Economy Would Have Been Worse Without Obama, Networks Conclude

After three so-called “recovery summers,” the economy has yet to recover under President Barack Obama. Unemployment stands at 7.8 percent, but would be far higher if more people were looking for jobs. GDP was downgraded to 1.3 percent and the national debt is $16 trillion.

Looking back, the broadcast networks have consistently depicted past summers as times of economic renewal, despite an ongoing economic downturn.

Summer 2010 was touted by all three broadcast networks as a “Summer of Recovery” until it became apparent that the economy was not recovering. There was a half-hearted media effort to label the summer of 2011 as a “Summer of Recovery” as well, but that was also abandoned. Facing the reality of a slow recovery, the major networks instead turned to arguing that the recovery would have been much worse without Obama.

Journalists blamed Republicans for “blocking the president’s plans,” greedy corporations for exacerbating economic instability, and pointed to other factors, such as the financial meltdown in Europe and even the “quake in Japan.”

But that’s not how the recovery has been portrayed during the first three summers of the Obama presidency. The networks said the economy would have been worse off without Obama by a factor of 3-to-1 (55 stories to 18 stories).

Tom Costello on NBC “Nightly News” in June of 2011 praised the administration’s announcement that it would release 30 million barrels of oil from the strategic petroleum reserves, saying that “analysts call it a hail Mary pass to kick-start the economy.”  Costello went on to say that this move would give “more money back to consumers and businesses.”

ABC reporter Betsy Stark on World News on Aug. 7, 2009, pointed to the unemployment rate falling to 9.4 percent as a sign that the “worst is behind us and the seeds of a recovery are taking hold.” She later noted that “the president took some credit for today’s jobs numbers, saying the stimulus plan has rescued the economy from catastrophe,” but did not offer any other opinion on the topic.

Journalists also covered for the president. CBS Business & Economics Correspondent Rebecca Jarvis defended the Federal Reserve’s handling of the recovery on the June 23, 2011, edition of the “CBS Early Show,” saying the Fed and government had been trying their best, but they just had not “found a silver bullet.” “One of the things that really caught this country by surprise is, first of all, the quake in Japan,” she said.

The Media Research Center’s Business and Media Institute analyzed coverage of “recovery” from June 1 to Aug. 31 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 on morning and evening shows of ABC, NBC and CBS.

In 2009, network coverage was overwhelmingly pro-Obama, hyping a possible recovery. ABC, CBS and NBC stories praised the administration on the economy by a factor of 9-to-1. In 2010, 14 stories said that the economy would have been worse off without Obama while 8 were critical, and in 2011, 23 were positive while just 8 were critical.

Even the critical stories simply criticized the president for doing too little.

Chip Reid on CBS’s “The Early Show,” on June 3, 2011, noted the lack of recovery, but was quick to shift the blame to the Republican Congress. He argued that the high unemployment rate was the fault of “Republicans blocking the president’s plans to stimulate growth with new investments,” which caused the economy to loom as “an increasingly dark cloud over the president’s re-election campaign.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore commented on October 1, 2012, that the pace of growth in this economy was not nearly good enough. “This economic recovery has been the equivalent of wiping out nearly all of the output from California every year. Mitt Romney should be pouncing on this factoid. If Mr. Obama is re-elected and this growth gap persists for four more years – the Congressional Budget Office is already predicting a possible recession next year – the GDP loss by 2016 will be closer to $3 trillion.”

Mike Ciandella
Mike Ciandella
Mike Ciandella is a staff writer for the Media Research Center's Business & Media Institute.