President Obama's declaration that “the private sector is doing fine” immediately became the headline out of his news conference last week, with even traditional liberal media outlets reporting it without spinning it for Obama. Even Time magazine headlined it, “As Economic Concerns Mount, President Obama Says, ‘The Private Sector Is Doing Fine'”
However, as the story has continued, some of Obama's allies in the media are starting to try to help Obama out by obfuscating.
NBC's Ann Curry argued earlier this morning that Obama had been "taken out of context." Left-wing New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says that Obama simply "screwed up the line" of a larger, correct point that there needs to me more government spending (as if record levels of debt and spending aren't sufficient).
Other media outlets are simply trying to defend Obama's remarks on their face.
“You can expect to hear the president's remark widely mocked, but he's mostly correct,” writes David A. Graham for The Atlantic.
In a hastily called press conference Friday morning, Barack Obama seemed reluctant to make news, adopting his most professorial tone. But he managed to do it anyway when he said that "the private sector is doing fine." It was today's quote that launched a thousand tweets; the Romney campaign almost immediately sent out a press release mocking it. Some even compared it to John McCain's disastrous statement that "the fundamentals of the economy are strong," made the same day Lehman Brothers collapsed. But while it's probably true that the remark will come back to haunt the president, facts ought to matter. Unlike McCain, who was obviously wrong about the economy, Obama isn't totally off base.
Graham then makes the case that Obama was “mostly correct” because private sector employment is growing, while government employment is shrinking, and Obama was calling for more government spending to help states hire more police officers, teachers, etc.
In his press conference, Obama tried to make the case that more deficit-financed stimulus spending to help states re-hire 450,000 laid-off teachers, firefighters and police officers was the key to fixing the economy:
“One of the biggest weaknesses has been state and local governments, which have laid off 450,000 Americans,” Obama said. “These are teachers and cops and firefighters. Congress should pass a bill putting them back to work right now, giving help to the states so that those layoffs are not occurring.
Graham echoes that theme, stating, “It's clearly the case that shrinking payrolls at state and local governments are a major drag on the nation's employment, while private payrolls are reasonably healthy.”
There are 23.2 million Americans who can't find a job or are under-employed. Even if Congress approved spending billions to subsidize states to temporarily hire those 450,000 people, that would leave 27.75 million Americans still unemployed or underemployed.
And until the economy – the private sector – is creating jobs fast enough to provide the jobs growth that not only keeps up with population growth but also steadily reduces the number of unemployed Americans, it is simply non-factual to claim that “the private sector is doing fine.”
It's also false to assert, as Graham has done in The Atlantic, that Obama's statement is “mostly correct.”
Even Obama knows it – that's why he “clarified” his statement not long after the news conference, declaring that the private sector is not doing fine
“It is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine, that's the reason I had the press conference,” said Obama.
If only a press conference could fix the economy as easily as Obama hopes his clarification will fix his gaffe.