NY Times, WashPost Try to Lead With Happy Pro-Obama Spin on 7.9 Percent Unemployment

The nation’s leading newspapers really didn’t want to highlight the unemployment rate going back up to 7.9 percent. On the front of Saturday’s Washington Post, the headline was “Report shows Oct. job growth.” The New York Times wouldn’t even put the news on the front page. Up front was a tiny headline, “Job Growth Tops Estimates.”

The Times shifted the story to B-1 with the headline “U.S. Adds 171,000 Jobs, More Than Estimated.” Online, the headline was “Latest Jobs Report Shows Persistent Economic Growth.” You couldn’t even find this story by Catherine Rampell on the Times home page on Saturday, despite its happy pro-Obama tone:

The American job market is looking a little stronger than had been feared just a few months ago, according to the government’s final labor snapshot before the presidential election.

Whoever wins the election on Tuesday might even inherit an accelerating economy in 2013, if (and that is a big if) Congress is able to smooth over that pesky fiscal cliff in the few weeks after the election.

The nation’s employers added 171,000 positions on net in October, the Labor Department reported on Friday, and more jobs than initially estimated in August and September. Hiring was broad-based, with just nearly every industry except state government adding jobs. The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 7.9 percent in October, from 7.8 percent in September, but for a good reason: more workers joined the labor force and so officially counted as unemployed.

None of this makes for a game-changer in the presidential race, analysts said. But it appeared to provide some relief for President Obama, whose campaign could have been sideswiped by bad news from the volatile monthly jobs report. With the latest numbers, the economy finally shows a net gain of jobs during his presidency. His record had previously been weighed down by huge layoffs in his first year in office after the financial crisis.

The report also allayed widespread suspicion that September’s plunge in the unemployment rate — to below 8 percent for the first time since the month he took office — might have been a one-month statistical fluke.

The Obama spin is dizzying. By contrast, the Post story by Peter Whoriskey and Neil Irwin started out with happy spin, then let both sides proclaim it wasn't enough. It began:

The U.S. jobs market in October sustained its slow trudge toward better times, the government reported on Friday, in the last major report card on the economy before the presidential election.

The nation has been adding a healthy average of 170,000 jobs a month recently, and even though hundreds of thousands of people decided to join the labor force, the unemployment rate in October remained “essentially unchanged” at 7.9 percent, the Labor Department reported.

But the Post turned more negative as the story went along, quoting both liberal economist Heidi Shierholtz of the Economic Policy Institute and moderate-conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin to pronounce the recovery was painfully slow.

The improvement in jobs amounts to “a good solid single — in a game where we are 23 million runs behind,” said Holtz-Eakin.

“I don’t think anyone is going to look back after the election and say it was the October employment report that came out before the election that mattered,” Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist for Capital Economics, said near the end. “It hasn’t been steady as she goes, but the unemployment rate has been on a downward trend for a while.”

The Post allowed a rebuttal: "But Republicans have argued that Obama has not done enough to improve the economy during his tenure. The number of people employed is virtually the same as when he took office in January 2009."

Like the Times, by this evening, you couldn't locate the jobs story anywhere on the home page, and D.C. papers can't blame it on incessant Superstorm Sandy news.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis