Maybe instead of asking why Americans don't care about the Libor scandal, we should be asking whether they've even heard of it.
The scandal that has been not-crazily called the biggest financial scandal in history has gotten all of zero minutes' air time on the ABC and NBC nightly news broadcasts and only a little more time than that on CBS and the major cable news channels, according to a report by the progressive media watchdog Media Matters.
Who cares, you might be thinking, who watches TV news any more? Not as many, any more, but most people still consider TV their primary news source.
Media Matters did a Nexis search for all the times Libor and Barclays and other search terms related to the scandal got mentioned on prime-time broadcasts since the scandal broke in June and found next to bupkus:
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.
So, to recap, the major TV outlet covering Libor the most is the one that nobody watches, CNN.
Our major TV news outlets realize that this story is, like Bennet Brauer, not camera- friendly. Americans prefer watching stuff about shark attacks and TomKat more than they like learning about the manipulation of an obscure interest rate. That is as George Washington wanted it.
But it does seem possible, just maybe, that viewers might be interested to know that an interest rate that affects their daily lives is a completely made-up fraud that may have cost them billions. Somehow The Daily Show managed to make good TV out of it.
The TV news people do owe it to their viewers to try, at least. Instead of punting, which is what they have mostly done.
And it's not like there's nothing's going on in the Libor scandal. Every day there's something new, including the rare joy of watching Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner get grilled on Capitol Hill.
Maybe it will take some U.S. banks paying mammoth fines to get American news outlets to notice. So far, it's been only the boring European banks (which nevertheless employ thousands of Americans). Maybe we'll need to see some people frog-marched out of their banks in handcuffs, which does make for sexier TV.
Below is a brief timeline of the Barclays Libor-Rigging Scandal:
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