The economy plodded ahead at a 0.9 percent pace in the first quarter - slightly better than first estimated - but still underscoring caution on the part of consumers and businesses walloped by housing, credit and financial problems.
On Wednesday’s CBS "Early Show" co-host Julie Chen introduced a segment on rising gas prices and what people are doing to ease the cost: "This morning in our series 'Running on Empty' the news gets worse about gas prices. They jumped 15 cents in one week to a national average of $3.94 a gallon, according to the Energy Department. That is a record price. And it's forcing some drivers to take extreme measures to save money on gas."
Correspondent Jeff Glor then reported on how, "...desperate times call for desperate measures. Some people are doing anything they can to save on gas, while others are trying to avoid buying gas altogether." As one example, Glor highlighted a woman from San Antonio, Texas named Jessica Busby: "Then there's Jessica Busby, using her bike to get to a blood donation center two times a week. She pumps out her own blood, making $40 a pop so she has enough money to pump gas."
In an April Fool’s edition of the Media Research Center’s Notable Quotables in 2005, the MRC’s Rich Noyes came very close to Glor’s report with this fictional quote from "Early Show" correspondent Thalia Assuras: "The evidence is all over the Internet: healthy young people are putting their own organs up for sale, desperate for money to deal with fast-rising gas prices. Grad student Julie Potts just sold her kidney on Ebay."
"The downward slide for home prices is only picking up speed," CBS correspondent Anthony Mason said on the May 27 "Evening News." "The 14 percent plunge nationally was led by Las Vegas, where prices have fallen more than 25 percent over the past year. Miami is down more than 24 percent, Phoenix - 23 percent. Among the 20 major cities surveyed, only Charlotte showed a meager gain and analysts can't see a bottom yet."
The media have been quick to paint the slow-growing economy as though it's in recession. Indeed, as our friends at the Business & Media Institute discovered, the MSM now is painting the economy much worse than the print media reported the 1929 stock market crash that marked the beginning of the Great Depression.
But kudos are due U.S. News & World Report's Rick Newman for staking out a contrarian stand.
In his May 27 piece, "Why Consumers Are Underconfident," Newman lists five reasons why consumers are overly pessimistic and hence consumer confidence numbers misleading as far as being an accurate barometer of the economy. Here's an excerpt including one of those reasons, "the freak-out factor":
The news media have covered recent economic trials with four times as much negativity as they covered the worst economic period in the nation's history - the Great Depression - a new study from the Business & Media Institute shows.
"They were four times more negative during the Bear Stearns buyout than the worst economic couple days in our country's history," BMI Vice President Dan Gainor said on "Fox & Friends" May 27, announcing the release of the new study, "The Great Media Depression."
..... But Misses Chance to Refute "Jobs Slashed" Claims.
It's good to see that someone else is on the case of the recession-obsessed Associated Press, particularly reporter Jeannine Aversa. But even the estimable James Taranto, in his Best of the Web column yesterday, let Aversa's most obvious and repeated error go by without comment.
Today, I have two short United Press International stories that each have bias in them, but aren't worth a long, drawn out fisking of their own. So I'm combining them into one Newsbusters report. The first UPI report characterizes a Dutch anti-Islam cartoon as having been "found most offensive," as if it were universally accepted that it is, indeed, offensive and the second is a ridiculous report that is treated as "news" when it is really nothing but meaningless nonsense dressed up as news -- the second having the ulterior motive of stirring hatred against the eeevil "rich."
First up is "Cartoonist honored for Mohammed portrait" where UPI reports that the Danish artist who drew the "controversial cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban" has been honored with the Sappho Award by the Danish Free Press Society. This is all good news but the UPI couldn't help but slip in some of their own bias against this brave artist in the last two paragraphs of the report. (my bold emphasis)
As the oil executives hearings on Capitol Hill received great media attention given soaring gasoline prices, supposedly impartial press members missed a classic gaffe by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as it pertains to the benefits of OPEC raising production quotas versus America drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
On Wednesday, Schumer once again claimed "if [Saudi Arabia] did a million barrels of oil a day increase from today, it would go down about -- the translation to gasoline would be about $.50 a gallon, maybe $.62."
Yet, on May 7, Schumer felt a likely similar increase from drilling in ANWR would "reduce the price of oil by a penny."
As Marc Sheppard over at the American Thinker cleverly pointed out Thursday, in Schumer's odd calculus, only increases in foreign oil production will bring down the price (file photo courtesy FoxNews.com):
Of all the ways the presidential candidate sought to connect with Jewish voters at Congregation B'nai Torah in Boca Raton yesterday, perhaps the most heartfelt seemed these lines:
BARACK OBAMA: As I learned more [about the Zionist movement], I found I had a deep affinity with the idea of social justice that was embodied in the Jewish faith. There was a notion–tikkun–that you could repair the breach of the past. There was a notion, embodied in the kibbutz, that we all had a responsibility to each other. That we're all in this together. That hope can persevere even against the longest odds.
View video here [link is to RCP clip; cited remarks from 0:30-2:50.]
"[up arrow] Energy conservation: The one clear winner as oil creeps toward $200 a barrel."
So declares Newsweek.com's Conventional Wisdom for May 22.
THE only clear winner? That may be a talking point suitable for Sen. Barack Obama's campaign, but it's hardly THE only clear winner for solving America's energy problems, that is, unless your "conventional wisdom" leaves out the views of conservatives.
How about drilling in ANWR, removing barriers to offshore drilling, and building more refineries? All of those are solutions furthered by conservatives in Washington, but which apparently don't dawn on the editors at Newsweek.
"As the U.S. economy slows, the story is often told through broad statistics," the "about" section of the blog stated. "In this blog, BusinessWeek reporter Tim Catts travels the country to uncover the stories of how individuals are coping with the downturn."
Dan Gainor, Vice President for the Business & Media Institute, blamed part of people's gloomy perception of the economy on the "constant drumbeat" of negativity coming from the news media. Gainor appeared on Fox Business Network's "Cavuto" May 20.
"Almost 23 million people watch evening news every night. That has an affect and that's almost 1/10 of the American population. Those are people who are shoppers, who are buyers. It affects people and just the constant drumbeat of negativity here from the mainstream media affects people even at high incomes," said Gainor.
The show's host Neil Cavuto seemed to agree, "If this continues and this perception becomes reality, we've got hell to pay to here."
As political rituals go, the phony denial of interest in the VP nomination is among the most annoying. So credit Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee for unequivocally stating their willingness to serve as McCain's running mate.
But please, politicians out there, spare us the feeble non-denial denials such as the one Jim Webb offered up on today's Morning Joe. Isn't Webb supposed to be Mr. No-Nonsense Macho Man? After all, he was on the show to tout his new book, A Time to Fight, and to talk up his rough 'n tumble Scots-Irish roots. But judging by his wimpy response to the Veep question, perhaps the book should be renamed A Time to Fumfer. His reply to Mika Brzezinski's question on his interest in the Veep nomination has to go down as one of the lamest of an already-lame genre.
In early May, Richard Wolf at USA Today tried to make a big deal over a very small statistic, and wrote one of those "signs of hard times" pieces that have become all the rage these days in Old Media (previous examples are here and here).
Wolf's piece was hampered by a possibly excusable math error, courtesy of the data supplied. But he also showed no curiosity as to why there have been such wide variations in state-by-state changes in the number of those receiving "welfare" (now known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF).
Here's how his report began:
States' welfare caseloads starting to rise
State welfare rolls, which declined for more than a decade after a 1996 overhaul of the nation's cash-assistance program, are beginning to rise, due in part to the struggling economy.
News Flash!: Liberal politician decries price gouging, vows to use government to fix problem, mugs for cameras to hog credit.
Oh wait, that's not really news at all. Unless you work for the Chicago Sun-Times.
The online edition of the paper gave Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin a virtual press release with a 9-paragraph story by reporter Maureen O'Donnell. Here's an excerpt:
The Second City has become first in the nation for high gas prices, with consumers struggling as oil company profits soar, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday.
"We've got to stop the price-gouging,'' Durbin said.
He took credit for a new Federal Trade Commission probe into record fuel prices as he spoke before a BP station at Roosevelt and Wabash with regular gas selling for $4.25.
At no point did O'Donnell mention that previous FTC studies on price gouging have given liberals little if any ammo on the price gouging charge. Perhaps most notable among them the spring 2006 FTC study conducted to probe if there was price-fixing after Hurricane Katrina (available here as PDF).
The business press's recession obsession continues:
A couple of weeks ago, in the wake of the initial first-quarter GDP growth reading of 0.6%, Rex Nutting at MarketWatch.com entertained us with the notion that an economy can be in a recession even while there is real, if anemic, economic growth.
Paul Krugman is over in Berlin, and—surprise!—concludes that Europeans have things better figured out than we benighted Americans do. The gist of his Stranded in Suburbia in today's NY Times is that dense cities like Berlin, which offer good public transportation, are the solution to the high gasoline prices we are seemingly stuck with. Krugman contrasts Berlin and Atlanta:
Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin — but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.
So why don't more Americans choose to live in big cities? After citing the current lack of good public transportation and the durability of suburban housing, Krugman points his accusing liberal's finger at his fellow Americans [emphasis added]:
Twin Cities news consumers aren't well served, and it may get worse.
Avista Capital Partners, which owns the Minneapolis Star Tribune, said earlier this month that its investment in the Strib is performing so poorly that it had to be written down by 75%. Earlier, the New York Post reported the possibility that the paper might go bankrupt. That possibility will loom as long as the Strib, which many locals refer to as "Red Star Tribune," largely serves as the apparent PR outlet of the Democratic Farm Labor Party (the Gopher State's Democrats).
If a Strib bankruptcy were to occur, and it ceases publication, the St. Paul Pioneer Press is less than ready to step into the breach, at least if Tom Webb's article Thursday about recent food price inflation is any indication.
What's up at the supermarket? Prices for almost everything
Food inflation hit an 18-year high in April, with grocery prices rising 1.5 percent for the month, the government said Wednesday. Prices rose in every aisle - dairy, breads, meats, beverages, fruits and vegetables. It means $53 more a month to feed a family of four with a typical food budget.
The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal has long been an indispensable voice of conservatism. As President Bush said in 2003 in awarding the Medal of Freedom to editorial page editor Robert L. Bartley shortly before his death, he—and by extension his editorial page—has been "a champion of free markets, individual liberty and the values necessary for a free society."
But there is one area in which the editorial page's policy diverges strikingly from conservative orthodoxy, and that is on the matter of immigration. To varying degrees, the paper's editorialists have argued in favor of a more flexible attitude toward immigration. That tendency reaches its apotheosis in the recently-released book by WSJ editorial board member Jason Riley: Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders.
Riley appeared on this weekend's Journal Editorial Report on FNC to discuss his book with host Paul Gigot and make the case that borders should indeed be opened. Riley seemed surprisingly passive in the defense of his controversial proposal, and I personally came away unpersuaded. Here was the exchange.
Someone forgot to tell the Wall Street Journal's Kelly Evans and Justin Lahart, carried here at the Arizona Republic, that they're supposed to portray the economy in a bad light whenever and wherever possible. I'll get to the pair's report later.
That "bad light" directive seems seared into the minds of the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger and his AP colleagues, as they continue to "cling to recession," and attempt to convince consumers and businesses that if perchance we're not already in one, it's just around the bend.
The AP's persistence has borne dreadful fruit. Relentlessly downbeat reporting during at least the past six years by the wire service's business reporters -- who largely determine what most Americans see, hear, and read about the economy -- is a big reason, if not the most important reason, why most Americans, as seen in the latest consumer confidence report, have a negative economic outlook and are convinced that we are in a recession.
President Bush's effort to coax the Saudis to boost oil output was given wildly different treatments on the front pages of the Washington Post than the British broadsheet the Financial Times.
"Saudis bow to oil pressure: Kingtom to lift output to highest in two years; US lobbying comes after price nears $128" reads the May 17 front page FT headline. (The headline for the online version is slightly different: "Saudis to boost oil output after US pressure.")
Of course, the Saudis DID agree to boost daily output by 300,000 barrels. As the Post's Abramowitz noted, "[t]hat would take Saudi production to 9.4 million barrels a day" whereas the max the kingdom can pump out a day would be "11.3 million barrels."
How different do you think Americans' take on the current economy would be if the business press picked up on the fact that the bad employment news is coming predominantly out of two struggling states -- and that most of the rest of the nation is holding its own?
The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that April industrial production fell, the second negative reading in the past three months. Specifically, February and April fell by 0.7%, and March showed an increase of 0.2%.
In May 2001, that same report showed that production fell for the seventh consecutive month.
Seasonally adjusted data from the Fed indicates that industrial production during those seven months (October 2000 through April 2001) fell 2.6%.
During the past seven months (October 2007 through April 2008), industrial production has fallen 1.7%.
Guess which set of circumstances generated more talk of recession?
ABC's "Nightline" on Monday continued the network's trend of hyperbolically, and in this case, apocalyptically, fretting over high gas prices in America. Anchor Martin Bashir introduced a segment by wondering if $4 a gallon gas might result in some people stealing gasoline, or, as he put it, "taking some drastic measures." Speaking to a car security expert who claimed that such theft would be a misdemeanor because the total cost would be below $1000, reporter John Donvan lost all perspective and replied, "But we may soon be paying more than $1,000 for a tank of gas." [audio available here]
Donvan, in a snarky tone, even cited the plot of the futuristic thriller "The Road Warrior" to support his argument. He speculated, "And in the future, of course, they will be stealing gas and fighting over it. We know that because of the 1981 Mad Max classic 'The Road Warrior.'"
In a rare case of balance, Wednesday’s CBS "Early Show" highlighted both sides in the debate over declaring the polar bear an endangered species due to global warming as correspondent Daniel Sieberg declared: "They're at the top of the food chain at the top of the world, but their future is at the center of a political tug-of-war over drilling for oil versus protecting their habitat."
Sieberg began his report with a dire prediction: "There are an estimated 20,000 - 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic region, but environmentalists warn that rising temperatures and disappearing sea ice will cause a 30 percent decline in their population over the next 50 years." He also played clips of liberal California Senator Barbara Boxer and John Kostyack from the National Wildlife Federation.
However, Sieberg also provided perspective from the Heritage Foundation:
"You are staring into the face of one thing scientists say you can do to fight climate change," ABC correspondent Dan Harris said as the face of a cow filled the screen. "Leave this cow alone and eat less beef. According to the United Nations, 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions comes from sending beef and dairy products to your kitchen table."
West Virginia primary voters were asked at least two factually faulty exit poll questions yesterday, both of which asserted that the U.S. economy is already in recession. This, of course, is absolutely false. A recession is marked by at least two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. The last quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2008 were marked by slow, but positive, economic growth.
See the screencap from CNN.com below (h/t e-mail tipster Jeff Williams):
A week after ABC focused a story on two pitiable Minnesota families living in the dark because higher energy and food prices mean they “can no longer afford to pay for electricity,” Tuesday's World News highlighted the replies from sad case stories solicited on ABCNews.com, starting with a woman who says she must skip breakfast to put $4 a day toward gas. ABC displayed “FEELING THE PAIN” on screen as Charles Gibson set up the story that David Muir started by fretting about “the price of a gallon of gas jumping more than a dime in just the last week” -- which is a piddling $2 more to fill a 20-gallon tank. Nonetheless, he asserted “the e-mails we've received show the pain is being felt far and wide. Single mother Caroline Saunders wrote to us from New Jersey.” He read aloud from her e-mail with her quote on screen:
I now skip breakfast to save the extra $4 per day. That gives me an extra $20 added to my gas budget.
Muir proceeded to recite two less ridiculous complaints, a trucker upset about a 60 percent hike in diesel fuel over the past in two years and a woman who found a job that requires $110 a week in gas to commute 140 miles round trip.
"Of course, real life never matches up exactly with the theory's assumptions. But they represent, economists say, a useful way of making sense of a complex world," Lynch wrote.
"To Soros, the conventional approach is rubbish. Instead of a world of near-identical actors, coolly assessing their economic interests and acting with clear-eyed precision, he sees a world (and markets) governed by passion, bias and self-reinforcing errors," Lynch wrote. "Because fallible human beings are both involved in, and trying to make sense of, this world, they inevitably make mistakes. Those mistakes then feed on themselves in ‘reflexive' ways that, when taken to extremes, result in situations such as the now-deflating U.S. housing bubble."