenuous over on Fox News - much of the time with a Democrat like Joe Biden in the White House, anything that goes wrong is going to be Joe Biden's fault, and almost anything that Joe Biden does is going to be wrong. So part of that has to be the hardening of ideological and partisan loyalties, especially on the right, the Fox News effect. But let's not just attribute it only to Fox News. There's hardcore Twitter users and the like. But that said, Michel, the mainstream outlets like The New York Times and CNN and all the rest - they're hardly doing the Biden campaign's bidding. It's often the equivalent of doomscrolling.

MARTIN: Say more about that.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look, here's a copy of The New York Times I have in front of me. The front of the business section from the other day - it's a big story. It takes over got to be at least three quarters of the front page of the business section. It says, will America's good news over fading inflation last? Another might - question might be will America's good news be covered as good news? But for a long time the story has been - I'm talking in broad strokes here - since the economy is so good, why do people feel so bad? More recently it feels like it's become if the economy is so good, are those good times about to come to an end? It's a lot easier to cover discouragement than uplift. But people are spending as though they think things are OK, and yet you're seeing all these big spreads on inflation fears or worries stocks could plunge at any time. It just feels like a palpable anxiety.

MARTIN: So, David, why do you think there is this gap between what the big economic indicators are showing and the nature of the coverage that we're seeing?

FOLKENFLIK: Look, the pandemic truly was a shock, and a lot of people are still hurting. But let's pause here. Unemployment has been below 4% for about two years now. That's extraordinary. Wage increase is outstripping inflation for a while now. And there are these two scholars at the Brookings Institution with a study that's just out looking at news coverage and consumer sentiment since 1980. They say the tone of news coverage about the economy has become markedly more negative over the past six years, and the sheer volume of that negative coverage has increased notably over the past three years, which coincides with the Biden presidency. So that's their conclusion. I think there's a reason that helps contribute to that, that after so much intense coverage of former President Donald Trump's outrages and indictments and incitements and impeachments, the press corps is seeking to prove it can be tough on Joe Biden, too. But I also think there is kind of this intensification that happens in a social media age and a somewhat oppositional stance that's hard to let up even when the news is good.

MARTIN: So what does all this mean?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, voters are at once absorbing from the news media and reflecting back to reporters a distrust of the economy. But there's a bitter irony here. The media has had all these tough headlines, and advertisers have believed them. So that means, despite all this incredibly low employment, there's been a recession in the media industry, in institution after institution, including our own.

MARTIN: That is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thank you so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORALLE'S "PERFECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.