Politicians will promise just about anything to get elected. They might offer a chicken in every pot or even vow to end wars in places like Iraq or Afghanistan. That's just marketing. But once they get elected, we expect them to be honest.
Or at least we used to. Not any longer. Not since the $787 billion stimulus bill passed in 2010. Now, two years after it was signed into law on Feb. 17, it's easy to see why we've given up on political honesty. As Rep. Joe Wilson said to President Obama: "You lie."
He wasn't kidding.
The whole premise of the need for such an incredibly huge spending bill was jobs. As The New York Times explained it on Oct. 22, 2009, "the Obama administration's forecast at the start of the year, which predicted that unemployment would not climb much above 8 percent." That should earn Obama a spot in the Liar's Hall of Fame.
Now in 2011, unemployment isn't even close to 8 percent and it went as high as 10.1 percent. Unemployment has been over 9 percent since May of 2009, a 21-month stretch of pain for millions of Americans. And even though we've had some big drops in the number in the last two months, no one on the left or right believes them.
Yet you've hardly ever heard the media tell you about Obama's failed stimulus plan. That's right, failed. If you promise the largest spending bill in history is needed to keep unemployment below 8 percent and the jobless rate spends 21 months at 9 percent or higher, then you failed. Big time.
You probably didn't know that. That's because ABC, CBS, and NBC mentioned that promise just nine times in nearly two years of stimulus coverage. The remaining 98 percent of the time, Obama's disastrous overspending was ignored.
Ninety-eight percent. Super Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed about 62 percent of his passes and was named the game MVP. If he had completed 98 percent, he'd get elected to Senate from Wisconsin for life.
Now look at how the media did completing the trip from promise to disappointment. They mustered less than 2 percent - equal to roughly one completion in the entire game. That's a stunning failure by even their pathetic standards.
Imagine President George W. Bush had failed in such an amazing way. Do you think the networks would have talked about it just nine times out of 589 stories? Not hardly. When Bush was president, network reporters covered unemployment so thoroughly, those without a job almost got a story per person.
Back in 2005, when unemployment never went above 5.3 percent, NBC reporter Tom Costello complained about "an economy just a bit off-key." We're now told America is years away from such a positive employment picture. That's not off key, that's like Yoko Ono trying to sing.
The news media take on the 2005 numbers was, naturally, mostly bad. The broadcast networks focused on job losses in slightly more than half the reports. In one typical story, Jim Acosta of the "CBS Evening News" left his viewers with a compelling image of the 8,700 job cuts at General Motors: "Just three days before Thanksgiving, GM is carving up its work force like a Butterball turkey."
The way the media attacked Bush on unemployment can be summed up in one classic Dan Rather moment from Oct. 8, 2004. The anchor led off his broadcast with the question: "Tonight, where are the jobs?"
Unemployment was at 5.4 percent at the time - about 4 million more jobs than we have in 2011. Now unemployment is allegedly at 9 percent and both liberal and conservative economists consider that number unrealistically low. CNBC explained it well: "While the December drop from 9.4 percent to 9.0 percent might have looked nice on paper, digging through the real numbers shows the actual jobs picture hasn't improved at all."
The latest Gallup poll shows the unemployment rate has spiked up to 10.3 percent, and is not the 9.0 percent being reported by the Obama administration.
To sane, rational Americans, that would mean that the stimulus failed and that we shouldn't repeat our mistakes. Perhaps even try spending less.
Journalists are neither sane, nor rational. When $787 billion failed, they wanted more. CBS's Katie Couric asked if "the economy needs another shot in the arm" and John Yang of NBC told viewers Obama was "facing pressure for a new stimulus package." to solve the problem.
We're at the second anniversary of this disaster and its budget time again. Even the GOP is merely trying to make minor cuts while our budget is close to twice what it was at the end of the Clinton presidency.
It's time we admitted that the only thing that was a bigger failure than the stimulus was the news coverage it generated.
Dan Gainor is the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on FaceBook and Twitter as dangainor.