Occupy Wall Street is rightly credited with helping to shift the economic debate in America from a fixation on deficits to issues of income inequality, corporate greed and the centralization of wealth among the richest 1 percent. The movement has chalked up other victories as well, from altering New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax plan (New York Times, 12/5/11) to re-energizing activists and unions, but bringing some discussion of class into the mainstream dialogue has been one of its crowning achievements.
As Occupy slowed down for the winter, though, would corporate media continue to talk about our increasingly stratified society without a vibrant protest movement forcing their hand? The answer, unsurprisingly, is no.
As mentions of “Occupy Wall Street” or “Occupy movement” waned in early 2012, so too have mentions of “income inequality” and, to an even greater extent, “corporate greed.” The trend is true for four leading papers (New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, L.A. Times), news programs on the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC), cable (MSNBC, CNN, Fox News) and NPR, according to searches of the Nexis news media database. Google Trends data also indicates that from January to March, the phrases “income inequality” and “corporate greed” declined in volume of both news stories and searches.
From June 2011 through March 2012, mentions of the phrase “income inequality” in the four papers first increased dramatically, then decreased slightly more slowly. The number of mentions per month ranged from 8 to 15 between June and September. Then in October, when OWS coverage peaked, “income inequality” mentions increased nearly fourfold to 44, and reached 52 mentions in November. January had a total of 64 mentions, though 13 of those stories focused on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
By March, there were only 16 mentions of “income inequality,” half from the New York Times—which also far outpaced the other papers in coverage of OWS that month, at 45 mentions to the L.A. Times’ 12, the Post’s 10 and USA Today’s three, due in part to the scores arrested in New York City on the movement’s six-month anniversary on March 17.
Network broadcasts followed the same pattern, albeit with significantly lower numbers. From June to September, there was only one mention of income inequality (ABC, 8/10/11). Mentions across ABC, CBS and NBC jumped to seven in October and held fairly steady through January, but returned to zero by February.
Similarly, “income inequality” was barely mentioned on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News in the early months of the study. October saw a dramatic increase on MSNBC and CNN, with 10 and 14 mentions, respectively, while Fox News stayed low at only five mentions. The numbers peaked at 54 total in January—again, partially due to the SOTU—but by March, “income inequality” was mentioned only six times across all three cable news channels, four times on CNN and once each on MSNBC and Fox.
NPR followed the same pattern, with a peak of 18 mentions in October and only one mention each in February and March.