CNN's 'Glass One-Quarter Full' Spin: Emphasize Private Job Gains

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its "all-important" jobs report on Sept. 3, the morning before Labor Day weekend. CNN rapidly found the "bright spot" in a report that showed a net loss of 54,000 jobs and a higher 9.6 percent unemployment rate.

"American Morning" co-anchor Kiran Chetry announced the report by saying "It's good news, but it's not good news." Still, she maintained the mainstream media's spin by focusing on private-sector jobs gains of 67,000 even though that is cold comfort to the 14.9 million people who are unemployed.

That CNN segment ignored negative information that would have provided important context. The BLS reported that there are still 1.1 million discouraged workers (too discouraged to even look for work) and another 1.3 million people working part-time who want full-time work instead.

Chetry and fill-in co-anchor Ali Velshi discussed the breaking news report with two guests who were even more upbeat: Leigh Gallagher of Smart Money magazine and Shawn Tully of Fortune magazine.

Tully told CNN viewers, "This is actually not such bad news because we are looking at unemployment rates in the U.S. we really haven't seen since the early 1980s. And in the early 1980s the comeback was extremely strong, unemployment dropped very, very sharply. In the U.S. we've never had 10 percent unemployment rates for long periods."

Conservative economists argue that Reagan's tax cuts were part of the reason the unemployment rate dropped and the economic comeback happened. President Obama has not proposed dramatically cutting tax rates and, in fact, seems willing to let the more modest tax cuts of President George W. Bush expire at the end of 2010.

Tully told CNN "we're now in the upcycle," and said a double-dip recession was unlikely. Gallagher happily noted that the unemployment report beat expectations.

But neither CNN host nor their guests pointed out how high real unemployment is or how many jobs we would need per month to "catch up" the 8.4 million jobs lost in the recession.

According to CNBC's Rick Santelli the increase of 0.1 percent to a 9.6 percent unemployment rate just means "real unemployment is in the teens." Bloomberg said that the underemployment rate is now 16.7 percent.

CNBC's Erin Burnett also brought context to the story on MSNBC, saying that news was "definitely better than expected," but cautioned that it doesn't make up for what has been lost.

"I would note though, we obviously lost 8.4 million jobs during the financial crisis so to catch up with that you need to have 200,000 jobs or more [added] a month," Burnett said.

The media's desperate attempts to positively spin jobs reports since Obama was elected contrast with the way they tried to talk down the economy during the Bush presidency.

ABC, CBS and NBC failed to criticize Obama even while on his watch the most jobs had been lost in a year since 1940. The mainstream media have also given Obama a pass on grandiose promises about how many millions of jobs the stimulus package would create.

Contrast that with the media's coverage of unemployment under Republican President George W. Bush when unemployment was roughly half of what it is now. In Feb. 2006, when 193,000 jobs had been added and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent: the lowest rate since July 2001. CBS and ABC evening shows ignored the drop in unemployment, while CNN found "mixed" news in the report.

A January 2006 Special Report from the Business & Media Institute found that the networks in particular emphasized layoffs in a year that 2 million new jobs had been created. Negative stories about corporate layoffs and outsourcing made up more than half the stories on jobs or unemployment.

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Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.