NewsBusters and affiliate The Business & Media Institute have been reporting for many months the continuous, bearish assessments of economic gloom and doom by America's press.
Of course, this all comes despite 24 straight quarters of Gross Domestic Product growth, 50 consecutive months of job gains, higher wages for virtually all Americans, and last month's consumer spending explosion.
Ignoring all this Sunday morning were panelists on "The Chris Matthews Show" who demonstrated such a deplorable lack of economic acumen that maybe they shouldn't be allowed to comment on such matters when cameras and microphones are on.
Between railroad tracks and beneath the roar of departing planes sits "tent city," a terminus for homeless people. It is not, as might be expected, in a blighted city center, but in the once-booming suburbia of Southern California.
The noisy, dusty camp sprang up in July with 20 residents and now numbers 200 people, including several children, growing as this region east of Los Angeles has been hit by the U.S. housing crisis.
The unraveling of the region known as the Inland Empire reads like a 21st century version of "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck's novel about families driven from their lands by the Great Depression.
Since the stock and credit market turbulence began in July, NewsBusters has been informing readers that media continually predict recessions that never happen.
On the sad flipside, bearishness in the press can become so pervasive that an economic downturn ends up being an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.
NewsBusters affiliate the Business and Media Institute made this very point in a late-November article by Amy Menefee entitled "Talking Ourselves Into Recession."
This concern is shared by business leaders like Craig Hester, CEO of Hester Capital Management, who during an interview with CNBC's Erin Burnett and James Cramer Friday spoke an inconvenient truth about media's impact on the economy that folks in the press sadly don't recognize as they disseminate pessimistic after pessimistic predictions often leading to people unnecessarily losing their jobs - or worse:
In an interview with New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, Couric questioned his new record-setting contract. The deal includes $275 million over 10 years and another $30 million in incentives, according to ESPN.
"Your new contract is worth $300 million-plus," Couric told Rodriquez, asking, "Are you worth it? Is any player worth that kind of salary?"
A-Rod could have pointed out that Major League Baseball works like any other market - players' services are priced according to what the market will pay for their skills and experience. Someone in the Yankees organization felt $275 million over 10 years was a fair price to pay for Rodriguez.
Rodriguez could have pointed out that he's a two-time Gold Glove winner, a two-time Silver Slugger winner, and a three-time American League Most Valuable Player. He could have mentioned that last season he led the American League in runs, home runs and runs batted in - 143, 54 and 156 respectively.
Or he could have turned the question around on Couric by asking, "Well Katie, you're paid $15 million a year and have seen steady declines in your ratings on the ‘Evening News,' with some weeks reaching record lows. Are you worth it?"
Steve Fraser might look mild-mannered, but when it comes to economic doomsaying, he is the Rocky Marciano of recession, the Tiger Woods of turndown, the David Beckham of depression.
Speaking of bending one, Fraser's LA Times column of today, "Symptoms of an Economic Depression," twists U.S. economic data into a harbinger of impending doom. Fraser begins by falsely claiming that "no one wants to utter the word 'depression.'" In fact, Fraser himself, a left-wing labor historian, wants not merely to utter it, but to bellow the word with a 10,000 megawatt bullhorn. Why? Because, as he gleefully predicts in that same column:
This perfect storm [of a bad economy] will be upon us just as the election season heats up, and it will inevitably hasten the already well-advanced implosion of the Republican Party.
As the 2008 election approaches, the New York Times uses the image of a sinking red "RECE$$ION" to communicate a fear that is so far only a phantom menace. Peter Goodman's Sunday Week in Review cover story, "Trying to Guess What Happens Next," displayed plenty of pessimism about the U.S. economy after years of foreign-financed easy money.
But the accompanying graphic communicated even more starkly the feeling the Times no doubt wanted to convey -- a fearful, sinking feeling among U.S. consumers (and November voters). The top half of the page was dominated by white space, with the big red word "RECE$$ION" sinking below the horizon.
Is there a single economist who thinks the U.S. economy, with inflation tamed for now and a low unemployment rate, is currently in recession? Not even Goodman himself goes that far, though his pessimism seems pretty overblown.
*****Update at end of post includes detailed response to unhappy e-mail messages concerning this subject.
As someone that has done a lot of economic writing and financial media analysis, I'm used to gloom and doom from journalists.
However, Saturday's Associated Press article concerning the credit crunch and how it's impacting the mortgage market could be the worst example of economic and financial misreporting and exaggeration I've seen since the press universally forecast an economic downturn after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
Entitled "Have We Seen the Worst of the Mortgage Crisis," Joe Bel Bruno's piece actually suggested that a depression could be looming, and that housing prices in some areas could decline by 40 percent (emphasis added):
Storm gave her best shot at making an emotional plea for Hannah Montana concert tickets because the $200 price tag is just too high, although Storm has had a lengthy career in major network TV journalism, dating back to 1989 when she anchored "CNN Sports Tonight."
"[O]ne of the last parts of our travel survival guide, our Thanksgiving survival guide, of course, is the rising cost of the Thanksgiving dinner," "GMA" host Diane Sawyer said on the November 20 "GMA.". "As we said, the average price of a Thanksgiving dinner is up 11 percent from last year. So are there some ways to stretch the dollars and have no one know."
Also included in the segment was a story meant to tug at your heartstrings - a grandmother being forced to cut corners to make enough for her family's Thanksgiving feast.
After Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) reported higher third-quarter earnings and predictions of a "strong" holiday shopping season, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) surged 320 points after taking a battering over the previous week.
In an Andy Rooneyesque rant about how his latest movie-going experience "left much to be desired," CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller hinted he wouldn't mind seeing liberal consumers groups tackle hefty snack prices at the nation's movie theaters. He even suggested the short titles for two bills Congress could draft on that front.
From Knoller's November 12 Couric & Co. blog post (emphasis mine):
The fact is, most movie theaters are glorified snack bars. On average, they keep only 50% or less of the ticket price, far less for blockbusters in their opening weeks. Much of a theater’s profit comes from the concession stand.
Regal, one of the nation’s largest multiplex chains, reported the 3rd quarter profit margin at its snack bars exceeded 86%.
And the markup – especially on popcorn – is eye-popping. The Los Angeles Times last year calculated that just $30 of raw popcorn can translate into as much as $3,000 in sales at the snack bar.
That sounds like a markup that would make the oil industry blush.
It's hard to overstate the importance of the study released today by the Treasury Department ("Income Mobility in the U.S. from 1996 to 2005"; press release; full study PDF).
That's because it provides documented evidence of more, not less, economic mobility than in previous eras. Beyond that, taken in combination with an independent report I covered last week, it demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that the first four-plus years of the Bush economy were exceptional.
Tuesday's read-the-whole-thing feature editorial at OpinionJournal.com provides a great overview (bolds are mine), plus some tantalizing details:
With all due respect to the chairman (Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke), he would see the recession that so many others are feeling if he would only open his eyes. While Mr. Bernanke and others are waiting for the official diagnosis (a decline in the gross domestic product for two successive quarters), the disease is spreading and has been spreading for some time.
As NewsBusters reported, ABC's John Stossel bravely presented a skeptical view of manmade global warming on the October 19 installment of "20/20."
As a follow-up, Stossel published an op-ed at Townhall Tuesday that should be must-reading for alarmist media members and policy makers around the country.
Marvelously titled "Don't Look to Government to Cool Down the Planet," the article summarized much of what Stossel presented weeks prior on "20/20," while challenging the closed-minded to allow for greater scientific discussion and debate before hasty and capricious policy decisions are enacted that will harm the economy as they do nothing to solve the so-called problem (emphasis added throughout):
“It’s almost embarrassing. I talk a lot to political scientists, and you go through the numbers and the polls. And it all boils down – almost everything else goes away, except for five words: ‘Southern whites started voting Republican.’ The backlash against the civil rights movement explains almost everything that’s happened in this country for the past 45 years,” Krugman said in an interview promoting his book on the left-wing Democracy Now! newscast on October 17 .
I have to figure, after looking at the results of this Google News search on "real earnings" (in quotes), that Old Media business reporters found what came out in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Real Earnings Report too difficult to understand. The search shows that only the Providence Journal among Old Media outlets mentioned the report, which was released Wednesday.
So in the interest of education, I'll break down the BLS report into simpler terms:
As NewsBusters reported Wednesday, wheat prices soared last week to their highest levels in history.
As many consumer products are made from this grain, and media love to carp and whine about inflation, one would have expected great focus to be given to this issue.
However, as some of the upward pressure on wheat prices is directly attributable to biofuels, a global warming obsessed media seemed concerned to address this inflationary issue for fear that it would bring negative attention on soon-to-be-to-Dr. Al Gore's beloved ethanol.
Bucking the wheat boycott trend was the Washington Post which published a very balanced article on this subject Saturday (emphasis added throughout):
Most Americans understand that unemployment declining is a good thing.
Yet, the folks at the Associated Press seem confused about this economic statistic as evidenced by an article published Saturday entitled "Help Wanted Ads Go Unanswered in West."
In fact, contrary to a media fixated on bashing corporations and business owners as greedy little devils, Matt Gouras' piece actually elicited sympathy for folks normally in the press' crosshairs while oddly downplaying the benefits tight labor markets typically bring employees (emphasis added throughout, h/t to an NB reader in Hawaii):
“But fundamentally it comes down to where you’re having the toys made. They’re being made in China, you don’t have oversight, there’s tremendous pressure for them to cut corners and keep costs down, because that’s how you make money. So allow me to ask you sir, how much money are you saving having these toys made in China?”
At OpinionJournal.com on Thursday ("Fair but Unbalanced -- How the media promote false pessimism about the economy"), Brian Wesbury, who has written several times on the disconnect between the strong economy and the public's perception of it (previous references here, here, here, here, and here), had another generally stellar column about what is nonetheless a relatively small piece of the problem.
Wesbury ascribes much of the disconnect to TV's need for "balance," when giving positive and negative views equal weight is often in reality unbalanced:
If one guest or expert is a "bull," then the other must be a "bear," to keep things fair. Or, if there is a single guest on air, the host often takes the other side of the issue in order to keep things balanced. Get some sparks between guests, a little argument here or there, and it's even better for the ratings. The bigger the audience, the better the show, that's the way the advertisers see it. It's basic supply and demand.
But this idea of presenting both sides of an issue, while entertaining, informative and seemingly balanced, may paradoxically create a warped perspective of the economy.
Okay, we’ve all heard that hybrid vehicles are better for the environment. But how do they measure up when it comes to the green in your wallet?
Even starlet Paris Hilton has boarded the hybrid bandwagon, as reported by BPM Magazine.
“I came in a hybrid car because I think that’s the way to go – to save energy and to save our earth from all this – you know pollution so I think if everyone just takes the steps to do it will make a difference,” said Hilton.
However, Hilton probably wouldn’t be as concerned about the cost of owning one of these hybrids as average people. But you wouldn’t be aware of any higher costs after reading Chris Woodyard’s August 8 USA Today story.
“It’s not just good public relations,” wrote Woodyard. “Since the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the EPA can regulate greenhouse gases, General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler have joined the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of corporate executives calling for CO2 restrictions.”
It would be even better public relations if hybrids made economic sense, but they don’t. It turns out hybrids cost more to maintain than regular cars.
Our TV network media personalities really want you to believe they can relate to the average American. After all, when you’re a high-minded soldier fighting on the side of the proletariat, it’s important to be a victim of the economic injustices you bring to light, right?
Not so fast. It turns out some of the most prominent journalists are doing quite well, according to the July 26 TV Guide. Early this year, a Business & Media Institute report exposed the “income inequality” talking points of the news media. Some journalists continue to attack the wealthy and complain about the downtrodden “middle-class” despite their own $3, $8 and $15 million salaries.
“NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams has been highly critical of CEO compensation, referencing “stratospheric sums some CEOs make” and complaining about “golden parachute[s].”
You'd think it was the news media that "got a raise" last week for all the cheering. The federal minimum wage was increased on July 24 by 70 cents to $5.85 an hour and will go up by the same amount in 2008 and 2009.
CNN's Ali Velshi gleefully greeted the change on "American Morning" July 24. He called it "unmitigated good news."
ABC's Claire Shipman also called it "good news for thousands of low-paid workers," on "Good Morning America" the same day.
Consumer confidence hit a six-year high in July, a widely watched gauge of sentiment showed on Tuesday, as Americans shrugged off falling home prices to focus on a healthy jobs market, instead.
The New York-based Conference Board said that its Consumer Confidence Index, rebounded to 112.6, its highest level since August 2001 when it recorded a 114.0 reading. That compared to a revised 105.3 in June. The July 24 cutoff for the preliminary survey of 5,000 U.S. households was before last week's stock market tumble, however.
It has to. A six-year high is bad enough; we surely can't afford to let the index get to an 8-year high, or someone might get the mistaken idea that the current economy is as good as or (heaven forbid) even better than the Golden Age of the 1990s (even though by a couple of respected measures it is).
Nets Barely Notice Surge in GDP as They Focus on Dow Plunge
The ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts on Friday all devoted full stories to the fall in the stock market, touted as "the worst two-day point drop for the Dow in five years," but barely had time for a sentence about the 3.4 percent second quarter jump in the GDP, the biggest in over a year. In fact, neither ABC nor NBC cited the specific 3.4 percent rise in the Gross Domestic Product, the measure which the AP on Friday described as the "best barometer of the country's economic fitness." Not one of the three evening newscasts mentioned how the Dow is still well above the 13,000 level it broke through in April and none noted fresh good news on inflation.
Not even reporting what second quarter GDP growth actually was (repeat: 3.4%) is flat-out negligence.
Last week's economic report couldn't have been much rosier. The economy grew at a faster-than-expected rate, faster than any time in over a year. But far from sparking runaway prices, inflation actually moderated.
But that didn't stop the Axis of Gloom, AKA the New York Times and its Beantown subsidiary the Boston Globe from publishing op-ed items this morning finding the cloud on the silver lining. A lugubrious Times editorial laments:
By the end of last week, any lingering hope that the housing downturn would be contained had vanished. As this week begins, signs of contagion seem to be everywhere . . . The fallout of housing-related turmoil is also likely to extend beyond financial markets.
The editorial ends with a call for closer monitoring of hedge funds.
Over at the Globe, liberal economist Robert Kuttner [pictured here] emits a sky-is-falling column "The crash that could come."