Desperate to prop up the Obama recovery, ABC, CBS and NBC hyped the good and shunned the bad amidst two contrasting economic reports.
The broadcast networks embraced discussing the economy after strong job creation numbers were released on May 2. They weren’t as keen on covering the bad news when horrible growth data was released just two days earlier showing GDP had dropped from 2.6 percent to just 0.1 percent. Only CBS mentioned the gross domestic product (GDP), but it underemphasized the scary slowdown by hyping good stock market news.
Despite reporting on the positive jobs report for 7 minutes and 17 seconds on morning and evening shows, the networks discussed the discouraging GDP numbers less than 7 percent of the time, for only 28 seconds. In fact, all three networks covered the jobs.
Among ABC, CBS and NBC, only CBS even mentioned the US Chamber of Commerce’s April 30 report on the GDP. This report was very important and quite disturbing, however, as it showed a dismal 0.1 percent growth for the US economy during January, February and March. In comparison, the growth rate for the last three months of 2013 was dramatically higher at 2.6 percent.
CBS spent 28 seconds discussing the new GDP numbers, but failed to bring it up as a counterpoint to the glowing job-related stories later that same week. Similarly, neither ABC nor NBC have mentioned that story in over a week’s worth of broadcasting.
In both stories discussing GDP, CBS reporters emphasized the strength of the stock market, almost suggesting that this negated the lack of growth. When co-anchor Norah O’Donnell mentioned GDP in CBS’s May 1 “This Morning,” she did so within a story praising the “record high” stock market. CBS never even saw fit to change the chyron from “Stocks Soar” to something relevant to the GDP.
Similarly, anchor Scott Pelley apparently tried to comfort April 30’s “Evening News” viewers that “the slowdown didn’t worry Wall Street though” pointing out that the Dow closed at “an all-time high.”
The networks weren’t just reluctant to discuss the economy, as ABC, CBS and NBC all covered May 2’s jobs report in detail. On May 2, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly Employment Situation analysis, showing 288,000 jobs created and unveiling a new 6.3 percent unemployment rate. For comparison, April saw 0.4 percent less unemployment and 96,000 more jobs than in March.
These jobs numbers were encouraging, and the networks seized on the topic to push the good news. For example, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer began May 2’s “World News” asking if the jobs numbers revealed “the real turnaround for American workers,” with a chyron reading “Good News” and “Job Numbers Surprise.”
Each of the networks also included heartwarming but anecdotal interviews with Americans excited to have jobs. One such May 2 interview on NBC’s “Nightly News” featured a woman who described herself as “elated” and “ecstatic” after finally finding a new job.
The news wasn’t all positive, with stubbornly high African-American unemployment. While black unemployment fell from 12.4 percent in March, it remained much higher than the national average at 11.6 percent in April.
Only one broadcast mentioned black unemployment, when CBS anchor Scott Pelley said that higher African-American unemployment was “worth mentioning,” squeezing this comment awkwardly in the last 10 seconds of the broadcast. It is not unusual for the networks to ignore black unemployment, as they failed to report on it in 98 percent of jobs report stories between April 2013 and April 2014.
Financial reporters and analysts expressed concern over the weak GDP numbers, even as the networks did not appear worried. Finbarr Bermingham, writing for the International Business Times, called the slowdown “dramatic,” pointing out that “few [analysts] expected such a huge drop.” According to Bermingham, “the Bureau of Economic Analysis has attributed the collapse in growth to a slump in exports and a fall-off in domestic investment.”
The “slump in exports” is especially troubling, given private trade data that pointed to even worse growth numbers. In the Wall Street Journal, Ben Leubsdorf wrote that “Trade Data Indicate Economy Contracted.” Leubsdorf cited J.P Morgan Chase estimates that “GDP contracted at a 0.8% pace” and Macroeconomic Advisers numbers which “pegged the decline at 0.6%.”