ABC, CBS and NBC Verdict: Obama's 'Stimulus' a Success, CBS Frets Public Refuses to See It

On the one-year anniversary of the Obama administration's “stimulus” spending bill, ABC, CBS and NBC all eagerly corroborated the White House's claims about how it “saved or created” many jobs and staved off economic disaster, though they all offered a range of numbers and definitions (ABC: “800,000 to 2.4 million new jobs,” CBS: “about 1.8 million” jobs “saved or created” and NBC: “1.6 to 1.8 million jobs have been created so far.”)

ABC and CBS touted anecdotes about companies and government agencies which asserted the spending had prevented layoffs or allowed them to hire new staff. ABC's Jake Tapper cited buses for Santa Monica, construction jobs in Baltimore, “63,000 green jobs” (with a solar panel-maker's CEO declaring “it is working and we're proof of that”) and a school system superintendent who told Tapper the funding “ helped save 61 jobs and create 73 new ones.”

On CBS, Chip Reid began with how “this highway paving equipment company in California canceled plans to lay off 40 workers because of demand created by stimulus projects,” before trumpeting how “in Washington, D.C. about 20 people are working on this road project” where “manager Matthew Johns calls the stimulus a lifesaver.” [audio available here]

Though “many independent economists put the number of jobs saved or created at about 1.8 million,” Reid relayed that “to the great frustration of the White House, most Americans simply refuse to believe it. In a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, a mere 6 percent said the stimulus has created jobs.” Reid's culprit: “That skepticism due in part to a relentless campaign by Republicans who say the stimulus is a bloated, big-government failure.” (The online “Political Hotsheet” echoed Reid's theme: “On Stimulus, Perception Doesn't Match Reality.”)

But, have no fear, Obama's team “admits” they “haven't been tough enough” in discrediting critics. Reid concluded:
The White House admits they haven't been tough enough in responding to critics of the stimulus so they've started an aggressive new campaign, calling out dozens of Republicans they say are hypocrites -- Republicans who voted against the stimulus but then went home and attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects in their states that create jobs.
As if the media haven't been advancing Obama's agenda. From the MRC's Business & Media Institute: Bias By the Numbers: Networks Celebrate Year of Strong Stimulus Support; ABC, CBS, NBC cite supporters of $787 billion bill nearly three times as often as critics,” which determined:
- ABC, CBS, NBC Still Biased in Picking Stimulus Spokesmen: All three broadcast networks promoted the stimulus prior to the vote. Afterward, ABC, CBS and NBC served as unofficial boosters of what NBC called “President Obama’s stimulus cavalry.” The networks favored pro-stimulus speakers 71 percent to 29 percent (269 to just 111).

- Nearly Half of All Reports Included Zero Criticism: Both NBC and ABC stories included no criticism roughly half the time. Overall, the networks cited criticism of the stimulus plan just 52 percent of the time (9
0 out of 172 stories). Instead government was depicted as fixing “rickety wooden bridges” and “performing much-needed maintenance on national parks.”
Only deep in their Wednesday night stories did CBS and NBC acknowledge any critics and how unemployment rose during 2009, with NBC's Lisa Myers noting “critics also have ridiculed some projects as wasteful. $1.6 million for free water taxi rides, a million dollars to improve security on dinner cruises in eight cities and studies about how honeybees learn and the sex drive of rats on hard drugs.” She concluded, however, with how Obama has a solution -- more spending:
The President acknowledged that despite progress, this doesn't feel like a recovery to millions of Americans, so he's pushing to spend another $100 billion this year to try to create more jobs soon.
The job success numbers cited by the three networks:

Jake Tapper on ABC:
The numbers are all over the map, but they all credit the stimulus with significant job creation: anywhere from 800,000 to 2.4 million new jobs. Where are those jobs? According to the White House, 354,000 are in manufacturing, such as building new buses for Santa Monica....262,000 jobs are in construction. Today, these workers are putting the finishing touches on a community health center in Baltimore....Then, there are 63,000 green jobs.
Chip Reid on CBS:
Many independent economists put the number of jobs saved or created at about 1.8 million.
Lisa Myers on NBC:
Many economists agree that the $787 billion package of infrastructure spending, tax cuts and aid to states has created jobs and helped pull the economy out of a deep recession. Three economic research firms estimate that 1.6 to 1.8 million jobs have been created so far, with more gains projected this year. And painful job losses have slowed dramatically.
The stories on the Wednesday, February 17 broadcast network evening newscasts:

ABC's World News with Diane Sawyer:
DIANE SAWYER: One year ago today, the brand new President Barack Obama rolled out a $787 billion economic stimulus to put the brakes on a plummeting economy. Today, he marked the anniversary by saying it worked, that it spared the country a depression, and created millions of jobs. But we wondered, how many, and where? We asked Jake Tapper to delve into the numbers.

JAKE TAPPER: President Obama said today because of the stimulus package about 2 million Americans are working who otherwise would not be.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So far, the recovery act is responsible for the jobs of about 2 million Americans who would otherwise be unemployed.

TAPPER:  The numbers are all over the map, but they all credit the stimulus with significant job creation: anywhere from 800,000 to 2.4 million new jobs. Where are those jobs? According to the White House, 354,000 are in manufacturing, such as building new buses for Santa Monica.

STEPHANIE NEGRIFF, DIRECTOR TRANSIT SERVICES, BIG BLUE BUS: There's going to be an immediate economic impact to our community by having these additional vehicles available.

TAPPER: 262,000 jobs are in construction. Today, these workers are putting the finishing touches on a community health center in Baltimore.

JOE HOLLAND, PRESIDENT, HOLLAND CONSTRUCTION COMPANY: It really allowed us to go out and hire people where we would have otherwise probably, you know, just would have stayed back and not done that.

TAPPER: Then, there are 63,000 green jobs. A year ago today, the President was looking at solar panels manufactured by Namaste Solar. Company President Blake Jones had been preparing for layoffs.

BLAKE JONES, CEO, NAMASTE SOLAR: We started cutting budgets, we started making plans for a bad 2009.

TAPPER: But in the past year, companies that received stimulus money have been ordering those solar panels and Namaste has hired 14 new employees.

TAPPER TO JONES, OUTSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE: What's your message to all those Americans who are skeptical that the stimulus bill is creating jobs?

JONES: It is working and we're proof of that.

TAPPER: In New York, Utica City school district got close to $12 million stimulus dollars. The superintendent tells us that helped save 61 jobs and create 73 new ones. But those new hires had to sign this document: “I am fully aware that the funding for this position will be eliminated in two years. Therefore, this position will end on June 30th, 2011.”

And Diane, about $166 billion stimulus dollars have not yet been officially committed to any projects. They're going to go to, among other things, the Race to the Top education grant program, high speed rail and other transportation projects and health technology. Diane?
(Following Tapper, ABC ran a piece from Jonathan Karl on how “red tape” has slowed creation of jobs to weather-proof homes.)

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: One year ago today President Obama signed a law he said would help put Americans back to work. The price tag for the so-called stimulus bill was $787 billion. So far, nearly $300 billion of that has been spent. But did the stimulus do the job? Our chief White House correspondent Chip Reid has tonight's “Reality Check.”

CHIP REID: The Obama administration claims that in one year the stimulus program has saved or created about two million jobs. This highway paving equipment company in California canceled plans to lay off 40 workers because of demand created by stimulus projects.

MARK ARNOLD, SUPERVISOR, GUNTERT AND ZIMMERMAN: You can sleep better at night knowing that you can get up and come to work and not have to go out and try to find a job.

REID: In Washington, D.C. about 20 people are working on this road project. Manager Matthew Johns calls the stimulus a lifesaver.

REID, TO JOHNS: So it's certainly possible that you and these guys would be without work right now if it weren't for the stimulus package?

MATTHEW JOHNS: Absolutely.

REID: Where could you be now?

JOHNS: Home looking for jobs, sending out resumes, interviewing.

REID: The President says hundreds of thousands of state employees are also working today because of stimulus money.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Relief that has allowed 300,000 teachers and education workers to keep their jobs as well as tens of thousands of cops and firefighters and first responders.

REID: Even many independent economists put the number of jobs saved or created at about 1.8 million. But to the great frustration of the White House, most Americans simply refuse to believe it. In a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, a mere 6 percent said the stimulus has created jobs, 41 percent said it will create jobs, 48 percent said it will never create jobs. That skepticism due in part to a relentless campaign by Republicans who say the stimulus is a bloated, big-government failure.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, MINORITY LEADER, JANUARY 28: The American people are still asking the question: “Where are the jobs?”

REID: That's a question people at this New York unemployment agency are also asking.

WOMAN: I honestly don't know where they put that money.

SECOND WOMAN: It hasn't really done much for me.

REID: In the year since the stimulus was signed into law, the economy has lost 3.2 million jobs and the unemployment rate has soared from 8.2 to 9.7 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED ECONOMIST: The President's stimulus package was a terrible bargain for the American people. He spent far too much money for the number of jobs he got.

REID: The White House admits they haven't been tough enough in responding to critics of the stimulus so they've started an aggressive new campaign, calling out dozens of Republicans they say are hypocrites -- Republicans who voted against the stimulus but then went home and attended ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects in their states that create jobs. Katie?

NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Now we switch our coverage back to Washington tonight where one year ago today President Barack Obama signed the economic stimulus package into law, a plan he said was crucial to saving the economy and jobs. Today he and Democrats on Capitol Hill defended that record, while many others have a different view. Our report tonight from NBC's Lisa Myers.

LISA MYERS: Today the President said that the much-maligned stimulus package staved off economic catastrophe.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: One year later, it is largely thanks to the recovery act that a second depression is no longer a possibility.

MYERS: Many economists agree that the $787 billion package of infrastructure spending, tax cuts and aid to states has created jobs and helped pull the economy out of a deep recession. Three economic research firms estimate that 1.6 to 1.8 million jobs have been created so far, with more gains projected this year. And painful job losses have slowed dramatically. Last January the economy was hemorrhaging jobs at a rate of 780,000 a month. That slowed to 20,000 last month. Economist Mark Zandi, who advises both Republicans and Democrats, says the stimulus was absolutely vital, but not perfect.

MARK ZANDI, MOODY'S ECONOMY.COM: The stimulus was effective. It helped the economy. We are out of recession into recovery, but it wasn't as effective as it could have been. The bang for the buck was not as large as it should have been.

MYERS: The White House had forecast the stimulus would keep unemployment from going above 8 percent. Instead, the jobless rate soared to 10.2 percent last fall and stood at 9.7 percent last month. Economist Kevin Hassett says the costly package actually hurts in the long run.

KEVIN HASSETT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: The administration decided to give us a sugar high last year rather than to fix something that was broken. The problem is that we still have to fix the broken things and now we don't have any money.

MYERS: Critics also have ridiculed some projects as wasteful. $1.6 million for free water taxi rides, a million dollars to improve security on dinner cruises in eight cities and studies about how honeybees learn and the sex drive of rats on hard drugs. The President acknowledged that despite progress, this doesn't feel like a recovery to millions of Americans, so he's pushing to spend another $100 billion this year to try to create more jobs soon. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
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