...it's true — or at least, it's my impression that it's true — that the media focused way more on economic hard luck stories in the early 80s than they do now. I have a strong memory of being practically bombarded with this stuff back then. Today, though, not so much. It's not that coverage of unemployment is absent, just that it strikes me as much less urgent than it was in the early 80s.
I don't know why. Maybe Brad [DeLong]'s reasons are the right ones. Maybe it's just been crowded out by other financial news like bank bailouts and subprime ghost towns. Maybe the social safety net is more effective now than it was 30 years ago. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that today's stubbornly high numbers are concentrated among the long-term unemployed, as shown in the chart on the right. Maybe the rise of two-earner families has reduced the pain of unemployment somewhat. Maybe nobody really believes any longer that the government can do anything about this, so it's not worth reporting on. I don't know. But like Brad, it strikes me as quite odd.
Drum comes so close, but just when you think he's about to hit the media bias nail on the head, he trails off and ends the post.
The extent of the double standard goes beyond the volume of coverage to its tone. Last year, NewsBusters reported that the networks called identical unemployment numbers good news for Obama but "all" bad for President Reagan. A Business and Media Institute study issued the following findings:
Network Reports 13 Times More Negative Under Reagan than Under Obama: An overwhelming majority of stories mentioning the Reagan administration were negative 91 percent (20 out of 22) while only 7 percent (1 out of 15) of Obama administration mentions were negative. Additionally, Obama mentions were favorable 87 percent of the time, but there were zero positive mentions of Reagan.
Networks Connect Reagan White House to Negative Jobs Numbers Almost Twice as Often as Obama: Unemployment stories in 1982 mentioned the Reagan administration 71 percent of the time (22 out of 31), but 2009 stories mentioned the Obama administration only 40 percent of the time (14 out of 35).
Charles Gibson: 9.4% Unemployment ‘Good News' (Obama) and also ‘All' Bad (Reagan): The unemployment rate reached 9.4 percent under Reagan and Obama. But ABC's Charles Gibson covered the identical rate very differently in 1982 than in 2009. Gibson told viewers May 7, 1982, "[T]here really isn't any good news in the statistics. All the numbers are bad." But by 2009, Gibson had turned into an optimist citing "good news" June 5 and "hope the economy may be finally turning the corner" Aug. 7.
Of course one needn't go all the way back to the 1980s to see evidence of this double standard. The discrepancies in coverage between economic news during Obama's presidency and such news during the previous administration is glaring.
CBS's Katie Couric, for instance, last July touted four straight quarters of GDP decline, as "the latest evidence the recession is easing" and said that the "glimmer of hope just got a whole lot brighter." ABC's Elizabeth Vargas, meanwhile, touted a "new optimism about an economic recovery."
A year before, Couric had labeled a 1.9 percent economic expansion "disappointing." ABC and NBC were silent on that economic news.
Tom Maguire is astounded at the left's -- or at least Drum's -- inability to see the simplicity of this double standard:
Wow. There is not a righty in the world that can't suggest a reason for the media's posture. In fact, even before the election it was a truism that the tone of the press coverage of the economy would change to smiley faces the day Obama was sworn in.
Kevin is puzzled as to why the media back in 1983 (pre-Fox, pre-Rush) felt comfortable bashing Reagan, that stupid heartless conservative cowboy. Yet today, the media is giving a pass to Obama, determined not to give aid and comfort to the racist tea-baggers who question his economic policies. Gosh, I wonder what's going on. Couldn't be media bias, since in LibWorld that doesn't exist - they are owned by evil corporations, some supported the invasion of Iraq, and anyway, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh, neener, neener, neener.