NewsBusters readers are well aware of our contention that the press have adopted the 1992 strategy of making every economic report look like the world is coming to an end, and we'll all be in soup lines next year if the Democrat presidential candidate isn't inaugurated in January.
No finer example is available than Thursday's Associated Press article concerning February's very disappointing retail sales report. To be sure, store traffic was much worse than expected last month, and we are not trying to paint a rosy picture.
However, there are two truly disturbing elements in Martin Crutsinger's piece entitled "Retail Sales Plunge by 0.6 Percent" (h/t NBer Par for the Course):
In a report from the presidential campaign trail in Wyoming early Saturday morning, Sara Kugler of the Associated Press picked up on an economic meme created out of whole cloth by one of her colleagues, and treated it as an undisputed fact -- all in the name of creating support for campaign rhetoric coming from one of the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates.
The Labor Department's report, released Friday, also showed that the nation's unemployment rate dipped to 4.8 percent as hundreds of thousands of people — perhaps discouraged by their prospects — left the civilian labor force. The jobless rate was 4.9 percent in January.
On Wednesday's The Situation Room, CNN's Jack Cafferty suggested that blame for high oil prices rests not only with Bush administration policies, but also with its "relationship with the oil companies." During a discussion of John McCain and President Bush's recent meeting, Cafferty, who once pushed the liberal conspiracy theory that Big Oil deliberately lowered gas prices before the 2006 elections to help Republicans get elected, once again demonstrated his lack of understanding of the world oil market as he suggested that a "relationship" with oil companies could impact world oil prices: "Oil was $28 a barrel when George Bush was sworn in. It's $104 right now and could go to $120 soon. Now, why do you suppose that is? It wouldn't have to do with the policies of the Bush administration or the relationship they have with the oil companies, would it? Come on." (Transcript follows)
ABC's "World News Tonight" had a hard time on Friday without normal anchor Charles Gibson, as in its segment about the employment numbers released by the Labor Department, guest host George Stephanopoulos said the figures were from January 2008.
This was stated as a graphic came on the screen reading "JOBS LOST, January 2008, 63,000." Of course, Labor's report was for the month of February.
Sadly, that wasn't the only mistake "World News" made concerning this crucial piece of economic data, for just as the Associated Press had done earlier in the day, ABC's Business Correspondent Betsy Stark claimed (video available here, h/t NBer Gary Hall):
There's no denying the economy is slowing, and may have either entered a recession, or is on the brink of one. Maybe.
However, the media's hysterical response to Friday's February jobs report lacked any historical reference to how the labor market behaved in previous recessions.
Instead, press outlet after press outlet decided that the loss of 63,000 jobs in February was a clear signal the recession they've been calling for since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in September 2005 had finally begun.
In fact, as they fretted over this decline in non-farm payrolls, media chose not to ask and answer an important question:
Yours truly had a memorable series of exchanges with MarketWatch Washington Bureau Chief Rex Nutting roughly 18 months ago. At one point, he appeared to reveal an expectation (otherwise, why provide a graph of it?) that home prices might actually fall like the NASDAQ did from 2000-2002 -- which, for the record, was almost 78%, from a peak of 5048 in March 2000 to a trough of 1114 in October 2002). He also described the housing market, which was still advancing nicely, as "in a free-fall."
Given the history, we shouldn't be surprised that Nutting pounced on the Fed's latest household net worth report, producing the following (link requires free registration):
.... for what I believe is a painfully obvious reason.
It is reports like the one written up by Shobhana Chandra at Bloomberg yesterday on household net worth that make you wonder if everyday US citizens will ever get the information needed to accurately evaluate what's going on in the economy without doing more digging than they have time for -- or that they should even have to do.
Chandra's writeup seemed to deliberately omit any and all context readers could have used to understand the significance of the information presented. She (based on this source, I'm assuming that Chandra is female -- if I'm wrong, please let me know) also sought out an "expert" to support a specious case that the reported results were masking a greater deterioration.
For years, NewsBusters and the Business & Media Institute have regularly complained about the abysmal financial coverage offered by the mainstream press while accusing media of consistently painting a negative -- and oftentimes fallacious! -- picture of the economy.
On Friday, a perfect example of such was illustrated by the Associated Press whose article about the February unemployment data just released by the Labor Department grossly misrepresented what was announced.
In fact, the AP's Jeannine Aversa actually fabricated data that went completely contrary to what was reported. Take a close look at paragraph two of Aversa's article published at Yahoo at 9:39AM (emphasis added):
Here's is the core information the Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa had to work with today in the Employment Situation Report released by the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
The "Dec.-Feb. change" column was added by me, but is easily calculated from the data in the BLS report. What Aversa did with this info, and my comments, are after the jump. (see also Noel Sheppard's post here)
Here's how her report began (scare words in bold; the headline is also from AP):
When January's retail sales failed to meet expectations, Old Media made sure we knew about how "disappointing" the result was. But today, February's result, which beat expectations by about as much or more than January's trailed them, was described as a mere "reprieve."
Associated Press reporter Anne D'Innocenzio's January coverage began as follows:
Stores Post Disappointing January Sales
Here's a sign of how shaky the economy has become: Wal-Mart says its shoppers are redeeming their holiday gift cards for basic items — pasta sauce, diapers, laundry detergent — instead of iPods or DVDs.
On Thursday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Maggie Rodriguez hyped rising gas prices as she teased an upcoming segment and declared: "Still ahead for us, more pain at the pump. You'll be paying $4 a gallon or even more." Though $4 a gallon may happen, asserting that it will be that high, or higher, in the near future certainly paints an overly dire picture. While introducing the segment, Rodriguez went on to highlight one gas station in California with prices far above the average of $3.17 a gallon across the country: "It may be hard to believe, but seeing is believing. Take a look at that, regular unleaded at $5.19 a gallon at one California station."
Rodriguez talked to analyst Tom Kloza of the Oil Information Price Service and began by asking about the rise in gas prices, and admitting some of her earlier exaggeration: "Luckily nationwide we're not seeing gas at $5.19, but we hit a record high yesterday, $3.17 a gallon, which is 69 cents higher than a year ago. What's going on here?"
The greatest challenge facing Kosovo - which declared independence from Serbia two weeks ago - may not be opposition from Russia and Serbia, but may come from Western environmental groups opposed to mining what The New York Times on March 5 called the nation's "vast amount of minerals."
Currently, the country's largest export is scrap metal. Accessing the extensive resources - including an estimated 14 billion tons of coal - in Kosovo will require restructuring of its "outdated" mining systems, but the mining industry has faced fierce opposition from Western environmental activists.
"The socialist media - maybe they will just never get it," Stossel said. "Their world view is anti-capitalist. [Ludwig] von Mises wrote about it in 1972 and it's just very hard to change. I would also argue the scientific community is as well."
On Sunday’s "60 Minutes," anchor Scott Pelley profiled a charity called Remote Area Medical and its efforts to provide free health care in the United States:
Recently, we heard about an American relief organization that air drops doctors and medicine into the jungles of the Amazon. Its called Remote Area Medical, or "RAM" for short. Remote Area Medical sets up emergency clinics where the needs are greatest. But these days, that's not the Amazon -- this charity founded to help people who can't reach medical care now finds itself throwing America a lifeline.
Later, Pelley asked the charity’s founder, Stan Brock, about this: "You've created this medical organization that was designed to go into third world countries, to go into remote places, and you're now doing 60% of your work in urban and rural America. What are we supposed to make of that?"
On Sunday’s CBS "60 Minutes," anchor Steve Kroft interviewed Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, along with a small group of Ohio Democratic voters who, as Kroft explained: "told us that both race and gender would be hidden factors in southern Ohio, that many blue collar workers here won't vote for a woman, and others would never vote for a black." Kroft went on to focus on Obama: "And Senator Obama has another problem: a malicious campaign against him that surfaced in a number of our interviews."
This "malicious campaign" as Kroft sees it is the suggestion by some that Obama is a Muslim. Kroft was shocked to find this belief from one of the voters he talked to, Kenny Schoenholtz, who said:
I'm leaning towards Obama. There's a couple issues with him I'm not too clear on...Well, I'm hearing he doesn't even know the national anthem. He wouldn't use the Holy Bible. He's got his own beliefs, with the Muslim beliefs. And couple of issues that bothers me at heart.
Kroft was concerned that this one misinformed voter, who said he would probably vote for Obama anyway, was reflective of broader smear against the Illinois Senator:
On Wednesday, Associated Press Business Writer J.W. Elphinstone used a curious definition of "narrow" to emphasize the importance of a home-price measurement index that only looks at the country's largest metro areas, while minimizing the significance of one that catalogs virtually the entire USA -- all apparently done to create an overwrought portrayal of home values as being "in freefall."
No end in sight: Housing in freefall until credit loosens and supply recedes, experts say
House prices may still have a long way to fall.
Across much of the nation, home values are dropping -- even those backed by solid mortgages -- and banks are repossessing more every day. Most experts say the dive won't hit bottom for another year and only after excess inventory is sharply reduced and credit markets improve.
It certainly is no surprise the stock market's big decline on Friday would be the lead story for evening news programs.
But, citing an economic study from an organization with direct and verifiable ties to Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as simply a "consumer group" while not even mentioning the liberal leaning of the think-tank seemed pretty absurd even for NBC.
Yet, that's what occurred Friday evening as the NBC "Nightly News" began its broadcast:
BMI Vice President Dan Gainor took to the Fox Business Network Thursday to explain the difference between "depression," "recession" and "slow growth," terms the mainstream media has blurred.
Economists "don't even agree that we're in a recession yet," Gainor said. "But then if you watch the network news shows, we're already up to eight times this year - that's once a week where they've made a comparison to the Great Depression."
They're starting to get it. The media are figuring out government meddling in U.S. energy policy is taking a toll on the American economy.
On February 20, the Labor Department reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a key inflation reading, rose 0.4 percent in January, matching December's rise. Why? Increased food costs because corn is being used for ethanol.
"Farmers are replacing wheat fields with corn to meet the demand for alternative fuel, but that means higher flour prices - and in one Pennsylvania pizza shop, more expensive pies," NBC News correspondent Chris Jansing said on the February 27 "NBC Nightly News."
What follows is coverage of the February 28 presidential news conference. I focused mostly on the questions posited by the media. Video of the most biased questions should be posted shortly thereafter. [Update: White House transcript available here.]
Bottom line: Most of the really biased questions came down on the economy, particularly with regard to gas prices. Other than that and a question by Bill Plante about FISA immunity for telecom companies, most of the questions were fine, although the reporters often tried to draw Bush into handicapping the 2008 presidential contest or commenting on how his policies affect Sen. John McCain's chances:
"Now, to the economy," ABC "World News" anchor Charles Gibson said. "And a word not heard since the 1970s - stagflation. That occurs when prices go up just as the economy slows down - stagnation plus inflation. And the government that wholesale prices shot up 1 percent in January and are now up almost 7.5 percent in the past 12 months."
For years, NewsBusters and the Business and Media Institute have informed readers about how the press, since George W. Bush was first elected, have tried to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by misrepresenting economic data in as negative a way as possible.
This is likely the cause of the public's continued pessimism about economic conditions even as the economy has expanded for 25 consecutive quarters.
On Tuesday, in an interview on CNBC, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell took this thinking a little further when he suggested to "Squawk Box" anchor Becky Quick that many of the economic problems facing the country today are caused by fear-mongering and politicking by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Old Media coverage of government budget difficulties usually focuses on the here and now, and all the "tough decisions" that have to be made.
Seldom is there ever an examination of how a state or local government entity got into its current fix. Scratch just a little bit beneath the surface, though, and you'll almost inevitably find that an annoying habit of overspending during the good times has left the state or municipality unprepared for when things go even a little bit sour, as they invariably and eventually do.
It's an extraordinarily clever claim. It gets your attention. It's misleading. And of course, Old Media isn't questioning it.
I am referring to the following statement made by Barack Obama in radio ads currently running in Ohio and Texas:
Some CEOs make more in 10 minutes than some American workers make in a year.
In the full context of the ad, I believe that what Obama wants listeners to take away is that "Quite a few CEOs typically, year after year, make more in 10 minutes than some American workers make in a year."
But let's limit things to the literal wording. Start with a full-time minimum-wage worker who earns (rounded) $12,000 annually ($5.85 per hour times 2,080 hours is a bit more than that). How much would a CEO have to make in a year to be earning over $12,000 every 10 minutes?
During the four weeks preceding February 20, New York Times Company stock had been staging a nice comeback.
Lord only knows that the company's long-suffering shareholders, who before then had seen the share price drop more than 70% since June 2002, a point in time that roughly coincides with the onset of the Old Gray Lady's seemingly intractable case of Bush Derangement Syndrome, welcomed any kind of reversal of fortune.
For a while, they had it. From a intra-day low of $14.01 on January 23, the stock rose over 50%, closing at $21.07 last Wednesday.
But on Thursday and Friday, that climb was halted abruptly, and partially reversed. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.4% in those two days, and the S&P 500 dipped 0.5%, NYT stock dove almost 9.7%, closing Friday at $19.03.
“Not since the Depression has a larger share of Americans owed more on their homes than they are worth,” New York Times reporters Edmund Andrews and Louis Uchitelle wrote in a February 22 article. “With the collapse of the housing boom, nearly 8.8 million homeowners, or 10.3 percent of the total, are underwater.”
Steven Pearlstein, a one-time reporter for the Post who now pens a column for the newspaper, wrote February 20 that “the best thing that could happen to our economy is for a dozen high-profile hedge funds to collapse; for investment banking to enter a long, deep freeze; for a major bank to fail; and for the price of a typical Park Avenue duplex to fall by 30 percent.”
“For only then,” Pearlstein wrote, “might we finally stop genuflecting before the altar of unregulated financial markets and insist that Wall Street serve the interest of Main Street, rather than the other way around.”
He didn’t explain how hedge funds collapsing or banks failing would help Americans. Instead, he opted to cheer for a situation that would see millions of people suffer, admitting his was a “harsh and vengeful solution, and there will be lots of collateral damage.”
With the symbolic passing of the torch - from Fidel Castro to Raul Castro - comes hope of changes in Cuba, well at least among some in the media.
Even though no one is predicting Cuba to usher in a new wave of Adam Smith-style capitalism, there might be some changes according to ABC's "World News with Charles Gibson."
"[H]e's talking about significant reforms - liberalizing trade, economic reforms designed to ease poverty in a country where the average person earned $19 a month in the hope of consolidating his own power," ABC correspondent Jeffrey Kofman said on the Feb.19, 2008, ABC "World News with Charles Gibson."
“This – Nord, is she as imbecilic as she appears to be as absolutely insensitive to American consumers, as absolutely lacking the judgment to run a federal agency designed and created to protect the American consumer?” Dobbs asked. “I mean this woman is beyond belief.”