The really interesting stories in today's Washington Post are hiding off the front pages. On page A-23 (and not even the TOP of A-23) is the Dan Balz story "Pelosi Hails Democrats' Diverse War Stances." That's a sunny way of saying again, "Democrats Have No Iraq Plan." Balz begins his summary of a Pelosi sit-down with the Post:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that Democrats should not seek a unified position on an exit strategy in Iraq, calling the war a matter of individual conscience and saying differing positions within the caucus are a source of strength for the party.
USA Today practiced a “rip and read” of liberal talking points on winter heating costs with it’s headline for Richard Wolf’s December 12 story, “Some may face choice: Whether to heat or eat." Wolf’s article centered on critics of the Agriculture Department’s (USDA) decision to deny the requests of five states for a boost in food stamps spending.
The self-declared “nation’s newspaper” cribbed from a December 12 press release by America’s Second Harvest, whose headline read, “Heat or Eat? Millions of Americans Forced to Make the Choice This Winter; Energy Costs and Food Insecurity Reach Record Highs.”
A front page New York Times story on the global warming talks in Montreal chose to place all the blame for America’s refusal to move forward with the highly controversial Kyoto Protocol on the Bush administration. In doing so, the Times didn’t inform its readers about the history of this accord, and, in particular, that the Senate in July 1997 voted 95-0 against it. In addition, the Times completely ignored any of the obvious economic consequences to America if it entered into a global warming treaty that did not include China.
Yet, that didn’t deter the Times from identifying a culprit: “In a sign of its growing isolation on climate issues, the Bush administration had come under sharp criticism for walking out of informal discussions on finding new ways to reduce emissions under the United Nations' 1992 treaty on climate change.”
A recent report published by the Gallup Organization stated:
“a majority of U.S. investors continue to describe the current economy as being ‘in a slowdown’ or ‘recession’ as opposed to being ‘in a recovery’ or ‘sustained expansion.’”
Regardless of continuously strong economic reports, such bearish assessments have been regularly portrayed by public opinion polls for several years. During this period, economists and politicians – including the Bush administration – have wondered what is responsible for this disconnect between perception and reality.
A detailed look at how unemployment numbers are shared with the public by mainstream media outlets gives us some clues. The Labor Department on Friday announced very strong employment gains for the month of November. In fact, this was the largest number of job creations since April. However, this news was reported to the public in a fashion that largely downplayed its significance. A 3.2 percent annual increase in wages was characterized as employees “basically treading water.” Although energy prices have been steadily declining since September, jobs market stories included references of this still being a “huge concern.” Other news accounts referred to the unemployment rate being “stuck at 5 percent,” as if a 5 percent unemployment rate is a bad thing, while one cable news outlet told viewers to take the numbers “with a grain of salt.”
Yesterday, CBS Early Show co-host Hannah Storm asked White House aide Dan Bartlett about how most Americans think the economy is tanking: "Finally Dan, quickly, I know you came on to talk about the economy today, the President is going to address this today, there are some positive numbers but we have Americans shopping at discounters, they spent their money on gas this summer, they're worried about heating costs. What can you tell the majority of Americans who actually feel that the economy is getting worse?"
The media’s pessimistic holiday shopping forecasts fail to register with reality.
Don't miss my latest at the Free Market Project: Contrary to the media’s pessimistic forecasts for the Christmas shopping season reported by the Free Market Project in late October, strong retail sales this Thanksgiving weekend got the annual end-of-the-year buying bonanza off to a bang. In fact, the economic data available prior to this weekend looked so strong that the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, actually raised its sales forecast for 2005 holiday shopping from a 5 percent year-over-year increase to 6 percent.
Regardless of this upgrade in expectations by retailers themselves, and the fabulous start to the shopping season, the media continued to rain on everybody’s parade.
You've come to Newsbusters because you want to see a concrete example of liberal bias. Who delivers that better than the New York Times?
This is reality. We're 4 years out from the worst attack since Pearl Harbor, post dot-com crash, we've had more hurricanes than any year since some old man first started keeping track, and we just about had a major U.S. city -- an economically important city -- wiped off the face of the planet. The hurricanes took out oil infrastructure at a time when we can ill afford a disruption in supply.
And yet the economy is, quite simply, running hot.
That would be great, except for the fact that a religious conservative is sitting in the White House. Will the powerful New York Times stand for this? After all, there has been so much invested in making Bush look like a religious idiot.
For those who missed it, the Federal Open Market Committee released minutes from its November 1 meeting on Tuesday, and the stock market rallied as a result. Yet, depending upon which Associated Press story you read, you were either elated or despondent.
For instance, the AP’s Michael J. Martinez began his report: “Stocks extended their rally yesterday after the Fed's latest take on the economy raised hopes that the central bank's string of a dozen interest rate hikes are coming to an end.”
By contrast, Jeannine Aversa began her article: “Worried that high energy costs could spread inflation throughout the economy, Federal Reserve policymakers this month decided they should keep pushing interest rates higher.”
Today’s New York Times featured a Carl Hulse article that depicted the future of the Republican Party as being almost as bright as Alaska for the next several weeks. In Hulse’s view, just about everything that has gone wrong in America in 2005 can be linked to Republicans, while, conversely, in a 27 paragraph piece, there was only one paragraph that suggested any problems for the party on the opposite side of the aisle. Frankly, this article read more like a press release from a political strategist than a column in a leading, national newspaper.
First, Hulse set the stage: “The ugly debate in the House on Friday over the Iraq war served as an emotional send-off for a holiday recess, capturing perfectly the political tensions coursing through the House and Senate in light of President Bush's slumping popularity, serious party policy fights, spreading ethics investigations and the approach of crucial midterm elections in less than a year.”
He then established the goal: “Capitol Hill was always certain to be swept up in brutal political gamesmanship as lawmakers headed into 2006 - the midpoint of this second presidential term and, perhaps, a chance for Democrats to cut into Republican majorities or even seize power in one chamber or the other.”
Then, Hulse enumerated all the Republican shortcomings:
The latest edition of "The Balance Sheet," the MRC's Free Market Project (FMP) newsletter, is up and archived on freemarketproject.com. Balance Sheet, published every week on Wednesday afternoon, provides the best of FMP coverage from the previous week on the media's bias against the free market.
You can obtain a free subscription to "The Balance Sheet" by clicking here and signing up for e-mail delivery.
Highlights from this week include FMP director Dan Gainor's take on the Fox News's special from Sunday: "The Heat is On," editor Amy Menefee's analysis of the media's hyped predictions on natural gas prices for this coming winter, and as always, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" in economic and business reporting from the past week, and yes, the New York Times makes the list, but perhaps in a way that will surprise you. All that, plus links to commentaries, analysis, research and upcoming events from experts at think tanks like American Enterprise Institute, Heritage, and Cato.
There’s been a lot of suggestion by the media lately -- especially since the elections last Tuesday -- that the Republican Party is in dire trouble, and could lose control of the House and the Senate in 2006. For those interested in a side of this debate that the media are ignoring, you should watch today’s “Meet the Press,” in particular the second-half with DNC chairman Howard Dean.
Some of the pertinent exchanges of note:
DR. DEAN: I think Democrats always have to stand up and tell the truth and that's what we're doing. The truth is that the president misled America when he sent us to war. They did--he even didn't tell the truth in the speech he gave. First of all, think there were a lot of veterans were kind of upset that the president chose their day to make a partisan speech.
Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift has a new article out, and she once again doesn’t have anything good to say about President Bush. In fact, she now believes that his presidency is in such a state of disarray that Bush needs to “change direction, the way President Bill Clinton did after losing both the House and Senate in 1994.” Clift seems to forget that this change of direction didn’t help the Democrats win back the Congress in 1996, which put Clinton in a position where he was forced to accede to most of the Republican demands in 1997 which included tax cuts that he fought against for two years.
CBS’s Bob Schieffer offered viewers “a solution to high energy prices” that “may be as plain as daylight.” Yet the truth of the matter was far different and the November 10 report showed the network was in the dark about its own story on solar energy.
The story didn’t just wildly underestimate the cost of one family’s “tiny electric bill.”. It also forgot to mention that the tax breaks for solar power all come out the pockets of other taxpayers – in this case, more than $10 billion worth.
The “Evening News” went to Barry and Anita Mathis’ house to look at solar panels as a way to cope with higher energy costs. Mrs. Mathis showed reporter Thalia Assuras her bill, which was just $43.01. “It was kind of mind-blowing when I first moved into this house because I'd open power bills and I'd just start laughing,” Mrs. Mathis said. “It just didn't make any sense that you could save this much money on electricity.”
Media Wrong About Dollar: As the frequency of pessimistic reports increases, their accuracy seems to decline.
Since the stock market’s collapse between March 2000 and October 2002, the Free Market Project media have continually been making gloomy and bearish economic forecasts, from predictions of a housing bubble implosion to gasoline prices heading to $5 per gallon and even an economic downturn due to Hurricane Katrina. As The Free Market Project has reported, none of these have panned out.
Other examples of media gloom and doom that ended up being inaccurate were the press’s opinions of the falling dollar at the end of last year, and what they believed were the likely consequences. Tom Fenton of CBS News went so far as to link the decline to the start of the Bush presidency. “Since the end of the Clinton administration – or to put it another way, since the beginning of the Bush administration – the dollar has been heading south at an alarming rate,” he argued in a Dec. 6, 2004, piece.
The media have repeatedly given air time to charges that the oil companies are taking advantage of consumers and earning unfair profits. Throughout the year reporters have alleged "oil companies...are making massive profits," "oil companies have watched their profits soar" and "record profits for the oil producers." But how do these oil profits compare to those of the media companies, themselves?
On November 9th, Congress held hearings and demanded that oil company executives, as ABC’s Jake Tapper said, "explain themselves as to why they’re experiencing record profits." Using Yahoo! Finance, I looked up the profit margin numbers for five of those oil companies and for five of the major media companies.
Julie Chen in the 8:00 a.m. EST half hour of The Early Show hyped "sky-high" gas prices which led to "record profits" for oil companies in a brief anchor-mention on the Senate Commerce hearings today on oil and gas prices, illustrating that a myth debunked in a Free Market Project (FMP) study released last Thursday is still being promoted by CBS News [parts in bold are my emphasis]:
Gas prices haven’t topped inflation-adjusted highs. NBC’s Anne Thompson and other journalists continued to claim “American consumers have suffered through months of record-high gas prices” even as prices dropped.
One of the common themes for gasoline reporting all summer was to claim "record prices," even though the reality was much different. Inflation raises overall prices over time, causing the raw number to go up.A gallon of gas might have cost 25 cents decades ago. That's why inflation-adjusted prices are the only accurate way to compare costs from one decade to the next.
According to the Energy Department, the inflation-adjusted high for a gallon of regular gas is $3.11, set in 1981. But Katrina and Rita sent the media scurrying for stories, and "record highs" were mentioned at least eight times.
CBS was especially fond of the term. It appeared three times during the CBS stories. Anchor Bob Schieffer of the "CBS Evening News" said incorrectly that gas prices had peaked "at a record $3.07 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina" during the October 24 broadcast.
Lou Dobbs and the Merry Men and Women of CNN promoted a “windfall profits tax” on oil companies that Dobbs nicknamed a “Robin Hood Tax.” Dobbs set up a November 7 story asking if oil companies should have to give back some of those “giant profits to American citizens.”
Reporter Louise Schiavone’s story told viewers that “Energy prices have gone through the roof and somehow taken a route through your wallet to get there.” Schiavone didn’t stop there. Her broadcast featured complaints about “A long simmering post-hurricane resentment about rising gas prices erupted into out-and-out charges of price gouging after Exxon Mobil posted third-quarter profits of almost $10 billion.”
Oil companies profited from price spikes, but they didn’t arbitrarily set their prices extra-high. Market forces determined prices. But Schiavone didn’t explain that, and she didn’t bother to mention that gas prices have dropped 68 cents per gallon since their post-Katrina highs, declining every business day since October 6.
Filling up at the pump is costing less and less each day – 45 cents per gallon less since its post Rita peak of $2.94 as of October 30. Despite that huge drop, all three broadcast networks have reported on rising or high gas prices four times as often as falling prices. Here are some of the key results:
ABC the Worst: ABC mentioned falling gas prices only once out of 11 reports and that was only after three straight weeks of price declines.
Dropping Prices Have Little Impact: Gas prices dropped every business day from October 6 through October 30, but the three networks still mentioned rising or high prices 79 percent of the time.
Do you remember all those predictions in September that gasoline prices were going to $5 per gallon? As a reminder, here’s a report from CNN/Money on September 21:
“Remember when gas spiked to $3-plus a gallon after Hurricane Katrina? By this time next week, that could seem like the good old days.”
“‘We could be looking at gasoline lines and $4 gas, maybe even $5 gas, if this thing does the worst it could do,’ said energy analyst Peter Beutel of Cameron Hanover. ‘This storm is in the wrong place. And it's absolutely at the wrong time,’ said Beutel.”
From television to newspapers, the media have gone wild over oil companies’ profit reports this week, asking “how much is too much?”
That question alone demonstrated journalists’ omission of free market principles in their reporting. America’s free market allows the small businessman to become a large business if he is able. Once companies are publicly traded, millions of others share in the business’s profits. Yet, the media have pitted businesses against consumers, leaving out the fact that these large companies distribute dividends to millions of individuals.
Covering oil companies’ profits, reporters operated on the assumption that there should be a profit ceiling for a business, and that anything above that would be unacceptable. They also attempted to whip up consumer “outrage,” even though it is consumer demand and oil scarcity that drive up prices – not an arbitrary decision by oil companies. Just a few highlights:
An interesting contrast occurred on the morning shows regarding ExxonMobil’s record high quarterly earnings. Over at CNN’s American Morning, Miles O’Brien and Andy Serwer fretted over ExxonMobil’s announcement, with O’Brien declaring it the, “outrage moment of the morning.” Meanwhile, Good Morning America’s financial contributor Mellody Hobson explained how the profits were a result of supply and demand. Hobson explained to ABC’s Charlie Gibson how the “outrage” over these profits are “not warranted” and “the oil companies have nothing to do with how gas prices are set.”
At 7:17am, in promoting an Anne Thompson piece on how "Big Oil" is enjoying record profits Couric, used the "we" word.
Katie Couric: "They say one man's pain is another man's pleasure. And it turns out the pain we all shared at the gas pump this summer brought an awful lot of pleasure in the form of big profits to the nation's oil companies.
Newsbusters fans will remember Couric tried this line before on August 15th when she declared: "I had to take out a loan to fill up my minivan. It’s crazy.”
NBC's Tim Russert proclaimed, "It's a year away but the Democrats are feeling almost giddy this morning," as he ran down the negative news from NBC's own poll. Matt Lauer opened this morning's Today show with a teaser for the Russert political analysis segment:
Lauer: "Then to Washington where it rains it really pours. President Bush says he doesn't look at the poll numbers. He might not want to. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows his approval rating is at its lowest level ever. And there's some astounding numbers when it comes to African-Americans and their support for the President. Tim Russert's gonna be here and crunch those numbers in a little while."
During the media's coverage of Katrina the race card was played again and again so it's no surprise that Lauer and Russert led with the fruits of their labor.
Ever wonder where the media find those people for the heart-wrenching personal interest stories used to illustrate a point? Me too.
The Today show aired a doozy this morning, and used it to make a hair-raising prediction that pointed the finger at insufficient government welfare spending.
The topic was increasing fuel prices, and in particular the rising cost of home heating.
Reporter Tom Costello sagely informed us "those high heating bills will hit low-income families especially hard." Well, yeah. That's one of the things about being low-income, you can't afford as much stuff, nachos to natural gas..
We were then treated to a clip of Joanne Baker, a not-elderly black Philadelphia woman living in what appeared to be a comfortable two-story home who lamented:
The results of the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll were released last night, and pressrooms around the nation appeared to be pleased. “NBC Nightly News” reported it this way (video link to follow):
Tim Russert: Brian, not good news for George W. Bush's second term thus far. Only 39% of Americans approve his job. 54% disapproval. That 39% approval is the lowest in the five years of his presidency. And Brian, listen to this: Only 2%, 2% of African Americans in the United States approve of George Bush's handling of the presidency. The lowest we've ever seen in that particular measurement.
The House of Representatives narrowly passed an energy bill today which would cut some federal red tape which prevents the timely approval and subsequent construction of oil refineries. This is to address what many oil industry watchers say is a shortage of refining capacity, which, moreso than the crude oil supply, impacts heavily on gas prices at the pump. CBSNews.com and The Hill newspaper have write-ups on their respective websites. I did notice The Hill's take was more comprehensive and did mention that Democratic leaders cajoled three dissenters from the party line to vote no, whereas the CBSNews.com article seems to skew heavily towards liberal Republican dissenters who voiced concerns about relaxed environmental protections.
Additionally, while I don't have a transcript available at time of publication, a report a few minutes ago on Special Report with Brit Hume hinted that Republicans believed going into the vote that they had many more Democratic votes for the measure than they did. This might indicate that Democratic leadership strongly leaned on dissenting members.
Broadcasters turn news into 24-hour speculation cycle about $5 per gallon post-hurricane gas prices.
Broadcast journalists have been the only ones bidding up gas prices lately. While they foretell a horizon of $4 and $5 gas, consumers on U.S. streets are paying an average of $2.81 – up just 6 cents since hurricane Rita.
ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News all covered the constant speculation about Gulf refinery damage and subsequent gas price spikes before and after Hurricane Rita’s September 24 impact. CNN used its 24 hours each day to raise fears about higher gas prices with show after show. A Nexis search of CNN transcripts around Rita’s landfall (from September 21 to 25) showed more than 20 mentions of the possibility of $4 or $5 gas from at least 12 different reporters in just five days on that network.
On this morning's Today Katie Couric and Tim Russert looked like NFL linebackers diving for a loose ball as they piled on Bush from so many different directions. First up was the gas price angle:
Couric: "I know the President is calling on the American public to conserve gasoline by driving less and he even sent a memo to all federal agency and department heads saying, the federal government, quote, 'must lead by example and further contribute to the relief effort by reducing its own fuel use during this difficult time.' How much political pressure is the President under given these rising fuel costs?"
Russert: "Enormous, Katie. It's the one issue that cuts across all class and geographic lines and as we just heard in Alexis' report it's not only gasoline cost for this fall but come this winter particularly in the Midwest and Northeast there's expectations that fuel heating costs can go up as much as 70 percent. Enormous political pressure. Why? Those are the battleground, undecided states that Republicans must continue to control to retain and control both houses of Congress."