What is more newsworthy—a decision to give the Pentagon three-quarters of a trillion dollars, or an ad for an exercise bike? If you picked the Pentagon spending, you may not have a future in corporate media.
The House of Representatives voted on December 11 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which is the spending bill that outlines the annual budget for the US military. The NDAA, which authorizes $738 billion in Pentagon spending, launched Trump’s Space Force as a separate branch of the military, included $1 billion more in funds for the F-35 fighter jet, and failed to halt the Trump administration’s use of military funds to expand the southern border wall. Along with setting the budget, the NDAA also forbids the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea; a progressive provision that would have restricted US military support for Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war on Yemen was removed. The NDAA passed the House with overwhelming support from both parties, with only 48 dissenting voices, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, voting nay.
You would be forgiven for not knowing about any of this, however, because the establishment media showed little interest in covering the NDAA. FAIR searched for coverage of the NDAA in ten of the most influential news outlets: the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, USA Today, NPR, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and Fox News. During a five-day period (12/8–13/19) in the week that the NDAA vote took place, it received paltry coverage in these outlets, with a total of just 27 articles mentioning it. Only the Washington Post covered the NDAA to a significant degree, publishing 10 different articles about the subject during the five-day period. The other outlets published at most two or three articles about the NDAA.
To gauge just how newsworthy the media found the military bill, FAIR compared the volume of coverage to another story that broke around the same time: the Peloton exercise bike’s embarrassing ad campaign. The ad’s sexism and elitism were roundly mocked on social media, and corporate media found this worth covering. From December 4–8, the Peloton ad was mentioned 57 times total across the ten outlets studied, more than twice as often as the NDAA was brought up over a comparable period. Fox holds the record for the greatest disparity in coverage: There are 12 different articles or videos discussing Peloton on its website, compared to only a single article (12/11/19) covering the NDAA bill. Only the Washington Post covered the NDAA more than Peloton (10 articles versus 5), while every other outlet gave an ad for an exercise bike more coverage than a multi-billion-dollar grant to the military-industrial complex.
Even when media did choose to cover the NDAA, the majority of these outlets chose to focus not on the scale of the military budget approved by the House (a $22 billion increase from last year’s NDAA) or on any of the more problematic aspects of the bill, but on the main victory that was negotiated by Democrats: new provisions for paid family leave for federal workers (NBC, 12/10/19; CNN, 12/11/19; ABC, 12/11/19; Fox, 12/11/19; New York Times, 12/11/19; Washington Post, 12/11/19; USA Today, 12/12/19; NPR, 12/13/19). The pro-family element seemed to be the most newsworthy aspect of funding the largest war machine on the planet—just not as newsworthy as an exercise bike.