Media Can't Decide If 2.4 Percent Is Dramatic or Ho-Hum

The media are always trying to find a way to report the bad side of economic news, so it's shouldn't come as a terrible surprise to anyone that they managed to make positive holiday sales growth a bad thing.

According to MasterCard SpendingPulse, retail sales were up 3.6 percent during the holiday season - 2.4 percent excluding gas prices. But because it's not as big an increase as recent years have produced, the media reported it as bad news.

On NBC's "Nightly News," reporter Savannah Guthrie announced a "dramatic" 2.4 percent decrease in women's clothing sales. She didn't think the same percentage increase was "dramatic," however. Instead, she referred to the overall sales increase as "disappointing."

Other media labeled the figures "dismal," "small," "weak," "bleak" and "a clear sign that the economy is slowing down." Most made sure to point out, like "Good Morning America's" Ryan Owens, that the increase is "the smallest in four years."

But they largely downplayed more positive news, such as the 22.4 percent increase in online sales and the 7.1 percent increase in luxury goods. They did note, however, that sales during the week after Christmas could bump the numbers up to the predicted 4 percent increase over 2006.

The Wall Street Journal reported that "last year, January sales made up 25 percent of the three-month period's total, up from 23.6 percent in the 2000-01 season, according to ShopperTrak."

"The Early Show" featured an interview with Scott Krugman of the National Retail Federation (NRF), who predicted post-Christmas sales "will be enough to save Christmas for retailers." He said the NRF believes its prediction of a 4 percent increase over 2006 sales will be met when the dust settles.

Only Investor's Business Daily really put the story in perspective, quoting PriceGrabber.com CEO Ron LaPierre, who pointed out that "even with a slowing growth rate, the dollar amounts are rising in the billions" and "the fact that e-commerce can generate $4 billion more in sales than it did this time last year is very promising."