CNN is no “CSI,” but its reporters and anchors keep declaring things dead. They’ve 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.
“We hear every day on CNN that the middle class is getting beaten up and that it’s eroding,” said author Barbara Ehrenreich on the October 21 “In the Money.”
She was right about CNN. The 24-hour network is unabashedly attacking the economy in the home stretch of an election race, despite exceptionally good economic news including a low unemployment rate of 4.6 percent and 6.6 million new jobs since August 2003.
“And glowing reports about our economy,” said anchor Lou Dobbs on the October 19 “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” before adding: “Those reports aren’t impressing middle-class Americans struggling to keep their jobs.”
Economist Brian Wesbury observed that “it is getting harder for cynics and pessimists to argue that the U.S. economy is doing poorly. But this does not stop them from trying,” he wrote in an October 17 Wall Street Journal commentary. “Lately, the old class-warrior standby, that ‘Wall Street may be doing fine, but Main Street suffers,’ is echoing down the alleyways.”
CNN has touted that contrast, and it makes a difference to viewers on “Main Street” – a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found 88 percent of likely voters listing the economy as an election concern equal to terrorism and the Iraq war.
No Jobs, No Paychecks
“Millions of good-paying jobs have disappeared,” declared Dobbs, who hosts a regular segment titled “War on the Middle Class,” on the October 18 “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” “Many middle-class Americans who still have jobs worry that those jobs are about to end.” The report that followed was about Ford employees – suffering from a company that has failed to innovate and has massive financial obligations tied to its union contracts. Despite those problems of old Detroit, other automakers employing Americans – such as Honda and Toyota – are doing well.
On the same show, reporter Kitty Pilgrim asked the audience: “Now for tonight’s poll. How would you rate the government’s handling of the middle class crisis in this country? Excellent, fair or poor?” Assuming a “middle class crisis” was the template familiar to CNN despite its claim as “the most trusted name in news.”
“Corporations are handing out profits to their shareholders and pink slips to their American employees,” said Lisa Sylvester on the October 19 “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” She didn’t point out that those shareholders are millions of Americans as well, including more than half of American workers who are investing in 401(k)s and similar programs.
“The Dow Jones Index jumped above the 12,000 threshold for the first time,” Sylvester said. “But for middle-class workers, job growth is sluggish, the housing market cooling and paychecks shrinking.”
Sylvester declared job growth “sluggish” after more than three straight years of positive job growth 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.
She also claimed “paychecks shrinking,” though even The New York Times reported a “surge in wage-and-salary income in the first half of this year” on August 31. The broadcast media haven’t noticed the huge rise in overall compensation, BMI has noted , which includes wages and benefits. In fact, 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 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.
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.
He also cited the many luxuries the American middle class now enjoys: “Throw in the low inflation of the past 20 years, a deregulated airline industry that's made travel much cheaper, plus technological progress that's provided the middle class with not only better cars and televisions, but every gadget from DVD players to iPods, all at lower and lower prices, and it's obvious that Mr. and Mrs. Median are living the life of Riley compared to their parents and grandparents.”
Still, anchor Lou Dobbs bemoaned on his October 19 show: “Corporate America is riding high, but for many working Americans the war on the middle class is intensifying.”Dobbs harped on a familiar class-warfare talking point: “That would work out to mean that a CEO would make in one day what it would take that so-called average worker two years to earn. That seems just a little, a little disproportionate.” Sylvester’s response: “A little unfair indeed, Lou.” Neither Dobbs nor Sylvester mentioned being bothered by their own salaries in comparison to “so-called average workers.” According to Salary.com, a Web site which “prides itself in being the resource for compensation data,” “CNN stars like Lou Dobbs and Wolf Blitzer make millions each year.”  The article, titled “Dream Jobs: News Anchor,” interviewed CNN International anchor Jonathan Mann, who said anchoring “is probably one of the lucrative jobs in the television industry.” In addition to anchoring, Dobbs also has had sideline operations including his latest book, “The War on the Middle Class,” and a financial newsletter.
In his Forbes story, Van Riper also commented on the trend of salary envy: “But what does the pay of celebrities and CEOs have to do with the average American, other than provide fodder for jealousy? It would be one thing if growing incomes at the top stretched prices of goods and services so much as to dramatically push inflation ahead for everyone else. But inflation has been tame for over two decades.”
Middle Class Going Under
“Many Americans feel like the man who is about to drown crossing a stream that on the average is three feet deep.”
This report from CNN’s Bill Schneider aired at least four times on October 18 – on “American Morning,” “CNN Newsroom,” “The Situation Room” and “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”
“On the average, the economy’s doing well,” Schneider said, “…but not for people who feel themselves slipping under water.” He added: “In a new CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, a majority of Americans say the American dream has become the impossible dream for most people.”
When Miles O’Brien introduced Schneider’s piece on the October 18 “American Morning,” he reported: “The middle class still says, generally, it feels like the American dream is a lost cause.”
But it was CNN anchors and reporters who kept the dead dream mantra alive. On the October 21 “In the Money,” host Jack Cafferty asked, “What about the fact that the forces that are driving the middle class out of business are all emanating for the most part from Washington, D.C.?”
Cafferty pushed the liberal talking points of Barbara Ehrenreich, author of “Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream” , suggesting “that the government in collusion with the big corporations are seeing to it that there is no increase in the minimum wage, that illegal immigrants are allowed to drive down wages overall in this country, that corporations are allowed to do away with their health insurance plans?”
Ehrenreich said her new advocacy group, United Professionals, will represent people who “could be a marketing executive one day, and you could be working in Wal-Mart the next day.”
Cafferty and Ehrenreich could have gained a more accurate perspective on the economy by listening to CNN’s Susan Lisovicz on the October 18 “Paula Zahn Now.” Lisovicz explained that the surge in the Dow Jones was good news: “The stock market has helped achieve the American dream for millions of Americans, not just the top wage earners, not just CEOs, but millions of Americans who are saving for their kids’ education, for their first home, for their retirement. And this is a reflection of the economy.”