Month Ago CBS Saw Recession, But Now Skip Big Job Gains

When the Labor Department reported a net loss of 4,000 jobs for August, the September 7 ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts highlighted the bad news as evidence of an impending recession, but on Friday, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics revised the August number to a gain of 89,000 jobs and reported 110,000 new jobs for September (AP story), only ABC bothered to mention the revision while CBS didn't utter a syllable about either jobs gain. The CBS Evening News anchored by Harry Smith, however, found time to note the Postal Service's decision to honor two CBS journalists -- Eric Sevareid and George Polk -- with stamps.

A month ago, Katie Couric plugged an upcoming look at “new worries about the U.S. economy following a disappointing jobs report.” Harry Smith then cited “new concern about the economy tonight following a report which showed the number of jobs in the U.S. dropped by 4,000 in August, the first monthly decline in four years.” Anthony Mason asserted “it had a lot of economists uttering the 'r' word today, recession,” and fretted: “These job numbers are the most worrisome sign yet, Harry, that the housing slump and the mortgage crisis could take the entire economy down with them.” ABC anchor Charles Gibson teased: “The economy loses jobs for the first time in years as the housing crisis raises the risk of recession.” Betsy Stark declared: “The risks of a serious slowdown, even a recession, are rising. Today's jobs report was shockingly bleak.”

Harry Smith's 24-second item on the new stamps: “Two CBS News legends are being honored with postage stamps. The Postal Service today unveiled images of Eric Sevareid and George Polk. Sevareid was one of Murrow's boys reporting on World War II and later a commentator on this broadcast. George Polk was killed while covering the civil war in Greece. One of the most prestigious awards in journalism is named after him. The stamps are due out next year.”

While ABC ran a full story on the bad news and just an anchor update on the good news while CBS devoted a full segment to the bad news and ignored the good news, NBC's Brian Williams was consistent in running short items on both nights, though he failed to infirm his viewers of the upward revision. Instead, on Friday's Nightly News, Williams cited “good news on the jobs front” as “employers added 110,000 jobs to the nation's payrolls” in September, but he contrasted that with how “more people out there looking for work” had “pushed the unemployment rate up a tenth of a point to 4.7 percent.”

But the report for September, from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (PDF), portrayed the unemployment rate as “essentially unchanged,” explaining: “The number of unemployed persons (7.2 million) and the unemployment rate (4.7 percent) were essentially unchanged in September. A year earlier, the number of unemployed persons was 6.9 million and the jobless rate was 4.6 percent.”

Dan Gainor asked in a Friday morning NewsBusters post: “I wonder how the media will pretend this is bad news? The latest employment numbers are in and not only are they solid, but last month wasn't the catastrophe first reported.” Gainor's report for the MRC's Business and Media Institute, “So Much for the ABC 'Recession' Talk: Job numbers outdo predictions and revisions change August numbers from negative to positive.”

Well, it turns out ABC's evening news program actually corrected the record while CBS didn't even try to spin the good news -- it just skipped it after a month earlier stressing (the since-corrected) bad news as portending a recession.

The brief updates on the Friday, October 5 ABC and NBC evening newscasts:

ABC's World News, the only newscast to mention the revised jobs number:
CHARLES GIBSON: In financial news, the American job market picked up steam as employers added 110,000 jobs to the economy last month. The unemployment rate edged up to 4.7 percent, however, because more people are looking for work. The Labor Department also revised its report for August. It initially said 4,000 jobs had been lost, it turns out 89,000 jobs were created and investors responded favorably today, pushing the Dow up 92 points to close at 14,066.

NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: News on the economy tonight, good news on the jobs front. Employers added 110,000 jobs to the nation's payrolls, we're told, last month. That is about what analysts were expecting. There were also more people out there looking for work and, the way the numbers work, that pushed the unemployment rate up a tenth of a point to 4.7 percent. And the week ended on Wall Street this Friday with stocks up across the board. The Dow advancing 91 points at the end of the week.

Coverage back on Friday, September 7 (transcripts for ABC and CBS, which then did full stories on the bad news, provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth who corrected the closed-captioning against the video):

ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON, IN OPENING TEASER: Labor pains: The economy loses jobs for the first time in years as the housing crisis raises the risk of recession.

...

GIBSON: Next, we're going to turn to the economy and jobs figures that came out today that caught nearly everybody by surprise. The government said the economy lost 4,000 jobs in August. It was the first monthly decline in four years. Stocks plunged on the news. The Dow Jones fell 250 points. The NASDAQ tumbled nearly two percent. ABC's Betsy Stark is joining us tonight. Betsy?

BETSY STARK: Charlie, many consider the jobs report the single most important barometer of the nation's economic health. Well, right now, that barometer is reading high alert. The risks of a serious slowdown, even a recession, are rising. Today's jobs report was shockingly bleak.

BILL CHENEY, JOHN HANCOCK CHIEF ECONOMIST: This is a big deal, and it definitely tells us that, overall, the performance of the economy in the last few months is quite a bit weaker than we thought it was even yesterday.

STARK: That's hardly news to mortgage broker Jim Dell'Anno. Last week, after 25 years in real estate, he got his first pink slip.

JIM DELL'ANNO, MORTGAGE BROKER: I'm not optimistic about finding a job in the very near future.

STARK: Workers in businesses directly tied to housing took the hardest hit last month -- 22,000 jobs lost in construction, and no job gains in the giant financial services industry. But more worrisome were job cuts in parts of the economy that had been holding up well. Government payrolls shrank by 28,000, as revenues from property taxes began to dry up. Communities around the country are feeling the pinch. In Fairfax County, Virginia, they're worried about school funding.

ED LONG, FAIRFAX COUNTY DEPUTY COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Quite honestly, we're, you know, trying to pick ourselves up now, and decide how we're going to get through these next couple of years.

STARK: Investors who have been beating the drum for a cut in interest rates by the Federal Reserve say the issue is no longer if, but by how much.

CHENEY: I'm looking for the Fed to administer a stronger dose than I would have expected yesterday.

STARK: The issue now is whether this medicine investors are counting on will come in time. It will be a race against the clock for 12,000 workers at Countrywide, the nation's largest mortgage lender. They learned late today that their jobs will be cut unless there is a dramatic reversal in the housing market.

NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: We switch now to the economy and jobs and a number that caught almost everyone off guard when it came out this morning. For the first time in four years in this country, employers cut jobs, 4,000 total. Economists had expected a gain of 110,000. That didn't sit too well on Wall Street. The Dow then dropped just under 250 points on the day. And we got late word tonight that more layoffs are on the way. For that, CNBC's Erin Burnett is with us tonight and Erin, what is the news on this front? [Countrywide Financial cutting 12,000 jobs]

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC, FROM DAMASCUS, IN PLUG: But up next, Harry Smith in New York with more of the day's news, including new worries about the U.S. economy following a disappointing jobs report.

...

HARRY SMITH: I'm Harry Smith in New York. There is new concern about the economy tonight following a report which showed the number of jobs in the U.S. dropped by 4,000 in August, the first monthly decline in four years. That news rattled traders on Wall Street. The Dow lost nearly 250 points. Anthony Mason is here to make some sense of it all. Good evening.

ANTHONY MASON: Good evening.

SMITH: The big deal about this is they anticipated more than 100,000 jobs would be added last month. They lost 4,000 and what has that people talking about?

MASON: Well, it's a big surprise to start. It had a lot of economists uttering the "r" word today, recession. These job numbers are the most worrisome sign yet, Harry, that the housing slump and the mortgage crisis could take the entire economy down with them because people worried about losing their jobs don't spend money. And we lost 22,000 construction jobs last month. And right before we went on the air tonight, the largest home mortgage lender in this country, Countrywide Financial, said it's going to cut up to 12,000 jobs. So the fear is this may just be the beginning.

SMITH: Now, what about interest rates? Because if this is really, has the plate been set for an interest rate reduction now because of these kinds of numbers?

MASON: A lot of people are saying sure thing. The Fed meets on the 18th. The betting now is not whether the Fed will cut but by how much, and more and more people are starting to say it could be as much as half a point, Harry.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center