The Medias Top 10 Economic Myths of 2006
10. American manufacturing is obsolete
Media myth: All the manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas, and the only ones left are in the almost empty plants of the Big Three automakers.
|The media turned to manufacturing layoffs to illustrate worker woes, though The Economist magazine explained in its July 1, 2006, issue that the American manufacturing sector was flourishing – even with the much-publicized problems at General Motors and Ford. “Net profits have risen by nearly 9 percent a year since the recession in 2001 and productivity has been growing even more rapidly than is usual during economic expansions,” stated the article.|
CNN reporter Bill Tucker bemoaned the Big Three’s decline January 25 on “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”
“The United States has failed to protect its auto industry,” Tucker complained, noting that General Motors once “owned better than 40 percent of the American auto market in 1980” but today commands just “26 percent of the domestic market.” Tucker added the opinion that “free, unfettered access by foreign automakers to our market” has turned out to be “a good idea horribly executed.”
Truth: American auto manufacturing is alive and well, with Honda and Toyota opening new plants in the United States. The Associated Press explained on May 28 that Honda’s new 1,500-job plant slated for the Midwest is just one part of a “$1.18 billion global expansion,” and should boost North American “production capacity from 1.4 million to 1.6 million vehicles a year.”
In addition to plant jobs, suppliers and support services gain business from the automakers’ expansion. Millions of investors benefit from holding stock in these companies – another angle left out of many stories.
9. The American dream has become a nightmare
Media myth: It’s no use trying, because you’ll never achieve the American dream.
Whether it’s home ownership or a pension that will ensure years of golfing and seashores, just forget your hope of achieving the American dream. Journalists on CNN alone called the American dream “impossible” and “a lost cause” and said the middle class is “in crisis” or going “out of business” – all in the month of October. Anchor Lou Dobbs’ nightly segment, “War on the Middle Class,” proclaimed on a daily basis that ordinary Americans were – or should be – hopeless.
No matter how glowing the reports on the economy, the negative drumbeat continued. “The Dow Jones Index jumped above the 12,000 threshold for the first time,” said Lisa Sylvester on the October 19 “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” “But for middle-class workers, job growth is sluggish, the housing market cooling and paychecks shrinking.” She managed to work in several of the Top 10 Media Myths – read on!
Meanwhile, ABC’s Betsy Stark lamented the movement toward more personal responsibility for retirement. “Traditional defined benefit pension plans are a vanishing piece of the American dream,” Stark said on the January 8 “World News Tonight.”
Reporters told viewers to “watch out,” that they might have a “bulls-eye” on them because the big bad companies are targeting their pensions. CNN’s Miles O’Brien even said everyone might end up as “Wal-Mart greeters” in their old age, and Fox News anchor John Gibson worried whether the “little old schmo” with a retirement account would be able to manage it.
Truth: Sylvester declared job growth “sluggish” after more than three straight years of positive job increases and a recent revision to Labor Department figures that added 810,000 new jobs – something CNN’s “In the Money” also ignored in its October 7 report on job creation. The total job gain for the U.S. economy since August 2003 has averaged out to nearly 180,000 jobs per month.
The dream of home ownership is far from lost. It’s at near-record levels – 69 percent of Americans own their own homes, according to a third-quarter 2006 Census Bureau report. Wage growth this year was the fastest since early 2004. And median income is much higher than in the past, as Tom Van Riper reported in an October 17 story for Forbes.com.
“Mr. and Mrs. Median’s $46,326 in annual income is 32% more than their mid-‘60s counterparts, even when adjusted for inflation, and 13% more than those at the median in the economic boom year of 1985,” Van Riper wrote.
8. You can’t be trusted with a fork and spoon
Media myth: From your morning doughnut to your afternoon potato chips and your evening burger, the government should stop you from killing yourself.
“We’ll look at who’s to blame for the stuff you put in your body.”
That’s not an exaggeration of the media’s view of the “food police’s” efforts to regulate American food. That’s how CNN’s Jennifer Westhoven plugged an upcoming story about an anti-Kentucky Fried Chicken lawsuit on the June 17 “In the Money.”
Most people understand that if they eat healthy foods, they might be healthier. But the media can’t leave it at that. They have continued to provide free PR for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a radical left-wing group that grows faint at the thought of Dunkin’ Donuts and Big Macs. Besides stating the obvious – that fatty foods are fatty – the reports sometimes come down on the side of government regulation to solve America’s “obesity epidemic.” Save us from ourselves!
May 3 “Early Show” on CBS. Co-host Julie Chen welcomed CSPI founder and Director Michael Jacobson with accolades for his work getting non-diet sodas out of public schools. Chen said “this is definitely a step in the right direction.” Later, she gushed: “Mr. Jacobson, it’s definitely one bold step. So congratulations on that.” Jacobson replied: “It’s a great move forward, yes.” Chen: “It sure is.”
Truth: Proponents of more food regulation have been filing lawsuits left and right, recently to get trans fats banned from restaurant food. In a six-month BMI analysis, CSPI netted more stories on network news than the nation’s official nutrition watchdog, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) when it came to regular food issues such as obesity, nutrition and organic products (not counting bird flu and mad cow disease). CSPI appeared 14 times on ABC, CBS and NBC news shows. USDA appeared only 10 times.
7. Wages are stagnant
Media myth: Workers are getting left behind in economic growth.
“Stagnant wages” has been a throwaway line for the media for some time now. It showed up in lists of the country’s supposed woes. “Even with high gas prices and stagnant wages, parents are spending more,” declared NBC’s Dawn Fratangelo on the August 26 “Nightly News.” The October 9 cover of U.S. News & World Report also blared: “Can the Economy Save Bush? Falling gas prices help, but stagnant wages and rising debt mean trouble in November.”
On the October 4 “Good Morning America,” ABC anchor Robin Roberts bemoaned: “It’s just harder to keep a roof over your head these days. I mean that disposable income is just so, it’s so difficult.”
The New York Times finally admitted wages had grown, but only three days after David Leonhardt and Steven Greenhouse told readers the economy was failing to “offer a prolonged increase in real wages” for the first time since World War II.
Truth: Wages and benefits have risen at the fastest pace since early 2004. Hourly compensation in non-farm businesses increased 7.7 percent from last year, according to a September 6 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economist Brian Wesbury also said recent revisions to income figures had found “$160 billion of personal income that was previously uncounted.” He explained that the commonly used payroll survey, the “major source for both average hourly earnings and wage and salary estimates,” had underestimated the amount.
6. Global warming doom grows ever nearer
Media myth: We have passed the “tipping point” on global warming. The U.S. had better pay up – and we don’t have much time.
“By Any Measure, Earth Is At ... The Tipping Point. The climate is crashing, and global warming is to blame.” So proclaimed Time magazine’s April 3 issue, which devoted 24 full pages of its April 3 edition to shameless advocacy about global warming, blaming the United States and the Bush administration for destroying the world. Behind a cover that read, “Be Worried. Be Very Worried,” Time informed its readers: “… in the past five years or so, the serious debate has quietly ended.”
That fairly summed up media coverage of global warming in 2006. The message: there is no debate; that the United States is to blame; and that we’ve passed a “tipping point” and are on the way to our doom unless we throw billions of dollars at the problem.
“It’s no longer a controversy. Science tells us it’s a fact. The new issue of Time magazine tells us to worry,” proclaimed ABC’s Terry Moran on the March 27 “Nightline.”
That message underscored the media’s push for joining costly worldwide treaties, even though most nations that joined the Kyoto Protocol haven’t even reduced their emissions. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, reports warned that global warming was leading to stronger and more numerous storms. The quiet 2006 hurricane season, however, disputed that notion.
Truth: The debate has not, in fact, ended. They may be few and far between in mainstream news, but scientists who dispute the global warming bandwagon are out there. CNN’s Rob Marciano interviewed Dr. William Gray, who has studied hurricanes for 50 years. Gray, of Colorado State University, said on the March 23 “Your World Today” that man is not causing global warming.
“As far as causing the globe to warm, we have not done that,” Gray said. Marciano added that “Dr. Gray says the warming is natural, a regular feature of global cycles, and not from greenhouse gases.”
Although the media are quick to blame President Bush, the Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto on July 25, 1997. Obscuring that truth, one Time article included comments from senators now “unable to get through the Senate even mild measures to limit carbon.” The article mentioned four senators by name: John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). Of those, Domenici was listed as a co-sponsor of the vote against Kyoto and all four voted against Kyoto, along with former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-Mass.).
Media reports have continued to ignore the massive costs to the U.S. economy and the world from Kyoto or other emissions-cutting mandates. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated in 1998 that U.S. compliance with Kyoto could cost between $100 billion and $400 billion annually.
5. Increasing the minimum wage will help the millions of poor workers
Media myth: U.S. workers are barely getting by, and it’s past time for a minimum wage increase after all these years.
A higher federal minimum wage seems like common sense to the media. They can’t seem to understand why anyone would be against it. Witness this classic exchange on the June 24 “In the Money”: CNN Host Jack Cafferty: “But why don't they want to raise the minimum wage? Where’s – what's the resistance to that idea?” CNN Contributor (and recently-promoted Fortune magazine managing editor) Andy Serwer: “Well, it's obviously coming from big business. They say it's inflationary, and it will cause layoffs. I think that's a lot of bull.”
That sounded a lot like the Democratic politicians talking. And New York Times reporter Edmund L. Andrews claimed “the Democratic argument is straightforward” on July 13. He repeated Democratic politicians’ linkage between private executives’ pay and minimum-wage workers’ – that it was unfair for CEOs to get raises when minimum-wage workers could not.
Truth: Where are the throngs of minimum-wage workers? USA Today’s July 24 editorial page claimed an increase “would benefit 15 million who earn the minimum or a little more.” The media have used them as the reason why the federal minimum should be increased – though the actual number is far smaller than they have led audiences to believe. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 1.9 million workers were reported with wages at or below the minimum in 2005.
In fact, the percentage of hourly paid workers at or below the minimum wage is at its lowest point since data were first collected in 1979. In 1980, 15.1 percent of those workers were minimum wage or below – compared to 2.5 percent in 2005. More than 20 states already mandate wages higher than the federal minimum.
Several economists have pointed out that the majority of workers move on from entry-level minimum wage positions relatively quickly. The BLS reported that “about half of workers earning $5.15 or less were under age 25, and about one-fourth of workers earning at or below the minimum wage were age 16-19.”
4. The housing bubble has burst
Media myth: A U.S. housing slowdown means the market is crashing down and the rest of the economy isn’t far behind.
As the housing market slowed from its red-hot pace, journalists resurrected talk of the “housing bubble,” which was now supposedly bursting. As a popular media measure of the economy, fluctuations in housing have drawn loads of attention.
On CBS, a housing report raised the specter of the Great Depression. Anthony Mason reported the forecast that “overall house prices will fall 3.5 percent next year.” “When’s the last time we saw that?” he asked economy.com’s Mark Zandi on the November 1 “Evening News.” “It’s unprecedented,” the economist replied, adding that “You’d have to go back all the way to the Great Depression to find a year in which house prices declined."
“Well, that noise you hear may be the sound of a bubble bursting,” said NBC’s Natalie Morales on the July 21 “Today” show. ABC’s Jim Avila also remained stuck in the “bubble” mindset, focusing on a couple who were having trouble selling. He promoted a July 29 “World News Saturday” story: “Hard sell. Dream houses turn into nightmares as home sales drop and mortgage rates rise. How this couple and so many others are trapped in the real estate bubble.”
Truth: When something hits a record high, it’s likely to come down eventually. That’s exactly what the housing market has done – starting to come down after two consecutive record-high years. Sellers who had been getting top dollar now have to bring their asking prices down, making it more of a buyers’ market. But just because the market shifts to favor another party doesn’t mean the economy is crashing down. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that “The downturn in the housing market so far appears to be orderly.”
In fact, housing prices haven’t decreased in all markets. Surprisingly strong data about the nation’s residential real estate market was released on November 30 by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, in a report that said, “Nationally, home prices were 7.73 percent higher in the third quarter of 2006 than they were one year earlier.”
3. Bird flu is going to kill us all
Media myth: Stockpile your drugs (and everything else) now, because bird flu is coming and it’s going to get ugly.
|Are you still here? So is pretty much everyone else. But a doctor hyped by ABC News had suggested that at least half of us wouldn’t be. Reporter Jim Avila interviewed Dr. Robert Webster, “the father of bird flu,” on the March 14 “World News Tonight.” Webster came right out and predicted that the virus, which so far has killed about 154 people in roughly eight years, would mutate into a virus and “50 percent of the population could die.” The virus hadn’t mutated to allow human-to-human transmission, but the media still described it as “deadly.”|
CNN’S Soledad O’Brien took a particularly negative tone in her February 21 “American Morning” report. “No human cases of bird flu have been found yet in the United States. And maybe we should underscore the word ‘yet,’” O’Brien said. She went on to cover a study about the possibility of a pandemic, saying “I think it’s fair to say if, and maybe more like when, the bird flu comes – migrates – the virus changes and mutates and can be transferred from the animals to people.”
But birds provided enough worry for ABC’s David Wright, who said on the February 21 “Good Morning America” that the famed ravens of the Tower of London “have been moved indoors as a precaution.” He then added ominously, “For centuries, British legend has had it, if these birds ever disappear, the kingdom will fall.”
Wright went on to misstate the current threat to people. “For now bird flu is relatively rare in humans and relatively difficult to catch.”
Truth: Wright’s definition of “relatively rare?” Out of the world population of 6.5 billion, 258 people have caught the virus and 154 have died, according to the World Health Organization as of Nov. 29, 2006. The death toll thus far is fewer than the number of people who die on U.S. roads in a two-day period. The total was 38,253 for the year in 2004, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
2. Gasoline is a conspiracy - going up or coming down!
Media myth: Big Oil is conspiring to spike gas prices and stick it to the consumer. Wait! No! Big Oil is conspiring with Republicans to bring gas prices DOWN before the election!
The year 2006 was filled with gas conspiracy theories. First, the media cast disapproving stares at Big Oil when seasonal prices rose. Journalists consistently interviewed angry motorists filling up their tanks and screeching, “This is ridiculous!” as they paid a few cents more.
But the outrage didn’t end when gas prices came down. It was campaign time, and reporters started suggesting that Republicans and Big Oil were getting together to take prices down just in time for the election. With happier consumers, incumbents would get happy voters, or so the theory went.
“You know, if you were a real cynic, you could also wonder if the oil companies might not be pulling the price of gas down to help the Republicans get re-elected in the midterm elections a couple of months away,” Cafferty suggested on the August 30 “Situation Room.”
Asserting that “Big Oil’s on the defensive,” NBC’s Carl Quintanilla characterized a recent statement from a Shell Oil executive, who denied working with the White House to fix prices, as “strong denials even as others see a vast right wing conspiracy that leads right from the pump to the booth.” That was on the October 25 “Today” show.
Truth: Gas prices are set in the marketplace based on a variety of factors, from good ol’ supply and demand to worldwide political tensions. Energy-hungry China and India have upped demand, while unrest in the Middle East has affected markets. Seasonal driving, which increases in summer and decreases in the winter, affects prices. But oil companies don’t just decide what price they want to charge. An investigation by the Federal Trade Commission found no national trends of price gouging.
1. The U.S. economy is hopeless - again
Media Myth: The average American knows that the economy is bad and not getting better.
This year’s No. 1 myth is a repeat from 2005, as reporters continued their obsession with an imminent U.S. recession despite a growing economy. As BMI showed in the Special Report “Bad News Bears: How Networks Distort a Good Economy and Batter President Bush,” more than twice as many stories in a year’s time gave a negatively slanted view of the economy. CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi started 2006 off with a downbeat outlook: “With big business struggling, unsteady interest rates and signs of a recession, the best some forecasters are hoping for in 2006 is an average year.”
ABC reporter Kate Snow’s July 11 “World News Tonight” story undermined good news of a federal deficit decline. “But, average Americans are having increasing trouble living within their means,” she added, offsetting the positive story.
One of the bogeymen in the closet was inflation, which actually showed signs of holding steady at its core despite fluctuating gas prices. Instead, the media once again fixated on gas prices, warning that the economy would be irreparably damaged by a few cents more at the pump. Though journalists repeatedly cited “record highs,” the national average for regular gas did NOT set a new record.
The election provided the media a platform for bashing the current administration, even as poll numbers on the economy plummeted. On the April 21, 2006, “Nightly News,” CNBC’s John Harwood: “What high gas prices do is obscure the one accomplishment George Bush and Republicans in Congress most would like to brag about, and that’s a growing economy.”
Truth: More than 6 million new jobs have been created since August of 2003 – a streak of more than three straight years of positive job growth. Unemployment is at a five-year low of 4.4 percent. For college graduates, unemployment is less than 2 percent.
America’s economy has been growing like crazy over the last few years, as economist Larry Kudlow, host of CNBC’s “Kudlow & Company,” explained in a July 11, 2006, column. “Did you know that over the last 11 quarters, dating back to the June 2003 Bush tax cuts, America has increased the size of its entire economy by 20 percent?” he asked. “In less than three years, the U.S. economic pie has expanded by $2.2 trillion, an output add-on that is roughly the same size as the total Chinese economy.”