ChiTrib’s Warren: Gramm's Comment Like Henry Ford's Quip in Great Depression

Lester Holt with James Warren, MSNBC News Live | NewsBusters.orgAppearing as a guest during the 10 a.m. hour of the July 11 MSNBC News Live, Chicago Tribune managing editor James Warren compared McCain adviser Phil Gramm’s recent comments on the economy’s health to those of Henry Ford during the Great Depression:

But I think in the annals of a not particularly sensitive remarks this will rank up there with a bunch of things. Somebody, a historian reminded me yesterday, the auto manufacturing pioneer Henry Ford during the Depression said something to the effect that “these really are good times, it’s just that few know it.”

Warren then went on to suggest that Gramm needs to be reminded of the current economy’s impact on average Americans:

It might suit Mr. Gramm to sorta dress down, go on a commuter train in any major American city and see all of the folks who really are impacted by high gas prices or maybe, you know, maybe down near here, your old stomping grounds in Chicago, maybe in a South Bend, Indiana. Spend a few days as a car dealer and see what life is like these days.

While Gramm’s statement was tone deaf in an age of soundbites, comparing it to Ford’s statement during the Great Depression is ludicrous, unless you’re of the opinion that the economy right now is actually in a Great Depression-like recession, which, it’s safe to say, the data in no way support.

As NewsBusters contributor Scott Whitlock pointed out, the media have played a role in Americans thinking that the economy is worse than it actually is. With “Good Morning America” continually providing “Recession Rescue” tips and CBS declaring we are in a recession, it is easy to see why many people may think that America is already in a recession, or right on the verge of one. But the economy has yet to have even one quarter of negative growth, much less the two required for the country to be in a real recession.

What’s more, as fellow NewsBuster Nathan Burchfiel demonstrated, in the context of Gramm’s comments, he was lamenting that the media’s negativism was a large part of the mentality among Americans that we are in a recession. Indeed, as the MRC’s Business & Media Institute noted in a recent special report, print media coverage at the actual beginning of the Great Depression was more balanced and less hyperbolic than current reporting about the economy, which has been cooling, but not yet entered a recession.

The transcript of the exchange, which occurred at 10:04 a.m. during the July 11 MSNBC News Live, follows:

LESTER HOLT, host: To politics now and Decision 2008. More fallout right now for John McCain. In the very week the McCain campaign was focused on the economy and the pain voters are feeling, one of McCain’s closest associates called Americans a “nation of whiners” about the bad economy. McCain quickly distanced himself from Phil Gramm. For more on that and the other campaign headlines Jim Warren joins me. He’s managing editor for the Chicago Tribune. Jim, a lot’s been said about the statement but the follow up to that is Phil Gramm is standing by what he said. He’s clarifying it to suggest our leaders are the whiners. Does that help or hurt McCain as he tries to distance himself?

JAMES WARREN, Chicago Tribune: Yeah, no, it doesn’t help but I think McCain was very droid and very dull. There was some comment about Phil Gramm now in line to be, what, Ambassador to Belarus or something like that. If there was any notion of him as a vice presidential candidate, and there probably was, I think that’s now been dispensed with. But I think in the annals of a not particularly sensitive remarks this will rank up there with a bunch of things. Somebody, a historian reminded me yesterday, the auto manufacturing pioneer Henry Ford during the Depression said something to the effect that “these really are good times, it’s just that few know it.” And I think that’s, that will be ripe. There are fewer film buff, Lester, there are the old Preston Sturdgist Depression-era movies where guys from the good side of the tracks would dress down to see how folks who are having a hard time were doing. It might suit Mr. Gramm to sorta dress down, go on a commuter train in any major American city and see all of the folks who really are impacted by high gas prices or maybe, you know, maybe down near here, your old stomping grounds in Chicago, maybe in a South Bend, Indiana. Spend a few days as a car dealer and see what life is like these days.