In Flight Delays, Cable Finds A Sequestration Story Worth Covering

WASHINGTON -- Since sequestration's $85 billion in federal spending cuts went into effect last month, food pantries have closed, contractors have been furloughed, unemployment benefits have been reduced, low-income children have lost their Head Start spots and national parks have had to reduce their offerings. Low-income Americans have been hit particularly hard by many of these indiscriminate cuts.

Yet the sequestration-related issue that has received the most attention in the national media is the closure of a number of air traffic control towers and the furloughs of Federal Aviation Administration workers, which have led to flight delays.

According to a Huffington Post search on the video archiving service TVEyes, the top three major cable news outlets have discussed FAA furloughs and flight delays 46 times so far in the month of April. Thirty-one of those mentions came between April 22 and 9:00 a.m. on April 24, coinciding with the start of the furloughs.

There are a number of reasons for this heavy coverage. A large portion of the U.S. population flies, air traffic delays have a large impact on commerce, airports are often a healthy source of federal funding for congressional districts and both journalists and politicians can personally experience travel delays. There are also safety concerns related to having fewer air traffic controllers watching the skies.

But other important issues appear to have gotten short shrift. Sequestration-enforced cuts to Head Start received 19 mentions, Medicare patients getting turned away from cancer clinics received 21 mentions and reductions to the Meals on Wheels program received just seven.

Overall, MSNBC has had the heaviest coverage of these other issues, with Fox News basically skipping the cuts to Meals on Wheels.

For now, sequestration is the law of the land. The backlash over the cuts to the FAA could lead Congress to look for ways to address them, if not replace sequestration altogether.

Already, public outcry convinced Congress to end sequestration cuts to the military's tuition assistance program and the furloughing of meat inspectors. The Department of Transportation, however, has said it has little to no budget flexibility to stop the furloughs from taking place. The FAA has to cut approximately $630 million from its budget by the end of September, and a good chunk of the operating account is devoted to payroll.