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ABC, NBC Evening News Shows Ignore Massive Banking Scandal For More Than A Month

Why are two major news outlets spending more time reporting on shark sightings and Tom Cruise than on a major scandal that impacts the global economy?

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American television news outlets continue to devote sparse time to one of largest banking scandals in history. The controversy over whether major banks have been manipulating the LIBOR, a crucial interest rate that banks use to borrow money from one another, has been gathering steam for more than a month since U.S. and U.K. regulators  fined British bank Barclays $450 million for its role in trying to rig the rate. 

CNN's Erin Burnett  has explained that LIBOR is "an interest rate at the core of our entire economy," adding, "It's really not wrong to say that if you can't trust LIBOR, you can't trust anything in banking." According to The Economist,  the LIBOR is used "as a benchmark to set payments on about $800 trillion worth of financial instruments." Baltimore City  filed a lawsuit against major banks in the first of  what may be a wave of such actions, alleging that the LIBOR manipulation potentially cost it millions of dollars in investment returns.

Despite the enormous implications of the scandal, ABC's World News and NBC's Nightly News  both ignored the story in the 16 days after news of the Barclays fine broke, as we documented earlier this month. In the 16 days following the period of our original study, the LIBOR blackout has continued on ABC and NBC's flagship evening news programs. Those programs have gone more than a month without mentioning the controversy. 

CBS Evening News devoted more than five and a half minutes to the story in the first 16 days following the Barclays fine, but has not returned to the scandal in the subsequent 16 day period despite a host of new developments.

After spending roughly six and a half minutes combined covering the scandal on their evening newscasts and opinion programming between June 27 and July 12, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News devoted less than 32 minutes to stories related to the controversy from July 13 to July 28, with more than two-thirds of that coverage coming from CNN. 

These same news outlets spent  significantly more time on trivialities like shark sightings and the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes divorce than on the banking scandal. For context, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN spent 44 minutes combined on the LIBOR scandal during their evening programming from June 27 to July 28. By contrast, these same outlets devoted nearly 65 minutes to stories about sharks for only the first sixteen days of that period.

Far from being a dormant story, fallout from allegations that the LIBOR has been manipulated has been steady.

On July 14, the New York Times  reported that the U.S. Justice Department had "identified potential criminal wrongdoing by big banks and individuals at the center of the scandal" and was building criminal cases "against several financial institutions and their employees." The Times explained that the "prospect of criminal cases" was expected to "rattle the banking world."

The scandal has also reached Capitol Hill, with both Treasury Secretary  Tim Geithner and U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke being questioned about regulators' response to allegations that banks were manipulating the LIBOR. During his appearance in front of the Senate Banking Committee, Bernanke  said the LIBOR is "structurally flawed" and called the controversy "a major problem for our financial system." 

The story has gotten major coverage in financial press and on shows like Current TV's  Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer and MSNBC's  Up with Chris Hayes, but, with a few exceptions, has still received little attention on major American television news outlets their during evening newscasts and primetime programming. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple  has urged media outlets considering LIBOR coverage to "Get on it," providing "Nine reasons to cover" the scandal.


On July 16, Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer  finished up his show's barely two-minutes-long segment on the LIBOR scandal to tease an upcoming story set to air on Erin Burnett Outfront by saying, "I'm going to look forward to your report later tonight, Erin. Thanks very much. An important story that deserves significant attention."

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