USA Today Plays Up 'Gloomy' Attitudes with Depression Comparison

     One-third of Americans think it is time to whip up some shoe leather soup and hum “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?,” according to the Sept. 29 USA Today.

     According to a front-page Business section article headlined “Americans gloomier, for now” by Mindy Fetterman, one-third of those surveyed in a Gallup poll believe economic times are comparable to the Great Depression – a time when unemployment was at 24.9 percent and U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) suffered steep declines. Another 36 percent of respondents said the economy is in recession.

     “In a sign that anxiety is growing, 33% of 1,011 adults surveyed over the weekend by USA TODAY and Gallup said the economy already is in a depression (though by economists' measures it is not),” Mindy Fetterman wrote. “Just 12% said that 10 months ago.”

     However, GDP – which grew 2.8 percent in the second quarter of 2008 – hasn’t suffered anything near what it did throughout the 1930s. Unemployment is only at 6.1 percent –  a fraction of Depression era unemployment. Fetterman’s article acknowledged this, but it was buried after the jump to the second page of the story.

     “And in fact, the economic woes are nothing close to the Great Depression, even if it feels that way to some. We’re nowhere near the days of wandering homelessness evoked in John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath,” Fetterman wrote. “Starting in 1929, the U.S. economy shrank for four consecutive years. In 1940, the economy still was smaller than in 1929 before the stock crash.”

     The article also indicated the survey participants were optimistic about the future of the economy, despite more than two-thirds expressing belief it is currently in either recession or Depression.

     “But beyond the current woes, 58% of Americans see better economic times ahead — in just a year,” Fetterman wrote. “Only 3% think the economy is growing now, but 42% expect it to be growing a year from now. While 69% say we're in a recession or depression, only 36% think it will be that bad in a year.”

     The media have engaged in their own exaggeration, as a recent Business & Media Institute report, “The Great Media Depression,” revealed. The media compared current economic conditions to the Great Depression more than 70 times in the first six months of 2008. Coverage of the Bear Stearns collapse was four times more negative than coverage of the stock market crash that led into the depression.