In 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president and the global economy teetered near collapse, the word “inequality” was used just 14 times on the liberal-leaning cable network MSNBC. So far in 2014, which is barely more than a third over, the word has been said 647 times on the network.
These results are based on a LexisNexis search of transcripts of MSNBC’s original news programming (in other words, not the prison dramas shown on weekends). Each instance of the term “inequality” is counted separately — so, if it is used 29 times on the same program (as it was on one episode of Melissa Harris-Perry’s show), it counts 29 times.
How substantial is 647 mentions of “inequality” in the context of MSNBC’s programming budget? LexisNexis records about 250,000 words’ worth of MSNBC transcripts each week, and there are about 6,000 words spoken per hour of programming (I calculated this as 150 words per minute times 40 minutes of noncommercial time per hour). That implies that “inequality” is said 0.87 times per hour of original programming on MSNBC. By comparison, it was used only 0.006 times per hour in 2008.
A good amount of the increase came in 2011, the year of the Occupy Wall Street protests, when MSNBC used “inequality” about five times more often than it did in 2010. But the term’s frequency has continued to increase since then. This year, as the economist Thomas Piketty’s treatise on inequality has topped best-seller lists, the word is on pace to be used more than twice as often on MSNBC as it was in 2013.
What may be more surprising is that there has also been an “inequality” boom on the Fox News. The word has been used 0.57 times per hour on Fox so far this year, almost an order of magnitude larger than the 0.08 instances per hour in 2013.
CNN lags behind by this measure: It has used the term about 0.14 times per hour of original programming so far this year. By comparison, “Flight 370,” referring to the Malaysian airliner that went missing, has been used 13,348 times on CNN, or about once every six minutes of original programming since the flight disappeared.