On Tuesday’s CBS "Early Show, " co-host Julie Chen lead the show with a depressing segment on the economy: "...with the economic woes hitting the nation, we have your complete guide to surviving the big squeeze." Chen proceeded to highlight high gas prices, then explain how "...the crisis in the housing market is also a drag on the economy," and finally, "Completing this perfect storm of economic woes, the devastating floods in the Midwest and how they will directly impact food prices."
When discussing the housing crisis with correspondent Thalia Assuras, Chen asked in desperation: "Thalia can you tell us anything good? Is there any relief in sight?" Assuras then offered a small glimmer of hope: "Well, the Senate toady is actually going to consider a foreclosure prevention plan or rescue plan of looking at the numbers here. It's going to provide $300 billion in new cheaper mortgages for high risk homeowners." However she then made it clear that Bush Administration would soon crush such hope: "But you know Julie, there's going to be a lot of squabbling and the White House has threatened a veto."
Following Chen’s report, co-host Maggie Rodriguez talked to financial advisor Dave Ramsey and took the same pessimistic tone: "So with all this economic volatility, what are we supposed to do?...if there was ever a time to panic, is this it? It sounds pretty gloomy." In contrast, Ramsey was having none of it: "Absolutely not. I'm sorry I'm not with Chicken Little and we're not handing out helmets. There -- it is not a time to panic, there's lots of good things going on in our economy and for most people this may represent opportunity."
It certainly wasn't surprising how press outlets desperately trying to depict the economy as depression-like in order to get Barack Obama in the White House were practically giddy following the dour jobs report released by the Labor Department last Friday.
What was shocking given the portion of May's unemployment rate rise attributed to high school and college students looking for summer jobs was that virtually no press outlets considered the impact last year's minimum wage hike might have had on young Americans finding temporary positions between school years.
Consider this op-ed published in Monday's Washington Examiner authored by Kristen Lopez Eastlick, the senior economic analyst at the Employment Policies Institute (emphasis added throughout):
Catching up with ABC, which in the past couple of weeks has featured complaints from viewers about how higher gas prices mean they can't afford breakfast and a woman who whined that she can “no longer take joy rides on my days off,” NBC Nightly News caught up Tuesday night with its own set of hapless Americans who claimed they are forced to grow their own food, two who went with burgers (!) over ribs over the holiday weekend and teen girls who make their boyfriends drive them on dates.
Brian Williams noted NBC had “asked people to e-mail us with their stories about how gas prices were affecting their plans for the Memorial Day holiday weekend this year.” Amongst the replies he highlighted: A woman in Nebraska: “I guess it's a good time to become green and start growing our own produce, baking our own bread, and limiting the meat,” a woman from Sacramento: “We usually do rib eye steaks and racks of ribs with lots of sides -- macaroni salad, corn on the cob, baked beans, etc. This year it will be homemade hamburgers with french fries and soda instead of beer” and a woman from California: “Instead of our usual ribs, we are having burgers. As bleak as it sounds, next year we may have a cup of soup.” Finally, “Miguel from Miami: 'Our three girls are asking their boyfriends to come to the house to pick them up instead of using their cars to go on a date.'”
Six days after ABC's World News fretted over a New Jersey woman who said she must skip breakfast to put $4 a day toward gas, Monday's newscast featured an even more hapless woman, a Massachusetts resident who to afford gas sacrifices a “much needed” $45 prescription, says she can “no longer take joy rides on my days off” and, horror of horrors, has been forced into “buying store brands instead of name brands.” Now, Rosaria Giamei complained in a soundbite: “I don't get out and enjoy things anymore. I just kind of sit at home and only go to and from work and, like, grocery shopping and that's it.” How about taking a walk or riding a bike?
“Tonight, gas and diesel hit another record,” anchor Charles Gibson teased his lead story, “people tell us they're sacrificing food, health, and their lifestyle just to fill the tank.” Dan Harris reported:
The pain is being felt all over the country. We here at ABC News are getting flooded with messages from people like Rosaria Giamei, who says, "I even stopped filling a much needed monthly prescription that costs $45 so I will have more money for gas." We found Rosaria in Massachusetts today fuming at the oil companies and bemoaning the changes she's had to make in her personal life.
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.
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.
On the day the government reported a tenth of a point drop in the unemployment rate and two days after news of a second straight quarter of 0.6 percent GDP growth proved the nation is not in a recession, Friday's NBC Nightly News delivered a ridiculously shallow story, based on two anecdotes and a couple of advocates, to prove rising prices are forcing the elderly out of their homes and into vans and soup kitchens. Anchor Brian Williams promised “an interesting look...at the toll that rising prices, of things like gas and food, is taking on Americans living on fixed incomes.” [audio available here]
Chris Jansing [that's her by the van] traveled to Northridge, California, just north of Los Angeles, where she found 82-year-old Betty Weinstein, stunned by a water bill, turning to a second reverse mortgage to stay in her home. But she at least still has a home. Jansing then highlighted an even sadder case:
Rising rents forced Scott and Kate Bishop to move out of this blue house and into their van, sleeping on a mattress in the back.
But it got worse: “And now high food costs have meant, for first time in their lives, the Bishops have gone hungry.” Jansing cited no source for her claims as she asserted: “Soup kitchens and food banks are seeing record numbers of seniors asking for help for the first time in their lives,” but “now donations here are down as middle class donors struggle to feed their own families.”
You have to wonder if the Associated Press felt the need to find an exceptionally gloomy story to write when it learned that the economy would probably show positive growth in the government's first-quarter GDP report. That report was released earlier today -- and came in at +0.6%.
If so, this article by the AP's Anne D'Innocenzio (HT to a NewsBusters e-mailer) does the job:
The for-sale listings on the online hub Craigslist come with plaintive notices, like the one from the teenager in Georgia who said her mother lost her job and pleaded, "Please buy anything you can to help out."
Or the seller in Milwaukee who wrote in one post of needing to pay bills — and put a diamond engagement ring up for bids to do it.
Struggling with mounting debt and rising prices, faced with the toughest economic times since the early 1990s, Americans are selling prized possessions online and at flea markets at alarming rates.
My bottom line analysis (11:25): The two R's of bias from this Rose Garden presser: Martha Raddatz on Syria and numerous reporters on the dreaded R-word, recession. Of course a recession is two consecutive quarters of NEGATIVE economic growth, and we've yet to see one quarter of negative growth, much less two. But all the same, NY Times's Stolberg made it sound like Q1 numbers on GDP tomorrow will show a recession.
The questions below will be posted in reverse chronological order:
High food prices may be affecting middle-income families, but an anecdotal report on CBS's "The Early Show" April 28 made the situation seem as if one family's use of a food bank was "the new face of hunger."
CBS reporter Priya David highlighted Pablo and Ada Melecio, a couple who recently lost their jobs and have elected to use a food bank to make ends meet. Ada Melecio said their "mortgage payments started falling behind and all the interest on that plus all the credit cards" were making their situation even worse.
Mystery is in the eyes of the borrower–and the MSM. The term "variable rate" in a mortgage might seem straightforward enough to George Will and our erudite NB readers, but to a college-educated homeowner–and ABC's Kate Snow–it's apparently a real brain twister.
Snow hosted a segment on this morning's GMA dedicated to determining how the various presidential candidates' proposals would address the problems of sub-prime borrowers. As is the MSM's wont, ABC focused on a single sympathetic case, that of the Cruz-Rivera family in Philly.
For months, NewsBusters has been warning readers of the likelihood that media will adopt the 1992 Clinton playbook of regularly depicting the economy as being far worse than it really is.
On Sunday, the Democratic National Committee released a new television advertisement attacking GOP presidential candidate John McCain with economic statistics that don't measure up to even the slightest scrutiny.
With this in mind, will press outlets this campaign season investigate the economic claims being made by the candidates and their supporters, or allow inaccuracies present in this ad (embedded video to the right), and likely others in the months to come, to go completely unchallenged?
Consider the following written statement in this ad supposedly answering the question "Are Americans better off than they were 8 years ago?":
John McCain not only surprised and pleased many with his hands-off stand against government intervention in the home mortgage "crisis," he broke through the liberal media's fascination with Obama-Clinton, but at a cost -- the New York Times's front-page story from March 26 was notably unsympathetic, relaying only criticism from his Democratic opponents. Hillary's plan, by contrast, had been warmly received by the Times the day before.
Late last week McCain pivoted toward calling for more federal help for struggling homeowners, and the Times took another bite, in "McCainShifts on Aid to Some Mortgage Holders," Friday's piece by reporter Michael Cooper:
The average American will receive a $2,500 tax refund this year, a statistic that left CBS “The Early Show” host Harry Smith “stunned” on the April 11 broadcast.
“I am stunned to know what the average refund is,” Smith said. “$2,200 [in 2007], that’s too much, right?”
“It is too much,” said Money magazine senior writer Janice Revell.
She explained that the checks actually represent an interest-free loan between the government and taxpayers.
“When you get your refund it feels like this big windfall, you’ve won the lottery, but in essence what you’ve done is you’ve loaned your money, interest-free, to Uncle Sam for the year,” Revell said. “It just makes no sense.”
Business & Media Institute Vice President Dan Gainor told the Fox Business Network on April 4 that the government might be intervening too much in the financial markets to address credit problems, and he criticized the media for failing to cover both sides fairly.
"The networks are not portraying at all the other point which is: maybe we're using too much government intervention. Maybe we're using too much regulation," Gainor said. "Instead they're using the worst-case scenario reporting" to support government intervention.
Like characters in a Currier & Ives scene, a gentle snow has covered the Clintons. Make that a gentle Snow . . .
On yesterday's Hardball, Chris Matthews, smelling a rat, was livid when he learned that the Clintons had failed to file or release their 2007 tax return. But on today's Good Morning America, Kate Snow managed to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear of the Clinton's delay. Far from depicting it as a means to evade the promulgation of inconvenient facts, Snow painted the procrastination as proof of the Clintons' humanity. Compare and contrast . . .
HARDBALL APRIL 4TH
DAVID SHUSTER: As far as the details we do not have the details from last year. We don't have those specific consulting fees for last year.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: I was predicting [that] . . . now Joan [Walsh of Salon.com], it seems to me everybody wanted to know where the Clintons got their income. Is there any sticky income? We're not getting that information. The one thing we were promised to get.
Just how obvious is it that the media's economic and business coverage is so negatively skewed that it has to be part of a political agenda in an election year?
Obvious enough for the folks at Fox News to do an entire segment Saturday morning asking the extraordinary question: "Media ‘Talking Down' the Economy to Get a Dem Elected?"
Despite my surprise seeing "Cavuto on Business" begin with such a question framed at the bottom of the screen, I was almost enraptured by the comments from Neil's guests which not only included regular assertions that this is clearly about getting a Democrat in the White House, but also that media are "committing a crime against the general public" by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that will end up costing people their jobs in the long run.
More importantly, "if we have a serious recession, a great deal will lie at the media's feet."
When is a billion-dollar loss a bonanza? When the person suffering it is one of those greedy Wall Street types the MSM loves to hate. Check out how, in opening this morning's show, Today cast the situation of Bear Stearns Chairman James Cayne:
MATT LAUER: Payday! His company imploded and thousands of stockholders went bust, but the Chairman of Bear Stearns cashes in and gets $61 million dollars. Will there be a backlash?
Watching the intro, I assumed the Chairman, despite Bears' fall, had received some kind of bonus or golden handshake. It wasn't until Maria Bartiromo came on later that we learned that Bear Chairman James Cayne, far from receiving a bonus or bonanza, had incurred one of the worst personal financial losses in the history of the street.
There are credit cards out there for subprime borrowers, too - it's not just mortgages. That means a new class of supposed victims for reporters like ABC's Chris Cuomo to defend.
Cuomo's segment on the March 27 "Good Morning America" hammered away at the credit card industry, claiming consumers were "getting sucked in by attractive offers" and being "trapped" by "fee-laden cards." He said to him, the whole thing seemed "wrong" and that companies were "squeeeezing" (he drew out the word) cardholders.
"But with these fees - account management, and all these clever names you have for them - that's not about borrowing," Cuomo accused. "That's about squeezing it out of them before the game even begins. Isn't that unfair? Isn't that past the line?" Cuomo pressed Chris Stinebert, president and CEO of the American Financial Services Association.
The story centered on 19-year-old Celina Alvarez, who got a credit card to pay her college tuition but then discovered her purchase wasn't the only charge.
"I didn't understand it to begin with," Alvarez said. "But then when I saw all those little small charges, I was like, that's ridiculous." According to the ABC story, the card included an "$100 origination fee" and a $10.95 charge that Cuomo called a "monthly maintenance fee."
With Eliot Spitzer gone, Chuck Schumer moves to the head of the list of smugly self-righteous New York pols. So it was particularly satisfying to see Sen. Jon Kyl [R-AZ] put Schumer is his place on This Week with George Stephanopoulos today.
A guest with Kyl for purposes of discussing the economy, Schumer clearly came in with a game plan: to analogize President Bush to the man who presided over the beginning of the Great Depression: Herbert Hoover. After Schumer tried it twice, Kyl had had enough and unleashed a riposte as devastating as it was reasoned.
With the housing market sinking and causing panic about the American economy, Moody's Economy.com Chief Economist Mark Zandi thinks the time is right for the government to invest in the housing market.
"They're very difficult to tackle these - but I think they are coming forward with plans that eventually will have some benefit," Zandi said on CBS's March 14 "The Early Show." "But they do need to do more. I do think this is a very large problem, and it's going to require a big answer - probably taxpayer money at the end of the day and I think we're headed down that path."
Jim Cramer is known for wearing his heart on his sleeve. But the host of CNBC's "Mad Money" normally lets his emotions show over matters financial. In August, for example, he went ballistic at Ben Bernanke, pleading with the Fed chairman to lower interest rates in the face of widespread home foreclosures.
This morning, however, Cramer got verklempt not over the discount rate but at the falling fortunes of his friend Eliot Spitzer. Cramer went to Harvard Law with the embattled governor and his wife Silda, and over the years has defended Spitzer against the torrent of criticism directed at the so-called sheriff of Wall Street for his high-handed tactics.
Cramer appeared on this morning's Today to discuss with Meredith Vieira yesterday's dramatic Fed move. But at the end of the interview, Vieira raised the Spitzer situation, and that sent Cramer to the verge of tears. The transcript below doesn't do justice to just how emotional Cramer became, so readers might want to view the video.
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.
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.
"More than a dozen lenders have pulled out of the federal student loan program, unable to raise enough money to make loans," NBC correspondent Tom Costello said. "Now - Pennsylvania, Missouri, Michigan, New Hampshire and Iowa have suspended parts or all of their student loan programs - unprecedented."
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.
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:
“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.”
It's questionable whether Herbert Hoover actually ever promised to put "a chicken in every pot." But even if Hoover did, he was a piker compared to Hillary Clinton. Check out her remarks in a campaign speech today, as aired on this afternoon's Hardball.
HILLARY CLINTON: Over the years, you've heard plenty of promises, from plenty of people in plenty of speeches. And some of those speeches were probably pretty good. But speeches don't put food on the table. Speeches don't fill up your tank. Speeches don't fill your prescriptions or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night. That's the difference between me and my Democratic opponent. My opponent makes speeches. I offer solutions.