Networks Delay Spending Bill Coverage
President Trump just overcame another high-pressure challenge: a government shutdown if Congress couldn’t agree on a spending bill.
Government funding expired April 28 which coincided with Trumps hundredth day in office.
The administration aimed to fulfill key campaign promises before time ran out on the first 100 days. These included securing money for the proposed border wall and increasing military spending.
But the nightly news wasn’t talking about it.
When lawmakers returned to Washington from recess, they had just four days to craft a plan. As CBS pointed out in its April 14 broadcast, constituents of both parties are unhappy with Congress.
CBS Correspondent Nancy Cordes covered lawmakers facing backlash in town hall meetings.
“In Mesa, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake weathered two and a half hours of fury over everything from the GOP’s attempts to kill Obamacare,” Cordes said, cutting to a clip of Flake.
Flake began: “I think the free market system –“ but was interrupted by boos.
Then Cordes continued, “to President Trump’s pricey trips to Mar-a-Lago.”
“You control his spending. That’s your job!” yelled a constituent at Flake’s town hall.
“One of the biggest flashpoints has been a law signed by the president yesterday allowing states to cut off funding for clinics that provide abortions,” Cordes said.
“Why it’s your right to take away my right to choose Planned Parenthood,” asked one town hall-goer.
“The issue has cropped up at Democratic town halls too,” Cordes reported.
“By supporting the largest abortion provider in this state and this nation, you are supporting an intrinsic evil,” a constituent told Sen. Claire McCaskill.
CBS provided no context about the budget negotiations or a potential shutdown — or how a shutdown could compound constituent anger. ABC and NBC did not cover Capitol Hill during recess.
Breaking news out of Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea dominated the nightly broadcasts the last few weeks, possibly delaying budget coverage.
Is the possible government shutdown on April 28 a story the networks should have been covering in advance? Should CBS have provided greater context on the current state of Capitol Hill than it did in Cordes’ package?
Matt Storin, former editor of The Boston Globe, and Vivian Schiller, former executive at NPR, NBC and Twitter weighed in.
“The budget deadline is a big deal, but I can’t tell you it’s more important than Syria, Afghanistan or North Korea or even the issues that members of Congress are facing at home,” Schiller said. “It’s not like we’re talking about dedicating coverage instead to the Starbucks Unicorn [Frappuccino].”
Storin said Cordes’ story lacked significance.
“I think it was entertaining to see these Congressional types under fire and it made for lively video, but at the end what did it tell us?” Storin asked. “There was not enough context to know how representative these town meetings were of national sentiment generally.”
Overall though, he agrees with waiting to cover the budget deadline.
“For one thing, members of Congress have been back in their home districts and the reaction they got while there will presumably influence their decisions on the shutdown,” he said. “It made sense, then, to hold off reporting until the post-recess period.”
Storin said this points to a broader trend amongst audiences.
“Perhaps I am needlessly negative on this but I think American voters (and viewers) have short attention spans and you might as well wait until now to tackle the shutdown,” he added. “When it comes to issues that must be negotiated, and this is one, things really change as the deadline nears. Anything earlier would have just been speculation.”