What if reporters hunting and pecking for happy economic news are playing up incomplete government reports? Take this AP story by Jeannine Aversa on hopes rising over jobless claims:
The number of people signing up for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in two months, an encouraging sign that companies aren't resorting to deeper layoffs even as the economy has lost momentum.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that new claims for unemployment aid plunged last week by a seasonally adjusted 27,000 to 451,000. Economists had predicted a much smaller decline of just 2,000.
But wait, we have an asterisk alert: did the Labor Department really get data from all 50 states? Bloomberg News explained, ahem, that nine states did not report actual numbers:
For the latest reporting week, nine states didn’t file claims data to the Labor Department in Washington because of the federal holiday earlier this week, a Labor Department official told reporters. As a result, California and Virginia estimated their figures and the U.S. government estimated the other seven, the official said.
There's nothing wrong with reporting the Labor Department estimates -- but every story ought to include the missing-states paragraph in their stories, and reporters ought to restrain their "hopes rise" talk considering the incompleteness of the reporting. This Aversa story (or at least this version) doesn't have that information.
If this was a GOP Labor Department, isn't it possible reporters would be more skeptical that the government estimates might have some administration spin in them?