Spin Cycle: AP Writes More Positively About Retail Sales Data as Day Progresses

On Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET, the Commerce Department reported that seasonally adjusted U.S. retail sales in April rose by 0.1%. In an 11:12 a.m. report via the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, carried at the Detroit News ("U.S. consumers hold back retail sales, even as gas prices fall"), Martin Crutsinger was appropriately not impressed: "Lower gas prices in April weren't enough to embolden U.S. consumers to spend much more elsewhere. The Commerce Department said retail sales rose only 0.1 percent last month."

Look how things changed in a late afternoon AP report currently carried at its national site co-authored by Crutsinger and Christopher Rugaber, reworked in time to go into most newspapers' print editions Wednesday morning:


Americans spending a bit more as gas prices fall

Americans are starting to see some relief from higher gas prices, a change that could revive the economy in the months ahead.

Consumer prices were flat in April, largely because of a decline in gas prices. Lower prices at the pump may be combining with steady job growth to power more spending on big purchases.

Sales of autos, furniture and electronics all rose in April. And Americans spent more at restaurants and bars - generally a sign of confidence in the economy.

"Consumer spending looks to have started the second quarter on a solid footing," said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

Despite the strength in key areas, overall retail sales increased just 0.1 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That modest gain followed two stronger months in February and March.

Crutsinger and Rugaber even came up with what I believe may be a new measurement (if it's not new, it's seldom used, and it wasn't specifically identified using the term the pair employed in reports at Reuters or Bloomberg, both of which were decidedly less upbeat): "Excluding autos, gas station sales and spending on building materials, so-called core retail sales increased 0.4 percent, a modest gain."

Huh? By the way, building materials had a terrible month (down 1.8%), likely indicating that the new home construction numbers and the home improvement metrics will continue to be weak. And no, I don't find the argument that good weather in February and March would have caused such a steep drop -- not if there were a strong recovery in progress.

This isn't the first time AP has brought out the spin machine to improve the look of lackluster economic data. Two noteworthy previous examples are here ("From 'Falls' to 'Rosy': Headlines at AP's Coverage of Consumer Confidence Report Improve As Day Wears On") and here ("Channeling Orwell: AP's Kravitz Celebrates Allegedly Recovering Housing Market, Flushes Bad Starts Data Down Memory Hole").

It also almost certainly won't be the last.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.