"Obama Administration" vs. "The Government"

In a bleak period when bad financial newsis leadingthe news, is the Times subtly shifting responsibility for the continued failings from a politician it likes, Barack Obama, and placing the blame on that more generic institution, "the government"? The last 10 days of coverage have provided some telltale hints.

Perhaps subliminally, whenthere isbad news to report(like the forced multiple bailout of an insurance giant, or a worldwide stock market decline), it's "the federal government" enmeshed with the problem, not President Obama. Yet when a proposal is likely to be popular (a bailout for homeowners) the"Obama administration" gets the credit. It's unlikely the Bush administration received similar passes from the Times.

Some recent examples:

Bad News: The first three paragraphs of a February 24 lead story, "U.S. Is Pressed to Add Billions to Bailouts." Obama isn't mentioned until paragraph three.

The government faced mounting pressure on Monday to put billions more in some of the nation's biggest banks, two of the biggest automakers and the biggest insurance company, despite the billions it has already committed to rescuing them.

The government's boldest rescue to date, its $150 billion commitment for the insurance giant American International Group, is foundering. A.I.G. indicated on Monday it was now negotiating for tens of billions of dollars in additional assistance as losses have mounted.

Separately, the Obama administration confirmed it was in discussions to aid Citigroup, the recipient of $45 billion so far, that could raise the government's stake in the banking company to as much as 40 percent.

Bad News: The March 2 lead story by Andrew Ross Sorkin and Mary Williams Walsh, on more tax money needed to stave off bankruptcy of the giant insurer A.I.G., "U.S. Said to Offer $30 Billion More To Help Insurer." The word "Obama" doesn't even appear in the story.

The federal government agreed Sunday night to provide an additional $30 billion in taxpayer money to the American International Group and loosen the terms of its huge loan to the insurer, which is preparing to report a $62 billion loss on Monday, the biggest quarterly loss in history, people involved in the discussions said.

Bad News: The March 3 lead story by Floyd Norris on the worldwide market plunge. Norris's story didn't mention Obama.

Fears that the world's economies are even weaker than had been thought ricocheted around the globe on Monday as investors from Hong Kong to London to New York bailed out of stocks.

Losses cascaded from one market to the next as concern spread that government efforts had not been enough to stabilize troubled financial institutions or broader economies. Only by Tuesday morning did markets show signs of stabilizing, with key indexes in Asia showing more modest declines.

Good News: The lead to the March 5 lead story by Edmund Andrews, "U.S. Sets Big Incentives To Head Off Foreclosures." "The Obama administration" suddenly returned to power, overthrowing the generic "government" when there's a popular proposal to push.

The Obama administration on Wednesday began the most ambitious effort since the 1930s to help troubled homeowners, offering lenders and borrowers big incentives and subsidies to try to stem the wave of foreclosures.

Bad News: The third paragraph of Jack Healy's front-page story March 6, "Slump Humbling Blue-Chip Stocks, Once Dow's Pride." "Back to "the government." Obama was not mentioned once in the story.

The bear market is tightening its grip, despite efforts by the government to support the economy and some of its biggest companies.

By contrast, a co-lead overview story in the March 6 Washington Postwas forthright in placing blame for the stock market's continuing immolation:

President Obama and his aides this week were selling hope. The markets aren't buying.

Two days after the administration sought to restore calm to the markets, major indexes yesterday plunged more than 4 percent on a cascade of bad economic and corporate news.

Hat tip to Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters for picking up on this trend.