In his report on today's release of Uncle Sam's February Monthly Treasury Statement, Christopher Rugaber at the Associated Press today did almost all he could to ensure that his wire service remains deserving of the nickname yours truly gave it several month ago: "The Administration's Press."
Rugaber's primary sin of omission ensures that readers, listeners and viewers at AP's subscribing outlets will probably not learn that February's deficit, at a rounded $232 billion, was the highest single-month shortfall in U.S. history. But four years ago in March 2008, during the final year of George W. Bush's presidency, the wire service's Jeannine Aversa somehow found space to note the record-breaking nature of that year's $176 billion February deficit:
It's always a bit of risk saying that a bunch of supposedly smart folks are wrong, but the economists Jeannine Aversa at the Associated Press consulted for a Tuesday afternoon report on the economic outlook must be taking a double dose of sunshine pills every day.
If we are to believe these folks, the only thing that can stop the economy now is oil -- not the $112 a barrel accompanied by $4 per gallon gas we're seeing now. That's noooo problem. These smarties apparently think it's clear sailing ahead for the economy as long as oil doesn't go to $150, which would translate to at least $5.50 a gallon.
Last Friday, in what one would think would be a bombshell story headlined "Foreign Banks Tapped Fed’s Secret Lifeline Most at Crisis Peak," Bloomberg's Bradley Keoun and Craig Torres reported that foreign banks secretly and routinely tapping the Federal Reserve's "discount window" lending program, primarily in 2008 and 2009. Some specifics:
"(The) loans protected a lender to local governments in Belgium, a Japanese fishing-cooperative financier and a company part-owned by the Central Bank of Libya."
Dexia SA (DEXB), based in Brussels and Paris, borrowed as much as $33.5 billion through its New York branch ..."
"Dublin-based Depfa Bank Plc, taken over in 2007 by a German real-estate lender later seized by the German government, drew $24.5 billion."
"...foreign banks ... (accounted) for at least 70 percent of the $110.7 billion borrowed during the week in October 2008 when use of the program surged to a record."
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke fought for two years to keep the information secret after Bloomberg filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2009. The Bloomberg report quotes Bernanke as claiming in April 2009 that disclosure "might lead market participants to infer weakness."
In the Bloomberg report, Congressman Ron Paul is quoted making a prediction that has sadly been way off the mark:
Thursday, an odd warning emanated from the halls of the supposedly esteemed investment firm known as Goldman Sachs: If Uncle Sam spends $61 billion less during the second half of the current fiscal year, and ends the year with "only" $3.758 trillion in spending instead of the administration's anticipated $3.819 trillion, economic growth will be seriously harmed.
Yesterday, similar nonsense was put forth by Jeannine Aversa at the Associated Press in reaction to the government's report that economic growth during the fourth quarter was revised down to 2.8% from 3.2%, when experts (like the geniuses at Goldman) had expected the number to come in at 3.3%. The headlined whine: "State and local budget cuts are slowing US economy."
The search for ways to rehabilitate the Obama administration in the eyes of the public is seemingly a never-ending enterprise at the Associated Press.
Oh, they slip up occasionally. Late last week (covered yesterday at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), in an item primarily about how Congress really, really can't stop planned stimulus spending (uh-huh), the wire service's Brett J. Blackledge let slip that President Obama's stimulus program is "politically unpopular." In noting that the government wasn't able to spend the funds as fast as intended, Blackledge also indirectly confirmed an obvious truth the President admitted to the New York Times that he needed almost two years to learn: "there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects."
So what do you do if you're "The Essential Global News Network" and need to recover? Why, you find something that appears to be working (sort of), and rename it "stimulus." Voila! See how easy that is?
Someone needs to tell the Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa and Christopher Rugaber that just because the number of unemployed people declines, it doesn't mean that they "found work."
That must be what the pair believes. Their error-riddled and suspect supposition-driven Friday afternoon report, whose title predictably focused on the unemployment-rate drop while ignoring the pathetic increase in seasonally adjusted jobs, actually made that claim (bolds and numbered tags are mine):
Leave it to the Associated Press, with the assistance of the "magic" of seasonal adjustments, to make the November housing market appear as if it was a bit better than the two months that preceded it. It wasn't.
Thursday, the wire service grabbed the single crumb that was available, namely the Census Bureau's report earlier that day that annualized, seasonally adjusted housing starts had increased by about 4% and turned it into a decidedly positive headline: "Home construction up after 2 months of declines."
AP Economics Writer Jeannine Aversa watered down the headline in her very first sentence, describing the "up" part of the headline as a "nudge."
That's nowhere near enough. The available evidence indicates that November may have been the worst month the homebuilding industry has had in 4-5 decades of related recordkeeping.
In separate reports for the Associated Press during the past week, Christopher Rugaber and Jeannine Aversa, economics writers for the wire service, each dealt with estimates for next year's average unemployment rate. They came back with significantly different predictions for 2011 without recognizing how widely those estimates varied.
On Tuesday, Rugaber dealt with the Federal Reserve's latest economic growth projections, in the process telling readers that the Fed expects that the unemployment rate "will be 8.9 percent to 9.1 percent in 2011."
On Friday, Aversa looked at three alternative proposals for handling next year's federal income tax rates, which will increase substantially for everyone unless Congress acts. The projected unemployment rates for next year under the three proposals are all either 9.9% or 10.0%.
So the Fed thinks that unemployment will come down next year, while Aversa's consulted experts think it will go up slightly regardless of what Congress does or doesn't do about taxes. The one-point difference between the two sets of estimates represents about 1.5 million workers. That's not a small number. Did things suddenly get worse while the turkeys were cooking on Thursday?
What if reporters hunting and pecking for happy economic news are playing up incomplete government reports? Take this AP story by Jeannine Aversa on hopes rising over jobless claims:
The number of people signing up for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in two months, an encouraging sign that companies aren't resorting to deeper layoffs even as the economy has lost momentum.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that new claims for unemployment aid plunged last week by a seasonally adjusted 27,000 to 451,000. Economists had predicted a much smaller decline of just 2,000.
But wait, we have an asterisk alert: did the Labor Department really get data from all 50 states? Bloomberg News explained, ahem, that nine states did not report actual numbers:
Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggested continued growth in national economic activity during the reporting period of mid-July through the end of August, but with widespread signs of a deceleration compared with preceding periods.
... However, the remaining Districts of New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta, and Chicago all highlighted mixed conditions or deceleration in overall economic activity.
It may be fair to describe the detail in Atlanta's section of the report as "mixed" (it's a borderline call; the opening paragraph from that District's report will appear later). But Richmond's section is clearly one of deceleration, which brings us to today's clearly needed geography lesson for Jeannine Aversa and/or a headline writer at the Associated Press.
What follows is a graphic containing the headline at Aversa's 2:45 p.m. story (since updated here), and her first few paragraphs:
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.
Those looking for evidence that there is a move afoot in the establishment press to lower the bar for whatever economic accomplishments might be accomplished during the Obama administration will be interested in how the Associated Press's report on the government's June jobs report defined "normal" unemployment.
Perhaps it's valid for reporters Jeannine Aversa and Christopher Rugaber to refer to 6% unemployment as "normal," if by that they mean "typical non-recessionary" or "long-term average" unemployment. But I couldn't help but remember that during the Bush 43 and Reagan years, unemployment rates just above and occasionally even below that level were described by wire service reporters and other journalists as "persistent unemployment" -- i.e., decidedly not "normal." I quickly found several AP and other reports from those eras that confirmed my recall of what is now a demonstrated double standard.
Here is the opening sentence from the AP report, followed by the term-redefining paragraph (bold is mine):
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is admonishing the leaders of other countries attending the G-20 summit in Toronto to keep spending like there's no tomorrow, because if they spend like there's no tomorrow, there will still be a tomorrow. But in the gospel according to Geithner, if they don't spend like there's no tomorrow, there really won't be a tomorrow.
With such blubbery logic, is it any wonder that America's stature with the rest of the world is plummeting?
Earlier this evening, Brent Baker at NewsBusters pointed to an ABC report warning that a second recession might be on the horizon if the G20 nations don't follow the spend-spend-spend recommendations of the Obama administration.
In his attempt to convince the rest of the world of the folly of being fiscally responsible, Geithner has invoked a supposed "lesson" from the 1930s. Back in mid-May, I happened to stumble on the fundamental untruth of his assertion, and will demonstrate it shortly.
The Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa let Geithner's contention pass without challenge in her Saturday report on the summit. Here are the three relevant paragraphs from her report:
It seems that when they saw today's today's disappointing unemployment claims report from Uncle Sam, the Associated Press's Alan Zibel, perhaps with the help of contributors Jeannine Aversa, Martin Crutsinger, and Tali Arbel, decided to start playing the expectations game with June's Employment Situation Report, which isn't due to arrive from the Bureau of Labor Statistics until July 2.
If so, from a propagandist's perspective, it's a pretty slick strategy, given that the BLS's report will probably be the last significant piece of economic news before the July 4 weekend, making it a larger than usual topic of conversation among the American people in the days that follow.
Private sector job growth shrank to a seasonally adjusted 20,000 in May. Maybe if the AP and others make us think that June will go negative and the actual result comes in barely positive, it won't seem so bad. The worse possibility is that they're aware of more information than the rest of us have, and that things really are heading south in this "Rebound? What Rebound?" recovery.
Here are key paragraphs of Zibel's report (link is probably dynamic and subject to revision; bolds are mine):
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, George Mason University economics professor Daniel Klein today notes that "self-identified liberals and Democrats do badly on questions of basic economics."
It therefore shouldn't be terribly surprising that so many journalists do a poor job of economic and business reporting, because, as the Media Research Center has frequently and consistently documented for over a quarter-century, a significant majority of journalists are, well, self-identified liberals and Democrats.
Sometimes what passes for business reporting in the establishment press isn't the result of conscious bias. Ignorance, as just cited, and a failure to look behind numbers, often because they fit a predetermined outlook, are also factors.
The Associated Press's business writers and many others in the establishment press spent just over a year reminding readers at seemingly every conceivable opportunity that the recession began in December 2007, simply because the supposedly apolitical collection of academics at the National Bureau for Economic Research said so.
Lo and behold, in her year-end roundup of 2009's top business stories, an article so biased and error-prone that I am devoting my next weekly column to deconstructing it, the Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa writes that:
After four quarters of decline, the economy returns to growth during the July-to-September period, signaling the end of the deepest and longest recession since the 1930s.
Not to worry, Aversa said, because the fourth quarter is going to be really good ("[possibly] the strongest showing since 5.4 percent growth in the first quarter of 2006"), and the first quarter of 2010 will be okay ("growth will slow to a pace of around 2 or 3 percent in the first three months"). To be fair, she did entertain the possibility of a double-dip recession in 2011 in her 18th of 21 paragraphs. But of course most readers won't get that far, and most editors trimming her piece down will leave it on the cutting room floor.
Uncle Sam's Bureau of Economic Analysis today revised economic growth in the third quarter downward a second time. After originally estimating annualized growth of 3.5% in October and then reducing it to 2.8% in November, the bureau's "third estimate" issued today came in at 2.2%.
If that "third estimate" term seems odd, it's because this is only the second quarter the BEA has labeled its reports "first estimate," "second estimate," and "third estimate." Previously, the respective terms for the three monthly reports were "advance," "preliminary," and "final."
If you're thinking that today's BEA figure is bad news, you obviously haven't gotten the word from Associated Press reporter Jeannine Aversa, who after a brief "not to worry," seemed to wax almost rhapsodically over how great the current quarter and next year will be (a partial screen cap of Aversa's first six paragraphs is saved here for future reference, fair use, and discussion purposes; bold is mine):
In today's "How's That Voodoonomics Working Out For You" segment, despite considering a 0.4 percent decline in the nation's Gross Domestic Product a calamity when George W. Bush was President, America's media applauded Friday's announcement that the GDP in the second quarter declined by one percent.
Of course, this is not at all surprising, for many of these same outlets cheered when businesses ONLY cut payrolls by 539,000 in April.
Here's a CNN e-mail alert I just received a couple of hours ago:
So how did the Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa report the above raw news? As you would expect an Obama apparatchik to do it (reproduced in full as it existed at 3:15 p.m.; bold after title is mine):
Fed sees hopeful signs but downgrades '09 forecast
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve expects the economy to improve in coming months, even as policymakers have downgraded their outlook for all of 2009.
The Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa, who became infamous last year for her stories of "vanishing jobs" that weren't, sounded hopeful early this morning before the release by Uncle Sam's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) of its first-quarter report on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth:
Economy's free-fall probably eased in 1Q The recession's grip on the country may be letting up a bit.
The government is set to release a report Wednesday expected to show the economy shrank at a pace of 5 percent in the first three months of this year. If Wall Street analysts' forecasts' are correct, the figure — while still extremely weak — would be viewed as a hopeful sign that the worst of the recession — in terms of lost economic activity — may be past.
In today's coverage of Uncle Sam's Employment Situation Report, the Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa showed no real curiosity as to why November's seasonally adjusted job loss was so much higher than September's or October's. There's a reason for that.
I have noted for quite a while (previous NB-posted examples are here, here, and here) that the business press, led by AP, has repeatedly and erroneously reported seasonally adjusted job gain or loss figures from the government as if they reflect what actually occurred on the ground.
That has usually given reporters like Aversa and other free rein to pretend that real jobs were "slashed" and "vanished" -- even in months where there have been actual but less-than-satisfactory job gains.
Seasonally adjusting the numbers smooths them out, and is a perfectly defensible statistical technique. But anyone who understands what is going on would have to know that since today's seasonally adjusted 533,000-job loss for November was much worse than October's loss of 320,000, something very ugly must have occurred during the most recent month.
Associated Press lead reporter Liz Sidoti, other contributors (AP Director of Surveys Trevor Tompson, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP writer Alan Fram), and the wire service's supposedly vaunted editors apparently don't understand what a polling margin of error is.
In a Wednesday story I found in four different places (CBS News, AP-Google, Breitbart, Yahoo! News), Sidoti et al let a paragraph stand claiming that a 3.5% margin of error in the poll results they were reporting meant that the real results could vary by as many as 14 points.
Here are the key paragraphs found in each story (bold is mine):
The Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa "creatively" and selectively rounded figures presented in today's Monthly Treasury Statement from Uncle Sam. That Treasury report, released this afternoon, covered monthly and year-to-date receipts and spending in the federal government.
By doing what she did, Aversa made sure we know that year-to-date receipts are down, but at the same time made Congress's overspending look less serious than it really is.
Spending of $2.2 trillion so far this year is up from $2.1 trillion reported for the corresponding period last year. Meanwhile, revenues of $1.93 trillion are down from $1.945 trillion a year ago.
Because Aversa rounded off the spending numbers to the nearest $.1 trillion while not supplying percentage changes, the average reader will think that spending is up a bit less than 5% so far this year.
The Associated Press's disgraceful coverage of last week's Employment Situation Report from Uncle Sam's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) got left behind in the holiday weekend hubbub, but calls out for comment nonetheless.
The AP's Jeannine Aversa reached into her Thesaurus as she began her report with what has become the wire service's standard monthly error of treating reported seasonally adjusted job reductions as reflecting real people thrown out on the streets by mean old employers (as you will see after the jump, reality, as usual, differed):
Here is the full text of, and response to, a question directed to Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer, Washington, in an "Ask AP" item four days ago (second question-answer segment at link; bolds are mine):
Why is it important whether we are or are not in a "recession"? I have read a technical definition of the word, and I have seen and heard many news reports in which economists and government officials opine on whether we are or are not in a recession. What is resting on that determination?
The Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa started off her Friday evening report on the day's economic news showing, as she and her AP colleagues have for several months, that they either don't understand very basic concepts relating to the information they're attempting to digest and convey or are deliberately reporting it inaccurately:
Pink slips piled up and jobs disappeared into thin air in May as the nation's unemployment rate zoomed to 5.5 percent in the biggest one-month jump in decades. Wall Street swooned, and the White House said President Bush was considering new proposals to revive the economy.
..... Help-wanted signs are vanishing along with jobs, so the unemployment rate is likely to keep climbing, a government report indicated .....
Make no mistake, the news was bad. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the economy lost 49,000 jobs in May, and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose by more than it has in any single month since the mid-1980s.
But that doesn't change the fact that Aversa either was deliberately inaccurate when she wrote that "pink slips piled up," or that she doesn't comprehend the subject matter she is supposed to be covering.
The economy plodded ahead at a 0.9 percent pace in the first quarter - slightly better than first estimated - but still underscoring caution on the part of consumers and businesses walloped by housing, credit and financial problems.
Anyone wishing to understand why leftist bias pervades US "mainstream" media reporting will benefit from reading Steve Boriss's May 18 column ("Is the Associated Press Good for America?") at Pajamas Media.
Boriss quickly runs down the history, and gets right to the point: The self-described "not-for-profit cooperative" has a history of acting as a monopolist: