Year Ago GDP Jump 'Disappointing'; This Year Negative GDP: 'Whole Lot Brighter,' ABC Credits 'Stimulus'

A year ago, when the government reported second quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) doubled from the first quarter to 1.9 percent, the CBS Evening News centered a story around what Katie Couric described as “disappointing” news while ABC and NBC didn't utter a syllable about the GDP jump.

But Friday night, with a different President in office, Couric crowed a one percent decline in the 2009 second quarter GDP -- the first time since tracking began in 1947 that the economy has contracted for four straight quarters -- means the “glimmer of hope just got a whole lot brighter” with “the latest evidence the recession is easing.” ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas saw “new optimism about an economic recovery” and declared of the new negative number: “That's actually good” since “economists had projected the number would be worse.”

George Stephanopoulos shared the White House's joy over “the best news the administration has had in weeks.” The gullible ex-Democratic operative maintained “they can point to these numbers today and say, look, there is real evidence right now that the stimulus package that we pushed for so hard is working. They cited economists who said it made a three percent difference in these numbers.”

Fill-in NBC Nightly News anchor David Gregory was the least excited: “It has been called the great recession. And tonight there is evidence it may be easing, though for a lot of Americans this doesn't feel much like recovery. The government reported that the economy shrank less than expected in the second quarter of the year...”

(The second quarter 2008 GDP was later revised to 1.5 percent from 1.9 percent.)

Couric teased the Friday, July 31 CBS Evening News: “Tonight, that glimmer of hope just got a whole lot brighter. New figures show the economic decline has slowed dramatically.”

Couric led her newscast:

Good evening, everyone, we're beginning tonight with the economy because the bad news is actually getting better. The government reported today that the economy continued to shrink in the second quarter of this year, but only one percent this time and that's a big improvement. It had contracted more than six times as much in the first quarter. So there's the latest evidence the recession is easing. Anthony Mason has more.
Mason began: “The economy contracted for the fourth straight quarter this Spring, but the pace of decline slowed sharply and at last it looks like the worst is over...”

Vargas teased World News: “New optimism about an economic recovery, new outrage over big bonuses on Wall Street.”

Vargas introduced the GDP story: “The nation's economy posted a negative one percent annual growth rate for the second quarter of the year. That's actually good. Economists had projected the number would be worse.”

Stephanopoulos soon piped in from Washington, DC:
This was the best news the administration has had in weeks. The President's poll numbers have been slipping, his health care plan has been stalled and they can point to these numbers today and say, look, there is real evidence right now that the stimulus package that we pushed for so hard is working. They cited economists who said it made a three percent difference in these numbers.”
My Thursday, July 31, 2008 NewsBusters item, “CBS Turns Doubled GDP into 'Disappointing' News, ABC & NBC Silent,” recounted:
Second quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) doubled to 1.9 percent, up from 0.9 percent in the first quarter, the Commerce Department announced Thursday morning as consumer spending rose 1.5 percent in the quarter ending June 30, up from 0.9 percent in the first quarter, and U.S. exports soared 9.2 percent, way up from 5.1 percent in the first three months of 2008.

Yet the CBS Evening News centered a story around “disappointing” news about the supposedly “struggling economy” (with that on screen) -- while ABC and NBC, which on April 30 led with full stories on the news of a 0.6 percent (since revised to 0.9) first quarter GDP, didn't utter a syllable Thursday night about the big GDP jump. On the last day of April, ABC's Betsy Stark declared the economy had “flat lined” and NBC anchor Brian Williams warned “it's getting rough out there” as the new GDP number “stops just short of the official declaration of a recession.” Thursday night, however, ABC's World News and NBC Nightly News made time for full stories on outrage over ExxonMobil earning “the largest profit ever made by a U.S. company.” The “oil industry says it is not out of line, but some motorists feel otherwise.”

CBS anchor Katie Couric, picking up on the 4th quarter 2007 GDP revision from 0.6 percent to a minus 0.2, stressed how “the government now says the economy was receding, not growing, in the final quarter of last year” though “it picked up a bit in the first quarter of this year.” She then twisted the fresh news of a 1.9 percent jump into a negative:
But look at this: In the second quarter, when all those rebate checks were supposed to stimulate the economy, it grew less than two percent. Jeff Glor has more about the disappointing numbers.
Preferring an anecdote to factual data analysis, Glor started his story with how “you'll have a hard time convincing Paula Corletto the economy is growing” since “she and her eight-year-old daughter Leandra,” both of whom CBS showed shopping for clothes, “now limit their shopping to only one day a week.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center