ABC Admits Gramm Accurate on Economy, But Portrays It as Gaffe

Proving the old saw that a “gaffe” is when a politician stumbles into the truth, ABC's World News, which has showcased Americans whining about the inability to afford “joy rides” or breakfast, on Thursday night led with former Senator Phil Gramm's observation that “this is a mental recession”and “we've sort of become a nation of whiners.” In relaying the comments from the economic adviser to the McCain campaign, anchor Charles Gibson conceded “the fundamentals of the economy may be sound, as Gramm argues,” but: “There are a lot of people suffering right now. So, Barack Obama was quick to pounce, and John McCain was quick to renounce.”

Reporter David Wright featured a soundbite of Obama asserting “we need somebody to actually solve the economy. It's not just a figment of your imagination. It's not all in your head,” and then backed him up: “That certainly's what voters seem to think.” A man on the street insisted: “I think it's way more than just our imagination. It's in our face. And we need help.” Wright concluded with how Gramm's “point seems to be that while consumer confidence has been at record lows, other economic indicators are pretty good -- that the fundamentals are sound.” Wright, naturally, countered: “That's no consolation to folks who worry about their mortgages and who are paying these high prices at the pump.”

Meanwhile, on the CBS Evening News after a look at Gramm/McCain, Jeff Greenfield suggested that Jesse Jackson's violent intentions toward Barack Obama -- “I want to cut his nuts off” -- will benefit Obama:
Well, think back to 1992 when candidate Bill Clinton went after a rap singer, Sister Souljah for anti-white remarks and did it in front of a black audience. It was a signal to some people that Clinton might not be beholden even to a loyal Democratic group, a kind of independent. So here you have Barack Obama trying to argue "look, I'm not the black candidate." Being attacked by kind of a symbol of an older race-based identity-based politician and being attacked for calling on the black community to be more personally responsible. It's the kind of attack I'm sure the Obama campaign would welcome every single day.
ABC's World News has delighted in highlighting silly whining from hapless Americans. Two examples:

My May 20 NewsBusters item, “ABC's Latest Gas Price Victim Can 'No Longer Take Joy Rides,'” recounted:
Six days after ABC's World News fretted over a New Jersey woman who said she must skip breakfast to put $4 a day toward gas, Monday's newscast featured an even more hapless woman, a Massachusetts resident who to afford gas sacrifices a "much needed" $45 prescription, says she can "no longer take joy rides on my days off" and, horror of horrors, has been forced into "buying store brands instead of name brands." Rosaria Giamei complained in a soundbite: "I don't get out and enjoy things anymore. I just kind of sit at home and only go to and from work and, like, grocery shopping and that's it." How about taking a walk or riding a bike?...
My May 13 NewsBusters posting, "ABC Showcases Hapless Woman Who Skips Breakfast to Afford Gas," reported:
A week after ABC focused a story on two pitiable Minnesota families living in the dark because higher energy and food prices mean they "can no longer afford to pay for electricity," Tuesday's World News highlighted the replies from sad case stories solicited on ABCNews.com, starting with a woman who says she must skip breakfast to put $4 a day toward gas. ABC displayed "FEELING THE PAIN" on screen as Charles Gibson set up the story that David Muir started by fretting about "the price of a gallon of gas jumping more than a dime in just the last week" -- which is a piddling $2 more to fill a 20-gallon tank. Nonetheless, he asserted "the e-mails we've received show the pain is being felt far and wide. Single mother Caroline Saunders wrote to us from New Jersey." He read aloud from her e-mail with her quote on screen: "I now skip breakfast to save the extra $4 per day. That gives me an extra $20 added to my gas budget."...
And ABC's Good Morning America has repeatedly made up “recession” news. The June 25 NewsBusters item by Scott Whitlock, “ABC Talks Up Non-Existent 'Recession' Eight Times in Three Days,” began:
The U.S. is not in a recession, but viewers wouldn't know it from watching Good Morning America. In the span of three days, the ABC program has eight times proposed cures in its "Recession Rescue" segment. On June 24 alone, GMA fretted about the "recession" five times. This is despite the fact that America hasn't had one quarter of negative growth, let alone the two necessary for there to be a recession...
The Thursday, July 10 stories on ABC and CBS (NBC Nightly News also aired a full piece on Gramm/McCain, but not as its lead):

ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: Good evening. So, how bad is the economy? Not all that bad, says a key economic adviser of John McCain. Former Texas Senator Phil Gramm said today, America is in a “mental recession. You've heard of mental depression,” said Gramm, “this is a mental recession.” Adding, “we've become a nation of whiners.” Well, the fundamentals of the economy may be sound, as Gramm argues. But there are a lot of people suffering right now. So, Barack Obama was quick to pounce, and John McCain was quick to renounce Gramm's remarks. David Wright reports, tonight, from Washington. David?

DAVID WRIGHT: Good evening, Charlie. This isn't the first time in this race that a top adviser has stepped all over his candidate's message. And for John McCain, it's a serious consideration because the economy is the number one issue for voters. And he has been working hard this week to show people he gets it.

McCain: How are you? Nice to see you.

WRIGHT: Today, John McCain was in one of the hardest-hit areas of the rust belt, trying to convince voters he feels their pain.

McCAIN: People are hurting. People are hurting very badly.

WRIGHT: But one of his top economic advisers was sharply at odds with McCain's message.

PHIL GRAMM, IN WEB VIDEO: You've heard of mental depression. This is a mental recession.

WRIGHT: Former Senator Phil Gramm suggested to the Washington Times that the bad economy is just a figment of people's imagination.

GRAMM: You just hear this constant whining, complaining. [edit jump] We've sort of become a nation of whiners.

WRIGHT: The former Texas Senator enjoys cult status among many fiscal conservatives.

McCAIN, FEBRUARY 29: There is no one more respected on the issue of economics than Senator Phil Gramm.

WRIGHT: But today, McCain couldn't distance himself quickly enough.

McCAIN: Phil Gramm does not speak for me. I speak for me.

WRIGHT: Knowing his rival, Barack Obama, would be ready to pounce.

BARACK OBAMA: America already has one Dr. Phil. We don't need another one when it comes to the economy.

McCAIN: You're talking about Dr. Phil, he's Dr. No. And I've been leading us forward, with plans of action to address our economy and our need for energy independence. He's Dr. No.

OBAMA: We need somebody to actually solve the economy. It's not just a figment of your imagination. It's not all in your head.

WRIGHT: That certainly's what voters seem to think.

MAN: I think it's way more than just our imagination. It's in our face. And we need help.

WOMAN: What do I whine about? High grocery prices, you know, the price of milk and eggs.

ANOTHER WOMAN: It's real, not just mental.

WRIGHT: Today, in light of the controversy, McCain was asked, is he still seriously considering Phil Gramm to be his Treasury Secretary?

McCAIN: I think Senator Gramm would be in serious consideration, for ambassador to Belarus. Although, I'm not sure the citizens of Minsk would welcome that.

WRIGHT: But Gramm himself is standing by his remarks. And his point seems to be that while consumer confidence has been at record lows, other economic indicators are pretty good -- that the fundamentals are sound. Of course, Charlie, that's no consolation to folks who worry about their mortgages and who are paying these high prices at the pump.

GIBSON: David Wright reporting from down in Washington tonight. Thanks.

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: Phil Gramm, the former Texas Senator, is now a top member of the McCain economic team and in an interview with the Washington Times he suggested the economy's not as bad as we've been led to believe. Gramm said: “You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession.” He went on to say, quote: “We have sort of become a nation of whiners...complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline.” Barack Obama wasted no time responding.

BARACK OBAMA: America already has one Dr. Phil. We don't need another one when it comes to the economy. We need somebody to actually solve the economy. It's not just a figment of your imagination.

COURIC: And John McCain made clear he doesn't agree with his old Senate colleague, either.

JOHN MCCAIN: Phil Gramm does not speak for me, I speak for me.

COURIC: After a town meeting in Michigan, Senator McCain was asked if there might be a spot for Gramm in a McCain administration.

McCAIN: I think Senator Gramm would be in serious consideration for ambassador to Belarus.

COURIC: Jeff Greenfield is our CBS News senior political correspondent. Jeff, John McCain and Phil Gramm go way back. Is this a case of loyalty, personal loyalty trumping political strategy?

JEFF GREENFIELD: Well, in fact, John McCain endorsed Gramm for President in '96 and knows that Phil Gramm's passion is economics, which is not John McCain's passion. The problem is what Gramm says about economics is in direct contrast to a lot of what McCain has been arguing about CEO pay and Wall Street greed. Gramm is a passionate deregulator, thinks that this is class warfare. And when your top economic advisor is talking about a nation of whiners when your message this week is "I feel the pain of the average American," not so hot.

COURIC: Yeah, the McCain campaign did not need this. Meanwhile, as you know, one of Barack Obama's allies is having to apologize for something he said about his own candidate. Let's listen to that.

JESSE JACKSON, WHISPERING IN FNC VIDEO (words of text on screen, most of “nuts” bleeped): See, Barack been, um, talking down to black people on this faith based. I want to cut his n_ts off.”

COURIC: Yikes, hand gesture and all. I mean, there's been a lot of talk out there though today in the stratosphere that this might inadvertently help Barack Obama. How so?

GREENFIELD: Well, think back to 1992 when candidate Bill Clinton went after a rap singer, Sister Souljah for anti-white remarks and did it in front of a black audience. It was a signal to some people that Clinton might not be beholden even to a loyal Democratic group, a kind of independent. So here you have Barack Obama trying to argue "look, I'm not the black candidate." Being attacked by kind of a symbol of an older race-based identity-based politician and being attacked for calling on the black community to be more personally responsible. It's the kind of attack I'm sure the Obama campaign would welcome every single day.

COURIC: All right. Jeff Greenfield. Jeff, thanks so much.
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