At the Associated Press late Sunday afternoon, reporter Paul Wiseman, who may have the most inappropriate last name in the history of business journalism, engaged in a brazen "It's really not that bad" excuse-making exercise on behalf of the economy Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Ben Bernanke have created. In the process, he joined a Reuters reporter in questioning the validity of the information Friday's Employment Situation Report.
The unemployment rate jumped to a seasonally adjusted 9.8% in November and only 39,000 seasonally adjusted jobs were added during the month, according to the Employment Situation Report released yesterday by Uncle Sam's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Although she at least recognized the report's negativity, Lucia Mutikani at Reuters seemed bent on downplaying its impact, even finding an "expert" who characterized the BLS's work as an "outlier" in her Friday evening write-up. Nobody's claiming the folks at BLS are perfect, but I cannot recall a time when an establishment press wire service reporter has questioned the Employment Situation Report's underlying validity. Despite its supposed lack of credibility, Ms. Mutikani still used the information provided as an excuse to insert a point about how it should cause Fed chief Ben Bernanke to continue the "money from nothing" enterprise euphemistically referred to as "quantitative easing."
Of special note was Ms. Mutikani's bizarre contention that the seasonal adjustment calculations might be flawed. Unfortunately for her, comparisons of actual results on the ground (i.e., the not seasonally adjusted numbers) to the seasonally adjusted numbers that resulted were consistent with November 2004, the last comparable year. This has not always been the case in the volatile economy of the past 2-1/2 years.
An Oxford University think tank is taking the media to task for not doing more to whip up a frenzy about global warming.
Apparently the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism crunched the numbers and found that "[l]ess than 10 percent of the news articles written about last year's climate summit in Copenhagen dealt primarily with the science of climate change."
The study lamented the attention that was given to the ClimateGate scandal.
In an op-ed posted on our site CNSNews.com on "Obama's Clever Use of Catholics," Judie Brown wrote about how Barack Obama’s being pictured happily engaging with Catholic clergy to undergird his proclamation at an Albuquerque event that he was a "Christian by choice." But sometimes the media's willingness to promote Obama themes means the pictures are utterly unrelated to the news event:
Reuters, one of the news services covering that particular meeting in Albuquerque, used a stock photo to accompany its report.
The photo, which depicted the president with Catholic priest, Father Vien Nguyen, who leads the Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans, was taken during a reception at the White House earlier this year in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Father Nguyen was also honored for his help within the community after Hurricane Katrina.
UPDATE (9/30 - 1:13 pm): The Society of Professional Journalists emailed me requesting a correction. Clarification - though no correction - below the fold.
When American religious leaders spoke out against the planned burning of Korans by a crazy Florida pastor, it was a hot news item. Likewise, when another group of clergy condemned the supposed "anti-Muslim frenzy" in the United States, the media ate it up.
But when, on Tuesday, scores of prominent American and Canadian Muslims spoke out against "threats that have been made against individual writers, cartoonists, and others by a minority of Muslims" with the express purpose of silencing speech, the media was conspicuously silent. It remains so today.
"We, the undersigned," declares a petition at the website of The American Muslim, "unconditionally condemn any intimidation or threats of violence directed against any individual or group exercising the rights of freedom of religion and speech; even when that speech may be perceived as hurtful or reprehensible."
The news out of Government/General Motors during the past couple of days hasn't been particularly good.
First, August sales results were disappointing. Second, it become known today that GM will attempt to go public on November 18, a later than originally hoped post-election date chosen to hopefully allow for another reported quarterly profit to boost investors' appetite for its shares.
As so often has been the case during Democratic administrations when unfavorable developments arise, the UK press has seen potential problems with the IPO, while the Associated Press has been acting as if all is well.
In two separate items, AP reporters couldn't even bring themselves to tell readers what the company's real August sales decline was.
In a report yesterday on the industry's awful August, reporters Dee-Ann Durbin and Tom Krisher were appropriately gloomy overall, but they massaged GM's reported result (bolds are mine throughout this post):
July's bad news in new home sales is even worse than it first appears.
The seasonally adjusted annual rate of 276,000 units is bad enough. That is an all-time low since records have been kept and 12% lower than June's annual rate. It's also lower than what analysts predicted by about the same percentage. The lazy business press is running with those figures.
But, as has been the case so many other times, it takes a trip to the raw (i.e., not seasonally adjusted) data, this time at the Census Bureau (large PDF), to fully comprehend the extent of the new-home market's collapse during this big, fat failed "Recovery Summer."
The raw data shows that 25,000 new homes were sold in the U.S. in July. That's not a typo, and it really is the figure for the entire country. Worse, that figure, the lowest July since records have been kept, is down by over one-third from July of last year, when the economy supposedly bottomed out, and by 42% from July 2008. I don't think you'll see those facts reported today.
Here is a graphic cap of a 10:07 a.m. report at Reuters carried at CNBC.com. It contains a jaw-dropper of a quote from an economist (red box is obviously mine):
File the news in this report filed late yesterday afternoon by Michael Calderone and John Cook at Yahoo's Upshot Blog under "D" for Double Standards:
White House reporters mum on Obama lunch, even as papers back transparency
White House reporters are keeping quiet about an off-the-record lunch today with President Obama — even those at news organizations who've advocated in the past for the White House to release the names of visitors.
But the identities of the lunch's attendees won't remain secret forever: Their names will eventually appear on the White House's periodically updated public database of visitor logs.
... The Obama White House began posting the logs in order to settle a lawsuit, begun under the Bush administration, from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which sought the Secret Service's White House visitor logs under the Freedom of Information Act.
... And guess who filed briefs supporting that argument? Virtually every newspaper that covers the White House.
Wednesday evening, Brent Baker at NewsBusters noted that two of the Big Three television networks failed to tag Dan Rostenkowsi, the former long-time congressman from Chicago who was ousted from his seat in 1994 over corruption charges and ended doing prison time, as a Democrat. Rostenkowski (RIP), who was 82, died yesterday.
At the five major wire services whose reports I reviewed -- The Associated Press, Reuters, UPI, AFP, and the business-oriented Bloomberg News -- Rosty's Democratic affiliation made at least one appearance. But the prominence and directness of those appearances varied widely.
Not surprisingly, the Associated Press and writer Don Babwin did the worst job of identifying Rosty's party, waiting until the eleventh paragraph to directly tag him (the eighth paragraph contains a generic reference to the "Chicago Democratic machine"), and poured it on the thickest when referring to the supposedly beloved bygone days of bipartisanship:
Thanks to Shirley Sherrod, Andrew Breitbart, and the NAACP, political journalists have supposedly discovered the importance of "context" (though they strangely seem to lost interest once fuller context items like this and this became known). It would be helpful if such an interest in full context would legitimately and consistently spread to business reporting.
Full context would include looking at the raw business and economic data before it gets seasonally adjusted and reporting it when it is significant. Given the information the press would then have to report in the current economy, I'm not holding my breath waiting for journalists to even look at it, let alone report it. (Update: See this comment below for another important contextual element.)
Take the housing market, particularly housing starts and new single-family home sales. During the past week, the Census Bureau released statistics on each of these important metrics. Let's look at an excerpt from reports about each.
Many readers may already be familiar with recent exposure of the treasury plunderers disguised as public officials serving up hefty salaries to themselves while allegedly serving their constituents in the LA suburb of Bell, California.
Here's some of the latest from the Associated Press, carried at the Los Angeles Times, which broke the original story, for those who need a quick catch-up. Almost as night follows day, the news doesn't answer a question many readers here and elsewhere will naturally have:
Several hundred angry residents from a modest blue-collar Los Angeles suburb marched Sunday to call for the resignation of the mayor and some City Council members in a protest sparked by the sky-high salaries of three recently departed administrators.
The residents of the city of Bell marched to Oscar's Korner Market and Carniceria, owned by Mayor Oscar Hernandez, then to his home, demanding that he reduce his own six-figure compensation or quit.
They then did the same with some members of the City Council, with many marchers wearing T-shirts that read "My city is more corrupt than your city."
(Update: Reuters quietly improves statement by eliminating the word 'often'. Thank you Reuters, for being forthright in the error, er, slipping this in, in the hopes that your readers won't notice. We're certain that all of the Tea Party Patriots being wrongfully portrayed as racist appreciate the effort.)
Reuters recently ran a piece that analyzed persistent race issues amidst the Obama presidency, and managed to take a racial swipe at the Tea Party in the process.
As always, the piece diverts attention away from the President and toward conservatives. Any controversy involving the administration is portrayed as a mere distraction for the President in his alleged post-racial presidency. The analysis draws a conclusion that the ‘right-wing noise machine', conservative groups, conservative media, and the Tea Party/NAACP debate are all implicit in creating this racial distraction - and ultimately taking the spotlight off of Obama and his ‘biggest achievements'. (Is consistently usurping the will of the American people an achievement?)
But what stands out in the article (h/t NewsBuster reader Texndoc) is an obvious misstatement of facts. An implication that racist imagery at Tea Party rallies is prevalent, has been presented as truth. Patricia Zengerle, the White House correspondent at Reuters, writes (emphasis mine), "Images such as Obama with a bone through his nose and the White House with a lawn full of watermelons are often displayed at Tea Party rallies."
Reuters and Zengerle were contacted via e-mail several times for clarification on the statement, but the only response thus far has been ...
Chrystia Freeland, global editor-at-large for Reuters, believes the new financial regulations are still pretty loose.
"It is still a very feudal, very Byzantine regulatory system," Freeland complained on the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer, referring to the Senate's approval of a financial regulations bill yesterday.
A radical policy, Freeland maintained, could have done away with the current "fractured" group of regulators and established a much stronger, more unified single regulator.
However, Freeland said the bill succeeds in tempering the rapid movement of capital. She did acknowledge that Main Street folks will have more trouble getting mortgages than they did in the past. "That's the price of having a safer financial system," she said.
Freeland's championing of the new regulations does not diminish some other aspects of the bill, which include no additional regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, tougher times ahead for small businesses trying to procure loans from banks, and tough times for small banks themselves, who lack the resources of Wall Street to deal with the new regulations.
In a June 30 interview with "Talk to Al Jazeera," NASA administrator Charles Bolden revealed that President Obama had tasked him with "find[ing] a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering."
Among the media outlets that blacked out the controversy was the Washington Post, which didn't cover the Bolden controversy until today. Even then, the paper printed on page A13 a brief 8-paragraph item by the Reuters news wire:
The Israeli commandos who intercepted a flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip on May 31 were cleared of wrongdoing by a military inquiry into the matter. The same panel faulted the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for "mistakes that were made in decisions, including some taken at relatively high levels," according to retired Israeli Major General Giora Eiland.
While we at NewsBusters have taken Reuters to task before for their biased coverage of the Middle East, the news wire actually broke from the pack a bit in its portrayal of the story, focusing on the conclusion that there was no wrongdoing by the Israelis in the now infamous raid.
By contrast, the Washington Post and Associated Press opened their stories focused on the negative. Below are the lede paragraphs for the respective news agencies:
On Thursday, a new unemployment bill died in Congress as Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) joined Republicans on the grounds that government spending can't go on forever.
Instead of reporting both sides, the media couldn't seem to hide their anger.
The bill was called a "jobless aid" package that "governors were counting on" to help "the poor" across the nation. Almost all news reports began from the Democrat perspective and waited several paragraphs before weakly defending Republicans.
Worse yet, a consensus with far more damaging impact began to grow: the loss will cause the nation's economy to fall into a double dip recession, and it will be entirely the Republicans' fault.
Never mind last year's stimulus bill worth $700 billion, or the bank bailout of 2008, both of which have failed to live up to promises of recovery. No, our economy is suffering because fiscal conservatives won't spend even more.
Late last year, a story carried by the wire service AFP reported on an announcement by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez that his government would launch "a new chain of government-run, cut-rate retail stores that will sell everything from food to cars to clothing." Chavez reportedly said that these "discount socialist stores" would show people "what a real market is all about, not those speculative, money-grubbing markets, but a market for the people."
This initiative was on top of Chavez's creation of Mercal (link is to the Venezuelan home page, complete with "The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela" logo), a state-run network of grocery stores, seven years ago.
How is this great leap forward into state control working out? A June 18 Reuters dispatch carried at CNBC reports that the government can't even keep its food fresh. But that's okay. The wire service takes a while to get there, and even then a bit of interpretation is necessary, but eventually we learn that the Chavez "solution" to that thorny problem is to seize replacement goods from private merchants:
Hugo Chavez Spearheads Raids as Food Prices Skyrocket
Mountains of rotting food found at a government warehouse, soaring prices and soldiers raiding wholesalers accused of hoarding: Food supply is the latest battle in President Hugo Chavez's socialist revolution.
Toys, food, packaging. Chemicals are in them all. The media make a living by sensationalizing the potential dangers of just about everything in our modern world. Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in many plastic items, was no exception.
The news media have been scaremongering about BPA for years, even going so far as to compare it to tobacco at one point, but a cautious tone from the government and left-wing junk science prompted recent hyperbole from reporters.
Reuters warned of a "potential carcinogen in my soup," June 9. News website Newser.com took the fear-mongering a step further calling BPA "a known carcinogen" in a May 19 story about the "dangerously high" levels of BPA in canned food and drink.
Update - 5/27, 3:08 PM | Lachlan Markay: A new Harvard study finds that increased government spending actually reduces economic activity, contradicting the basic premise behind CBO's assumptions. Details below.
Good economic news is so rare for the current administration, that when some does emerge, many in the media parrot it as fact without really examining the claims that undergird it. New CBO numbers on the stimulus, for instance, have been trumpeted as proof the legislation at least helped, despite the fact that the numbers have little to no basis in reality.
Congressional Budget Office models are based on the assumption that stimulus spending will create jobs. They assume the conclusion they purport to demonstrate, and then claim they've demonstrated it. But if the model is inaccurate or simply based on false premises, it simply goes on tallying jobs "created or saved" without regard to the actual employment rate.
In March, a reporter asked CBO director Doug Elmendorf: "If the stimulus bill did not do what it was originally forecast to do, then that would not have been detected by the subsequent analysis, right?" His response: "That's right. That's right." Yet despite those numbers' disconnect from reality, the media continue to report them as fact, and proof that the stimulus is working.
Comments on two Sunday shows reflected an emerging new liberal line of reasoning, which uses the lack of opposition to Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law, as a means to discredit conservatives and Tea Party activists as hypocrites and/or racists. HBO’s Bill Maher on ABC’s This Week:
Government intrusion, government power is something that really bothers conservatives, unless it's directed toward people who aren't white, you know, I mean it does seem like there’s some of that going on there.
Chrystia Freeland of Reuters on the McLaughlin Group:
What I think is really important to notice here is the hypocrisy, the intellectual hypocrisy because we have...a lot of the same people who are very exercised right now...about big government and pointing out the American tradition of liberty, of individual rights, are also the people who are on the side of allowing the government to intrude much more into individuals' lives on immigration.
A truly extraordinary thing happened on CNN Sunday: a mainstream media representative actually took Rush Limbaugh's side in a dispute with Bill Clinton.
As readers are likely aware, the conservative talk radio host and the former President exchanged words last week over who was to blame for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
"Reliable Sources" host Howard Kurtz broached this subject in Sunday's second segment eliciting a rather surprising response from Reuters' global editor-at-large Chrystia Freeland:
I have to say, on this one I'm on Rush Limbaugh's side...I'm not accusing Rush Limbaugh of being guilty of too much balance, but I do think blaming the media is a very weak thing for politicians and businesspeople to do. And I think we in the media should really be pretty, pretty careful before we agree with the criticism.
Not surprisingly, Salon's Joan Walsh didn't agree, and once again found herself alone in her perilously liberal views as the cameras were rolling (video follows with transcript and commentary):
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has announced that it is disbanding.
Though the hard-leftists that formed or were running it are likely to show up in some other venue and perhaps in a successor organization down the road (Update: or perhaps burrow themselves into the government, as NB commenter "Hunter 12" suggests), this is a moment to savor. Two twenty-somethings, acting entirely on their own, assisted later by a skilled mentor who knew the value of their work and how to maximize the mileage to be gained from it, brought down what had turned into a pretentious, intimidating, fraud-riddled wing of the Democratic Party's get out the vote effort. All that remains -- frankly more than should be allowed to remain -- is ACORN Housing Corporation. According to USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, whose related article is behind its subscription wall, is saying that ACORN Housing "has a separate budget and board."
In one last act of sympathy, most of the press is giving ACORN's leaders a chance to vent without rebuttal and in some cases supplying their own sour grapes. Here are some examples:
Former Birmingham, Alabama mayor Larry Langford (pictured at right in AP photo), who is a Democrat, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Friday for bribery.
In reporting the story, Reuters did what a competent wire service should do, informing readers of Langford's party affiliation early on:
The former mayor of Alabama's largest city, Birmingham, was sentenced on Friday for his role in corrupt bond deals that threaten to mushroom into a massive U.S. bankruptcy case.
Larry Langford, a 63-year-old Democrat, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Prosecutors had sought a term of at least 24 years after Langford's conviction on an array of fraud and bribery charges last year.
As has sadly come to be expected, the same cannot be said for the Associated Press. Though it eventually got around to identifying two associates of Langford as "former Democratic Party" officials, it avoided tagging Langford. In the process, the wire service may have set a "Name That Party" record for most felony convictions (60) handed to a politician whose party affiliation was never identified.
The adverb that begins with a "U" made yet another appearance yesterday in connection with an economic report. The related noun that begins with an "S" came along for the ride.
The news concerned sales of new homes. They fell "Unexpectedly" to their lowest level since 1963, when the U.S population was about 40% lower. The decline was a "Surprise" to economists, who had predicted an increase.
It continues to fascinate that the "Unexpected" news that came as a "Surprise" to economists during a large portion of the Bush 43 administration more often than not was to the upside, while the trail of "Unexpected Surprises" during the current administration is littered with downers.
Ahead of the news, the Associated Press appeared ready to play up what it thought would be good news, and then exiled its reports to remote corners when things didn't go as expected.
In a Thursday afternoon story on the small rise in the Case Schiller home price index, the AP's Adrian Sanz was talking of recovery, while inventing a new economic concept (bold is mine):
East Anglia University, which came under fire a few months ago for the now infamous ClimateGate email scandal, announced yesterday that it is launching an independent probe into the work of its Climate Research Unit (CRU).
Wall Street Journal's Guy Chazan reports the story today -- found on page A15 of the print edition -- noting that the independent review led by Sir Muir Russell will "reappraise the CRU's scientific conclusions."
But Chazan noted that some critics argue that a deeper problem underpinning ClimateGate is not addressed by the probe:
A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the recovery this week: The U.S. Department of Labor reported on Thursday that initial claims for unemployment benefits jumped "unexpectedly" by 36,000 to 482,000, when analysts had predicted a slight drop.
What's more, it turns out that data reported in previous weeks was understated because of "administrative issues" relating to paperwork processing during the holidays. In other words, things have been a bit worse than originally portrayed during the past several weeks.
Not unexpectedly, Reuters seized on the "administrative issues" excuse in an attempt to minimize the damage. Reuters' primary headline ("Jobless claims rise on administrative issues") seemed specifically designed to tell readers that "Hey, it's really no big deal."
The headlines and excuse-making are all the more galling because the same administrative problems occurred at the same time last year -- and almost no one in the press headlined it.
Let's start with Reuters' report from January 22, 2009 (i.e., a year ago), starting with its excuse-free headline (bold is mine):
Blogger Doug Ross got to the news of the Congressional Budget Office's Monthly Budget Report (PDF) over the weekend, quite accurately observing that the establishment news coverage of its content barely existed.
With global warming-obsessed media pushing for cap and trade legislation to pass here next year as well as for something positive to come out of the upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen, it's going to be very interesting to see how this gets covered in the next 24 hours: