Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's first full day as the only person in the whole wide world with any kind of influence over what happens in the economy didn't go too badly.
That's the impression one might get from consuming two Friday Associated dispatches and a related AP Video.
Bernanke apparently took full charge of anything and everything having to do with the economy on Thursday evening. As noted early Friday morning (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), two Thursday afternoon dispatches from the wire service in advance of the government's Friday morning GDP report widely predicted to contain news of a significant downward revision to second-quarter economic growth placed surreal importance on the content of a speech he was to give Friday morning shortly after that report's release. The names of President Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers were totally absent from both reports.
Friday, in the wake of the downward revision of second-quarter GDP from an annualized 2.4% to 1.6%, AP's primary economic report about Bernanke's apparent first day as Emperor-in-Chief again failed to name the five folks just mentioned, as did a one-minute video from Mark Hamrick found here (after a 30-second commercial).
Here is some of what Christopher Rugaber, with assists from Jeannine Aversa and Alan Zibel, wrote about Ben's big day:
Sometimes you just have to chuckle at the transparent motivations of business writers in the establishment press.
Two Associated Press reports from this afternoon, one from Stephen Bernard and another much lengthier piece from Jeannine Aversa, attempt to set the template for Friday morning's reportage: Despite all the bad news, including a serious downward revision to second-quarter economic growth, it's up to Big Ben Bernanke to calm everyone down, and magically return the economy to some kind of even keel.
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 this under "Fascinating Things You Learn When Researching Other Things."
The Associated Press's infamous memo huffing and puffing about how it will henceforth describe the 13-story mosque/community center/kumbaya center that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf would like to have built on a site two blocks away from where the World Trade Center Towers once stood opened with this sentence:
We should continue to avoid the phrase "ground zero mosque" or "mosque at ground zero" on all platforms.
Obviously the publicly announced editorial decision was news, but how about the lack of uppercase letters in "Ground Zero"?
It turns out that both the AP and the New York Times routinely do not capitalize "Ground Zero," making them grammar outliers. Here was one grammarian's take on the matter in 2007 (bolded in final sentence is mine):
Former USDA employee Shirley Sherrod says she will meet Tuesday with agriculture secretary
Shirley Sherrod, the former USDA rural development director for Georgia, said today she plans to meet Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to discuss a new job offer.
... Sherrod today spoke in the Sumter County town of Epes at an event hosted by the Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. Ben Jealous, executive director of the NAACP, shared the stage with Sherrod during a panel discussion.
Sherrod said she had no ill feelings toward the NAACP or President Barack Obama.
It the meeting does indeed occur, it will be an interesting test of establishment media credibility, given the accusations leveled at Ms. Sherrod and her husband Charles by Ron Wilkins at the leftist publication Counterpunch several weeks ago. Here are some of the specifics:
In an unusual move, the Associated Press has publicly released an advisory memo to its reporters on how to cover the Ground Zero mosque story - and the first rule is that journalists must immediately stop calling it the "Ground Zero mosque" story.
"We should continue to avoid the phrase ‘Ground zero mosque' or ‘mosque at ground zero' on all platforms," reads the advisory, which was issued by the AP's Standards Center.
Instead of the "Ground Zero mosque," AP recommends that reporters use the terms "mosque 2 blocks from WTC site," "Muslim (or Islamic) center near WTC site," "mosque near ground zero," or "mosque near WTC site."
The AP suggests that it might "useful in some stories to note that Muslim prayer services have been held since 2009 in the building that the new project will replace." In addition, the news service offers a "succinct summary of President Obama's position" on the mosque, but doesn't include the positions of any other politicians.
Here's how the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger and Daniel Wagner reported the housing portion of their Tuesday report on the day's economic news ("Factories aid bumpy recovery, housing still weak"):
Single-family home construction, which represented nearly 80 percent of the market, fell 4.2 percent. And requests for building permits, considered a good sign of future activity, slid 3.1 percent.
... The July increase in housing construction pushed total activity to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 546,000 units. Building activity in June was weaker than first reported. It fell 8.7 percent to an annual rate of 537,000 units, the slowest pace since October of last year.
"The bad news is that activity is likely to remain depressed for several years," said Paul Ashworth, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. "The good news, however, is that housing is so depressed it is hard to see activity falling much further from such a severely depressed level."
Well, okay, but the situation is already closer to a zero-out than it is to the levels we were seeing just a few years ago--or any time in the 50-plus years such records have been kept. Looking at the raw data on a historical basis, one finds that July 2010 was the worst July on record for the both stats the AP pair cited:
Here's yet another example illustrating why one must treat the editorials at the Wall Street Journal as a primary source of hard news during Democratic presidential administrations.
On Monday, President Obama visited ZBB Energy Corp, a maker of high-tech batteries in Menominee, Wisconsin. Helene Cooper at the New York Times, where a larger version of the picture at the right appeared, reported that "The company received a $1.3 million federal stimulus loan, which officials said would triple its manufacturing capacity and could lead to 80 new jobs." Note the word "could."
At least the Times mentioned the existence of ZBB's stimulus loan. In three brief reports citing Obama's visit during the past week, the Associated Press didn't even do that.
Memo to Alan Fram and Trevor Tompson of the Associated Press and two other writers who contributed to this report ("AP-GfK polls show Obama losing independents"): You should have taken the weekend off.
When I saw a shorter, earlier version of the referenced AP report this morning, it didn't mention when AP's polling arm AP-GfK Roper had done their work. When I went to the polling home page and found that the most recent entries were from June 9-14, I figured I'd come back later and give the group time to post fresh underlying details.
Little did I know that AP's gaggle of writers were treating the June 9-14 "Poll Politics Topline" as fresh. It gets worse. It turns out that Fram, Tompson et al wasted about 875 words on a report based on polling data that gave equal weights to results from mid-June, mid-May, and mid-April.
Considering the primary topic of discussion, independents' take on the Obama presidency and performance of Congress, this AP report is laughably irrelevant -- unless its primary purpose, especially given that earlier versions of the story didn't identify when the polling took place, was to present data designed to make readers and listeners think that things are better than they really are right now for Democrats heading into the midterm elections.
Don't they usually wait until after Labor Day to do this?
Ten days ago, I asserted that that the administration's cynical use of Andy Griffith for a patently political promo on behalf of Medicare ("This year, as always, we’ll have our guaranteed benefits, and with the new healthcare law, more good things are coming: free check-ups, lower prescription costs") was "the foundation for the biennial Democratic scare-the-seniors campaign."
Well, the Social Security portion of that scare campaign kicked in this morning.
President Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to glorify Social Security's accomplishments (he "somehow" forgot to mention the program's $7.7 trillion unfunded liability) and to rip unnamed Republicans for proposing to privatize the program. The President, who has used so many straw-man arguments in the past 19 months that he ought to have a scarecrow sitting next to him every time he speaks, framed active GOP proposals as all-or-none privatization ("You shouldn't be worried that a sudden downturn in the stock market will put all you've worked hard for, all you've earned, at risk"), when they're not. For example, what President Bush proposed five years ago involved giving those who wished the opportunity to invest 2% of their pay -- out of the 12.4% of their pay that currently goes into the system -- in one or more of a limited number of investment funds.
But wait until you see how the Associated Press and Erica Werner fanned the flames even further. I found the headline that follows at both the AP's main site and at the same story at USA Today, so what you're about to see is clearly their preference:
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.
It would seem that what JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater did earlier this week was the stuff that some small-minded people's dreams are made of. Would all of you out there who think that way please remove yourselves from jobs that involve contact with the public?
One has to wonder, based on her sympathetic paean to the "take this job and shove it -- but first, I'll get my revenge" crowd, if Associated Press Writer Samantha Gross should be among those who deserve involuntary removal from such positions. Ms. Gross's grotesque near-admiration for others concocting their own supposedly grand exits is my nominee as Exhibit A exemplifying the media's "strange fascination" with the Slater incident and its meaning noted at this morning's open thread at NewsBusters.
Here are some less than exemplary excerpts from Ms. Gross's gruel, including a few paragraphs exemplifying people the AP writer apparently intended to portray as nearly noble (bolds highlighting leftist phraseology and boorish behavior are mine):
In late July, NB Contributing Editor Tom Blumer busted the Associated Press for neglecting to mention the party affiliations of scandal-plagued officials in Bell, California. The AP piece was one of hundreds of reports on the scandal. Of those hundreds, one solitary report mentioned party labels for the five officials.
Can you guess which party they belong to? I'll bet you can.
The only news outlet that mentioned the officials were Democrats was the Orange County Register. And even that paper noted the absence of party labels only in response to reader complaints. "Our readers noticed one part of the story has been left out by virtually all media sources," the paper's editorial board wrote. "All five council members are members of the Democratic Party."
The most prominent of the officials in question, former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo, resigned after it came to light that he was making $1.5 million per year - in a town with a per capita income languishing at about half the national average.
Unplanned but necessary "improvements," or induced corrections? I'll report; readers can decide.
My early afternoon post at my home blog dealt with Government/General Motors' profitability and CEO Ed Whitacre's "coincidental" step-down from his CEO position. That post originally noted two things that seemed problematic in the Associated Press's reporting about the company's plans for an initial public offering this year (the IPO is problematic thanks to Obamanomics, but that's not the topic here).
In the AP's original report (since revised, which is why it's saved here at my web host for future reference, fair use and discussion purposes), reporters Tom Krisher and Dee-Ann Durbin, with assistance from Dan Strumpf, reported the following two items in supposedly relaying the results of a discussions with "Scott Sweet, senior managing partner of IPO Boutique in Tampa, Florida, which advises investors on IPOs," Whitacre, and unnamed government officials (bold is mine):
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:
Earlier today, NB's Lachlan Markey covered Bill O'Reilly's interview with the Fox Business Channel's Charles Gasparino.
In that interview, Gasparino confirmed what the New York Post reported in April of last year, namely that "GE Execs Encouraged CNBC Staff to Go Easy on Obama."
The suits at GE, including Chairman Jeff Inmelt, had a clear motivation for encouraging their reporters to lighten up, namely that "General Electric at the time was hoping to profit handsomely from policies that would benefit a few companies, including GE, at the expense of the majority of the economy"-- specifically cap and trade.
But speaking of motivation: What about former CNBCer Gasparino's?
The easy answer would be that sometime in the past two years he has seen the light and realizes his past reporting at CNBC was lacking in fairness and balance. Despite his move to Fox, there's reason to doubt that.
Those who don't believe that high taxes on the rich don't influence economic activity or economic behavior, which of course includes many in the establishment press, are going to have a tough time explaining away this brief item that's being reported in the Associated Press:
Tour officials hampered by UK tax rules
European Tour officials are in talks with the British government over tax rules which they say could deter leading golfers from playing in the Ryder Cup in October.
Players competing in the match between Europe and the United States at Celtic Manor, Wales, could be seriously affected by new rules issued by the customs and revenue agency, which can now tax foreign sportsmen and women not just on prize money earned but on sponsorship and endorsements.
Mitchell Platts, the European Tour's director of public relations corporate affairs, said Tuesday the tax rule was "seriously hampering our efforts."
There are quite a few shaky assertions in Alan Zibel's Associated Press report yesterday about Freddie Mac's latest quarterly loss ($6 billion), its latest bailout installment request to the U.S. Treasury ($1.8 billion), and the cumulative taxpayer bailout amounts that have been paid out to Freddie Mac and big sister Fannie Mae thus far ($148.2 billion) -- too many to cover in a blog post.
So I'll concentrate on the howlers present in just a single paragraph near the end, wherein the AP reporter attempts to explain why the two formerly government-sponsored mortgage giants that are now government-bailout enterprises ran into the ditch. The verbiage pretty much states the meme that the establishment press seems to want the public to swallow about what went down, and who's to blame:
During the housing boom, Fannie and Freddie faced political pressure to expand homeownership and competitive pressure from Wall Street to back ever-riskier loans. When the market went bust, defaults and foreclosures piled up, and the government had to take them over.
The past week has brought forth a couple of items from the Associated Press's -- and for the most part the establishment press's -- special corner of journalistic unreality. It is an area where human-caused global warming is still a given, and where that the nastiness known as ClimateGate that exposed the entire global warming enterprise as entirely unsupported by verifiable scientific data doesn't exist. Maybe we should refer to that special corner as "The Climate Zone."
The reports each arrived via AP Writer Arthur Max. Mr. Max and conference attendees at climate negotiations in Bonn shouldn't be mad about having the opportunity to spend time in West Germany's former capital city. After all, the temperatures there, based on the current report for Tuesday and plus the three forecasted days in the graphic at the top right (seen currently at Google), are on track to be virtually identical to the city's pleasant historical August average highs and lows of 73 and 54 degrees, respectively, for August.
But despite the reasonably pleasant atmosphere (yeah, I know temps and climate aren't the same, so back off already), Mr. Max's August 6 and August 8 reports tell us that discussions between "rich" and "poor" countries have been quite frosty. Meanwhile, reactions from the the supporters of international statist expansion in the environmental movement who are on hand for the festivities have been quite heated. Overall, everyone, including the clumsy Mr. Max, is making mince meat of President Barack Obama's claim, occasionally echoed in establishment press outlets at the time, to have accomplished anything meaningful at last December's Copenhagen conference.
A week ago, AP Science Writer Malcolm Ritter committed a serious act of journalism by telling readers what is really going on in stem cell science. It ought to be required reading for the Obama administration, which seems to be making a crusade out of human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR) while acting to stifle what appears to be significant progress in adult stem cell research (ASCR).
The amazing title of the AP reporter's article is "Adult stem cell research far ahead of embryonic." Given the establishment press's years-long favoritism towards hESCR going back at least to George W. Bush's 2001 announcement limiting federal government involvement in that area, it's enough to make you wonder if Ritter knew that his editors were on vacation or away on other business on August 2.
On August 3 ("U.S. To Train 3,000 Offshore IT Workers"), InformationWeek.com's Paul McDougall reported that the U.S. Agency for International Development is operating at cross purposes with the Obama administration's stated goal to keep high-tech jobs in the U.S.
USAID has since attempted to do some backing and filling about the assistance it is providing in Sri Lanka, but its arguments may ring hollow, given McDougall's report two days later that the agency is also helping to fund IT outsourcing efforts in Armenia.
What follows was eminently predictable, but noting it is nonetheless necessary.
Shirley Sherrod, and to a lesser extent her husband Charles, were media celebrities for a while in late July. Readers might have noticed their near absence from establishment media news reports during the past seven days. It would be easy to think that this has occurred because the story played itself out, with nothing newsworthy to add.
That stopped being true on Monday, August 2, when a column by Ron Wilkins ("The Other Side of Shirley Sherrod") appeared in the leftist alternative publication Counterpunch.
Wilkins is currently a professor in the Department of Africana Studies (not misspelled) at Cal State University. He claims in the final sentence of his column that he is knowledgeable concerning what he is writing because "I was one of those workers at NCI." "NCI" is New Communities, Inc., described at a RuralDevelopment.org link as "the land trust that Shirley and Charles Sherrod established, with other black farm families in the 1960's."
Here's part of what Wilkins alleges (excerpted items are not in the same order as they originally appeared; out of order verbiage is identified):
In what I believe is the first direct acknowledgment by the wire service of what so many have known for so long, the Associated Press's Tom Krisher wrote the following in an August 5 story about plans for an initial public offering by government-controlled General Motors (bolds are mine throughout this post):
Ever since the Obama administration gave the automaker a $50 billion dollar survival loan last year, many drivers have scorned the company and bought cars from rivals. Even though GM has cut costs, changed leadership, and reported its first quarterly profit since 2007, the resentment will linger as long as taxpayers have a 61 percent stake in the company.
Actually, the "resentment" goes back to December 2008, when the Bush administration bowed to pressure to use Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to "temporarily" loan a combined $13.4 billion to GM and Chrysler. Also, the total bailout dollars involved are at least $63 billion when GMAC is included, as it should be.
If you have relied exclusively on AP reports and its news feeds to subscribing publications since then, Krisher's assertion that "drivers have scorned the company" would more than likely be the first time you have seen an AP reporter record that observation.
Initial requests for jobless benefits rose last week to their highest level since April, a sign that hiring remains weak and some companies are still cutting workers.
The Labor Department said Thursday that new claims for unemployment insurance rose by 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 479,000. Analysts had expected a small drop. Claims have risen twice in the past three weeks.
The AP's Larry Margasak ran with the Democrats' latest talking point in a Tuesday article which carried the headline, "Democrats Declare Swamp of Corruption Drained." The writer, referring to a line by Nancy Pelosi, explained that the remark "might seem odd, but it's an emerging strategy: Separate Democratic-initiated ethics from the cases of Reps. Charles Rangel...and Maxine Waters."
Despite naming Rangel and Waters in his article, Margasak completely omitted other Democratic ethics scandals since they took control of Congress in 2007, such as the case against former Louisiana Representative William Jefferson and the three members of the party linked to the scandal surrounding the PMA Group (former Rep. John Murtha, Virginia's Jim Moran, and Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana).
The AP writer expanded on the headline in his lede: "Democratic leaders say they've emptied the swamp of congressional corruption. Never mind the ethics trials to come for two longtime party members. 'Drain the swamp we did, because this was a terrible place,' Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week of the Republican rule in the House that ended in January 2007."
UPDATE, 6:20 p.m. ET: AP now has a 5:28 p.m. item on the bounty. It's enough to make you wonder if the item below shamed the wire service into covering it.
A look at the Associated Press's raw national feed (saved and stored here at about 1:30 p.m. ET for future reference) informs us that the wire service considers the following items worthy of at least some countrywide attention:
We're No. 1! UGA tops party schools ranking
Lindsay Lohan released from jail, goes to rehab
(Football Player Albert) Haynesworth again doesn't pass conditioning test
Vuvuzelas silenced for basketball worlds
The fact that the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona has had a $1 million bounty placed on his head by a Mexican drug cartel, an offer that is being treated as a credible threat? Sorry, that doesn't make the cut. An AP search on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's last name confirms it:
There's a big "surprise" in the ObamaCare legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in late March. Imagine that.
This morning, the Associated Press's Stephen Ohlemacher reported on the status of one of them, namely an IRS-related provision in the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" that has nothing to do with patient protection or providing affordable care. The AP reporter does a decent job of explaining the current situation, but doesn't tell readers how or why the problem arose in the first place. He also gives Democrats cover for what appears to be a half-hearted effort at repeal.
The key point Ohlemacher avoided is that no almost no one in Congress had any idea that the provision, which extends Form 1099 filing requirements to virtually all vendor payments exceeding $600 in a calendar year, was in the bill. It's also clear that very few outside of Congress were aware of the provision during the run-up to the final votes, as the result of a Google News Archive search on "Obamacare 1099 $600" (not typed in quotes) shows:
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.