Is the Times rooting for a recession? It certainly seems to be assuming one is inevitable, and slanting its news reporting based on that worst-case scenario.
Saturday's lead story by Steven Weisman and David Herszenhorn, "Bush and Congress Seen Pushing for Stimulus Plan," portrayed Bush and Republicans in general as on the defensive in their public discussion of the economy:
"The tone changed quickly over the last few weeks, especially after the level of unemployment grew, oil prices reached $100 a barrel, the stock market stumbled and the housing crisis worsened."
(That's misleading, since the price of oil only touched $100 on a fluke one-off trade and stood at $94 Monday morning,while the unemployment rate remains at a historically low 5%.)
"Leading Republican and Democratic economists soon began voicing fears of a recession, with some even suggesting one had already begun. New polls show Americans are increasingly alarmed, and the topic has figured more and more in presidential debates. On Tuesday, New Hampshire primary voters in both parties cited the economy as their top concern.
"Mr. Bernanke laid out a bleak picture of the economy on Thursday and suggested that the Fed would cut interest rates soon. That has made it more acceptable for lawmakers to discuss the need for actions to avoid being blamed for failing to respond."
Sunday's off-lead "news analysis" by Peter Goodman and Floyd Norris, "No Quick Fix To Downturn," piled on more scares.
"As leaders in Washington turn their attention to efforts to avert a looming downturn, many economists suggest that it may already be too late to change the course of the economy over the first half of the year, if not longer.
"With a wave of negative signs gathering force, economists, policy makers and investors are debating just how much the economy could be damaged in 2008. Huge and complex, the American economy has in recent years been aided by a global web of finance so elaborate that no one seems capable of fully comprehending it. That makes it all but impossible to predict how much the economy can be expected to fall before it stabilizes."
Finally, there was Monday's front page story by Michael Barbaro and Louis Uchitelle, "Wallets Thick and Thin Seem to Be Closing." Both reporters have long records of either denigrating Wal-Mart (Barbaro) or calling for liberal government intervention in the economy (Uchitelle), so no surprise the story spins anecdotal accounts of a slowdown in consumer spending into an "almost certain" recession this year.
"Strong evidence is emerging that consumer spending, a bulwark against recession over the last year even as energy prices surged and the housing market sputtered, has begun to slow sharply at every level of the American economy, from the working class to the wealthy.
"The abrupt pullback raises the possibility that the country may be experiencing a rare decline in personal consumption, not just a slower rate of growth. Such a decline would be the first since 1991, and it would almost certainly push the entire economy into a recession in the middle of an election year.
Even when Barbaro and Uchitelle briefly check in with the other side (a majority of economists still think the economy will avoid recession), there's a somewhat negative vibe:
"There are plenty of recession naysayers. Average hourly wages and salaries have not fallen, and some economists argue that unless - or until - that happens, consumer spending will hold up despite widespread economic unease. According to these economists, what happened in December was a temporary blip."
"But it is the trouble at the highest reaches of retailing that has economists most worried about a recession. Over the last year, even as low-wage and middle-income consumers have cut back, the wealthy have spent freely, keeping high-end chains insulated from the economic turbulence."