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One Economy, Two Spins

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The media have hammered President George W. Bush on the employment issue despite 13 straight months of positive job creation and other good economic news. The October 8, 2004 jobs report was the latest evidence that they treat Bush far more critically than they treated President Bill Clinton on the same issue – sometimes even for the same results. The data indicated that the economy added 96,000 new jobs in September and nearly a quarter million adjusted to the totals earlier in the year. 

     But media reports spun the new job numbers as a strong negative and stories either totally ignored the quarter-million job adjustment or buried it. This is not primarily a problem of economic interpretation. Instead, the media’s slanted coverage of employment reflects a political bias that colors their overall economic reporting. 

     News organizations gave Bush consistently negative press about perceived poor job creation and unemployment in the summer of 2004 but their reports were overwhelmingly positive when Clinton ran for reelection in the summer of 1996 under similar economic circumstances. Stories about jobs under Clinton were positive 85 percent of the time, more than six times as often as they were for Bush, despite similar economic data. 

     The media repeatedly criticized the Bush record, including 13 straight months of positive job creation, 1.5 million more new jobs in 2004 and an unemployment rate that dropped from 6.3 percent to 5.4 percent. In contrast the same news organizations consistently hailed the Clinton record of seven straight months of positive job creation, more than 2 million jobs in 1996 and an unemployment rate that dropped from 5.8 percent to 5.2 percent.

     The Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute (BMI) examined news coverage of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation reports during the summer re-election season (May through September in both 1996 and 2004). The changes in unemployment are covered every month when the Department of Labor releases the latest data. BMI researchers analyzed ABC, NBC and CBS evening news broadcasts, the primary evening newscast on CNN, and news articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times. The time period for the study predates the founding of the Fox News Channel so it was not included.




Similar Summers for Clinton and Bush


     The summer of 1996 was proclaimed a time of “strong economic growth and low unemployment” by reporter Jerry King of ABC’s World News Tonight Sunday. That story aired on August 4, 1996, but the comment could easily apply to 2004. BusinessWeekChief Economist Michael J. Mandel, PhD, wrote a piece for the September 6, 2004 issue comparing summer 1996 with summer 2004. According to Mandel, “The good news for Bush: On many of the key variables that voters care about, the economy looks uncannily like it did in the summer of 1996, a year when the incumbent was reelected.”

Mandel, author of “Rational Exuberance: Silencing the Enemies of Growth,” listed several variables – unemployment rate, inflation, consumer confidence, housing affordability and unemployment claims – as similar for both incumbents. Financial columnist and author James K. Glassman followed with a September 2 piece for Tech Central Station that agreed with Mandel’s assessment and added that Bush “was dealt an extremely miserable hand by his predecessor.” Glassman pointed out that the tech stock bubble was “deflating,” gross domestic product (GDP) and employment growth were slowing and the corporate scandals of Enron, WorldCom and others all occurred under Clinton. “And, then, of course, there was 9/11,” he added.

     While the business press reflected this reality, mainstream media coverage of employment didn’t. The reporting under Clinton was overwhelmingly positive. For Bush, it was overwhelmingly negative. Eighty-five percent of the stories (35 out of 41) portrayed the economy under Clinton in a good light. Only 13 percent of the stories (six out of 46) gave the employment situation under Bush the same treatment. 

     The media comments about employment and job growth during the Bush reelection campaign tell the whole story. They used terms like: “poor,” “stalled,” “struggling” or “lackluster.” Comments during the similar time period during the Clinton presidency were the exact opposite. The media instead used terms like: “showing its muscle,” “encouraging,” “surprisingly strong” and “impressive but not excessive.”

     The BMI researchers evaluated the news broadcasts and articles on several factors. First, did the reporter use any explicit adjectives (such as “robust” or “lackluster”) to characterize the employment report? Second, did the story lead with a negative aspect of an otherwise positive report, such as a decrease in jobs in one sector while most others were growing, or vice versa? Finally, the researchers looked at any soundbites or quotes from any independent economists selected to help characterize the meaning of the job numbers. Stories were categorized as “positive” if the positive elements of the story outweighed the negative elements by a greater than two-to-one margin, while “negative” stories carried the opposite spin. Any stories with a less than two-to-one disparity were classified as neutral.




Media Compare Bush to Hoover, not Clinton


     The October 8, 2004 jobs report was a prime example of how the media slanted the employment picture. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicated that the economy added 96,000 new jobs in September – the 13th straight month of positive job growth. The report also included a revision to earlier numbers that added 236,000 jobs to the totals earlier in the year. 

     None of the TV news media in our study even mentioned anything about the quarter-million new jobs and all four TV newscasts portrayed the report as a strong negative for President Bush. While the print media we examined did mention the revision, they buried it. The New York Times placed the news in the 12th paragraph of its unemployment story and the Post buried it even deeper -  the 18th paragraph.

     CBS Evening News was the most slanted of all the media in our study and their approach to the October 2004 job numbers typified their bias. In all, CBS reported seven employment stories during the Bush portion of our study. Every single one was negative. They aired six such stories during the Clinton period of our study. Every one of those was positive.


     Anchor Dan Rather started off his October 8, 2004 broadcast on a dubious note, “Tonight, where are the jobs?” He then drove home the political implications: “A disappointing report on the economy is out just weeks before the election.”


     Rather asserted, in setting up the lead story, that “what’s troubling is the number of jobs the economy did and did not create. CBS’s Anthony Mason reports it’s far fewer than expected, far fewer than needed.” Mason described how an economist who “likens the latest jobs numbers to a bloop single in the bottom of the ninth when your team is way behind. They might offer some hope, he says, but they’re not going to win the game.”


     Introducing a second story, Rather stressed: “It’s the first net job loss on a President’s watch since Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression of the 1930s.”


     At CBS, even a drop in unemployment isn’t always good news. On August 6, 2004, when unemployment continued to decline, falling to 5.5 percent, CBS turned negative. Anchor John Roberts had the helm at CBS Evening News: “When the U.S. economy is humming, it is a rapid and reliable job generator, and lately, that pattern seemed to be making a long-awaited comeback. But a Labor Department report out today puts that in doubt.” Roberts went on to talk about how only 32,000 jobs were created and called it, “a big disappointment.”


     CBS wasn’t alone in how it handled unemployment. ABC’s World News Tonightdid seven employment stories during the Bush reelection period of the study. Only one of the employment stories during the Bush summer reelection campaign was positive.


     The October 8, 2004 jobs report was indicative of the coverage on World News Tonight. The show led with the employment numbers. Reporter Betsy Stark contended that “economists generally agree. This was another surprisingly weak jobs report. The Labor Department put some of the blame for last month’s poor performance on all those hurricanes. What troubled economists is that September marked the fourth straight month of anemic gains.”


     Both the ABC and CBS pieces featured negative assessments from the same economist, Bill Cheney of MFC Global Investment Management. The “troubled economists” in this case included one Bill Cheney – twice.


     Like CBS, World News Tonight treated the August 6, 2004 results in a negative way. Reporter Kate Snow scoffed, “The President says four more years of his policies made the economy stronger, but he can’t afford any more bad news.”


     NBC Nightly News showed the same pattern as the other two broadcast networks. It reported only one positive story about employment under Bush during our survey.


     The October jobs report was no exception. Anchor Tom Brokaw emphasized the negative when he introduced the story: “Employers’ payrolls grew by 96,000 in September, that’s much weaker than analysts expected. The nation’s unemployment rate held steady at 5.4 percent last month, as more than 200,000 job seekers dropped out of the labor pool.”


     Like the other TV newscasts, NBC utterly ignored the large revision that added 236,000 jobs to the Bush results.


     NBC Nightly News wasn’t completely negative toward Bush. On June 4, 2004, it produced a positive take on the news of unemployment remaining steady at 5.6 percent and the creation of 248,000 new jobs. Reporter Anne Thompson delivered a report that focused on all of the good economic news in May. She quoted people talking about an improving economy or finding jobs. Then she added her own two cents, “The job market, finally gaining momentum. But is it enough to get over eight million unemployed Americans back to work?”


     Viewers who weren’t watching closely had to be baffled by the sudden reference to “eight million unemployed Americans” that Thompson described. That number is the total of the unemployed. Not only is it the identical percentage to the same month during the Clinton presidency (May 1996), but had Thompson bothered to ask any economist, they would have told her that the economy never provides total employment.


     None of the media studied did a good job of covering the issue consistently. CNN was the best of the bunch. They did six stories about Clinton – three positive and three negative. With Bush, that balance went out the window. Only one of the five stories was positive.


     The comments on Newsnight With Aaron Brown show the spin put on the October 8, 2004 jobs report. The program, which aired the next morning, included several negative comments about the Labor Department report starting with host Aaron Brown referring to the results as, “a less than stellar employment report.”


     Judy Woodruff followed by talking about the just concluded Presidential debate. “No surprise, the economy was a favorite focus, with Kerry noting the latest not-so-rosy jobs figures.” She followed with a quote from Kerry about job losses at “1.6 million” without pointing out it was incorrect.


     Later on in the broadcast, reporter Joe Johns corrected that error: “For his part, Kerry appears to have overstated the number of lost jobs since Bush took office. Kerry said the economy has lost 1.6 million jobs since 2001. That is true, if all you’re considering is the private sector. If you add the government jobs created during that period, the net job loss is 821,000, almost half the figure Kerry cited.”


     The CNN correction did not include mentioning the 236,000 job adjustment in the latest unemployment report.


     CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King included his own views of the jobs report. “In states where manufacturing jobs have been lost, look for the President to do what he did today. A relatively modest job growth comes out. You would think the President would run from that a bit. Instead, they put out a new ad saying nearly two million jobs created in the past year, trying to spin that news to the most favorable light for them.”


     The major print media mirrored the results of broadcast TV. Seventy-seven percent of the stories about Bush were negative. The Post was only slightly better than its New York competitor. Only two out of seven (28 percent) of the Bush stories were positive.


     The October 2004 labor report gave Post reporters Dan Balz and Mike Allen a chance to promote a Democratic talking point – predicting employment results for the Bush term four months before anyone knows them. In their in their October 9 article, they said, “The debate took place on a day when the Labor Department issued a monthly employment report showing the economy had produced 96,000 jobs last month, well below forecasts, with the unemployment rate unchanged at 5.4 percent. That left Bush in the position of being the first President since Herbert Hoover not to have produced job gains during his first term in office.”


     The story also included the false claim by Senator Kerry that, “The President has presided over an economy where we’ve lost 1.6 million jobs. The first President in 72 years to lose jobs.” Readers had to consult a separate article by Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Ceci Connolly to know that wasn’t true. “Kerry at one point said that ‘the President has presided over an economy where we’ve lost 1.6 million jobs.’ Kerry misspoke. He meant to qualify that statistic by referring to ‘private sector’ jobs. The net number of jobs lost since Bush became President is about 800,000, because of growth in the public sector.”


     Readers had to consult yet another Post story to find even that wasn’t true. Buried in the 18th paragraph of a piece by Nell Henderson and Amy Joyce was the explanation of how the Bureau of Labor Statistics was adjusting the numbers by nearly 250,000. “The number of workers on the nation’s payrolls in September was 821,000 lower than when Bush was inaugurated, although that figure may shrink by about 236,000 when the Labor Department makes its annual revisions to the job data, in February.” That revision already shows on the report as a “preliminary” result.


     Even when unemployment actually dropped, Henderson buried it in the third paragraph of the August 7, 2004 story after starting off like this: “U.S. job growth nearly stalled last month, the government reported yesterday, reinforcing other signs that the economic recovery lost steam this summer, just months before the Presidential election.”


     The following month on September 4, 2004, Henderson explained another decline in unemployment in negative terms, saying, “…the decline occurred largely because many people stopped working or gave up looking for work, resulting in a smaller labor force.”


     The New York Times was also unbalanced in its reporting. Only one employment story during the Bush reelection campaign was positive or just 8 percent (one of 12 stories).


     The Times coverage of the latest jobs report was consistent with its coverage of Bush throughout the summer of 2004. Reporter Edmund L. Andrews delivered the favored employment talking point of the Kerry camp with his Oct. 9, 2004 article. “It’s official. President Bush will be the first President since Herbert Hoover to face re-election with fewer people working than when he started.”


     Andrews softened it a bit with the next paragraph. “No President may have more than an indirect influence on unemployment, and Mr. Bush had the bad luck to take office in January 2001, just before the economy was about to slide into a recession.” Andrews also reported the job losses at “585,000 fewer jobs now than when Mr. Bush took office,” rather than simply restate the incorrect claims cited by Senator Kerry.


     Andrews didn’t mention anything about the revision in the employment report that added a quarter-million jobs to the Bush record.


     The other Times story, written by Eduardo Porter with reporting from Jodi Wilgoren and Terry Aguayo, didn’t begin as harshly, but still went negative. “Employment grew by less than 100,000 last month, the Labor Department reported yesterday, well below the level needed to keep pace with the expansion in the labor force and presenting a weak picture of the economy in the last employment report before President Bush faces the voters in his bid for re-election.”


     Porter’s story didn’t begin with the Hoover comment though he included it in only the fifth paragraph after a short qualifier that “Many economists argue that Presidents have only limited influence on job creation. Moreover, Mr. Bush entered office in 2001, just before the economy started to slide into a recession.”


     The revision in the job numbers was buried in the 12th paragraph. “With the current employment report, the government released a preliminary annual revision to the employment figures, which increased its estimate of jobs held in March by 236,000.”


     On Sept. 4, 2004, when unemployment dropped to 5.4 percent – the same level it had been at in August 1996 – Edmund L. Andrews of the Times tried a new tactic that presented positive economic news and undermined it simultaneously.


     He started off with four paragraphs of good economic news and included a “but” in every case. “The pace of job creation picked up modestly in August and the unemployment rate edged down, the Labor Department said on Friday in a report that offered some political relief to the White House but only tepid signs of a rebound in employment.” Andrews followed with three paragraphs of “buts,” undermining the positive news.


Clinton Economy: ‘Good news for just about everyone’


     All of the media we studied were much more upbeat when they covered jobs reports under Clinton. CBS Evening News was a good example. On August 2, 1996, Paula Zahn’s report put a positive spin on a 0.1 percent increase in unemployment by focusing on stock market results. “The government says the U.S. unemployment rate rose slightly in July to 5.4 percent. The news was well received on Wall Street. The stock market was up as fears of inflation went down.”


     Rather went to even greater lengths to de-emphasize the negative on his June 7, 1996 broadcast. “The government came out today with its latest report on unemployment. It says the unemployment rate rose slightly, 2/10ths of a point last month, up to 5.6 percent – still low overall. And the numbers, pure and simple, can be misleading. Economics correspondent Ray Brady tonight has the story behind them.”


     Brady went on to say, “There was a slight rise in the unemployment rate, but that’s not necessarily bad news.” He then focused on the job creation numbers and said, “Whenever the economy picks up, more discouraged workers start looking for jobs again, and that drives up the rate.”


     Viewers of ABC’s World News Tonight saw Peter Jennings narrate a typical Clinton report on June 7, 1996. The story followed new Labor Department data showing both bad and good news. The bad news was a 0.2 percent increase in unemployment. The good news was the creation of 348,000 new jobs. “We begin tonight,” said Jennings, “with this month’s portrait of America at work. And the Labor Department reports today that the overall unemployment rate in May was 5.6 percent, which is just a touch above where it was the month before.”


     NBC Nightly News also downplayed the unemployment increase for Clinton. On June 7, 1996, Brokaw focused on the positive side of the employment news: “Some encouraging news about jobs tonight. The nation’s unemployment rate crept up a bit from 5.4 percent in April to 5.6 in May, but the big news came in a separate report showing the economy added 348,000 new jobs last month. That’s about double the average monthly job growth.”


     There were a few stories that looked at unemployment under Clinton with a critical eye. In a September 7, 1996 Washington Post piece, John M. Berry went behind the numbers to give more explanation about a sudden 0.3 percent drop in unemployment from 5.4 percent to 5.1 percent. Buried deep in an article that was headlined, “Jobless Rate Fell to 5.1 percent in August, a 7-Year Low,” Berry got to the heart of the matter. He spoke with Commissioner of Labor Statistics Katharine G. Abraham who said that there was an unusual five-week gap between surveys. According to Berry, “That difference may have been partly responsible for a seasonally adjusted 300,000-person decline in the size of the labor force, as more young people were shown having left jobs to return to school than is usually the case.”


     Still, the Post was mostly upbeat with results during Clinton’s reelection time – even when reporting on negative results. APost story that ran without a byline on August 3, 1996 put a positive face on a 0.1 percent increase in unemployment. “Stocks soared for the fourth straight session today after a weaker-than-expected July employment report capped a week of data that quelled fears the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates this month.”


     In the same edition, reporter Steve Pearlstein made an even more upbeat assessment, “The U.S. economy added an impressive but not excessive 193,000 jobs in July, the government reported yesterday – the latest in a week’s worth of economic data that seemed to have good news for just about everyone.”


     The Post consistently presented the Clinton economy in positive ways. Six out of seven (86 percent) of those stories were positive.


     The New York Times was even more unbalanced in its reporting. Ninety-two percent of their employment stories during the Clinton reelection portion of our study (12 of 13 stories) were positive. When unemployment jumped 0.1 percent for Clinton, Timesreporters David E. Rosenbaum and Steve Lohr said, “Now the President is basing his re-election campaign on a substantially improved economy.” At the time of that story on August 13, 1996, unemployment was 5.4 percent, just as it was for both the September and October 2004 reports under Bush.


     In all, the study results for the summer of 1996 are incredibly consistent. While CBS Evening News led the pack with six stories – all positive, only CNN presented a balanced picture with six stories – three positive and three negative. NBC Nightly Newsdid fewer stories than CBS, but the result was the same. Every one of them was positive. Four out of five of ABC’s reports were positive.


Good News Became Bad News


     Spinning the positive economic news into a negative was another common problem during the summer of 2004. The way the media ignored the job adjustments in the October 8, 2004 Employment Situation report is a fine example. Only two of the 11 stories even mentioned the quarter-million increase in Bush’s job performance.


     Take a look at how ABC and NBC cover the same unemployment and job creation news on September 3, 2004. On ABC’s World News Tonight, Peter Jennings claimed the results didn’t live up to expectations. “The government said today that the economy added 144,000 jobs in August. That was better than the previous two months, when job growth essentially stalled. But it fell short of the 200,000 jobs per month that most economists consider the minimum for strong employment growth.”


     Of course, Jennings didn’t mention that the report also included an adjustment of 73,000 in those “essentially stalled” months. The overall total of jobs reported that month was 217,000 – 17,000 higher than the number he had cited.


     Compare that to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. “Unemployment and job creation numbers for August came out today, something candidates for both political parties are watching very closely. Payrolls expanded by 144,000, that is a bit less than economists had forecast. But the numbers for June and July were revised upward. The unemployment rate ticked down 1/10 of a point to 5.4 percent.”


     CBS Evening News employed a similar strategy to NBC with a June 4, 2004 story. The Department of Labor announced the good economic news that the unemployment rate stayed even at 5.6 percent in May. About 248,000 new jobs were created and earlier job growth numbers were revised upward. CBS Evening News delivered this news by focusing on an Ohio company that was laying off employees.


     Dan Rather introduced the downbeat broadcast: “With the U.S. economy recovering, employers have started doing some serious hiring and workers are jumping back into the job market. The government reported today that unemployment held steady in May at 5.6 percent as the economy created 248,000. So far this year the economy’s added nearly 1.2 million. But while the jobs picture is improving nationally, there are still some problems locally, and CBS’s Jim Axelrod reports, on that a Presidential election could turn.”


     “After 103 years, work at this plant in Canton, Ohio is set to stop,” said reporter Axelrod. “The Timken Company is shutting three factories and shedding 1,300 jobs.”


     Axelrod, who stressed how a Republican cannot win the presidency without winning Ohio, showcased a local restaurant owner who voted for Bush but won’t again, and a Timken worker who predicted the plant closing may push over voters to Kerry: “It might not be the straw that switches the election here in Ohio, but it’ll be one of them.” Axelrod warned: “Overall, the manufacturing sector in Ohio is seeing some signs of life. That would be good for the President. But the 1,300 jobs lost here, at a company whose chairman is one of his strongest supporters, that’s bad for the President, very bad.”


     Times reporter Edmund L. Andrews flipped good news on its head in his July 2, 2004 article. “Six months ago, in an anemic job market, President Bush would almost certainly have been delighted to hear that the nation had added 112,000 jobs the month before. On Friday, though, he found himself on the defensive.” Andrews ended that story with this bit of opinion, “Mr. Bush’s problem is that after nearly three years of relentlessly bad news on the jobs front, he needs solidly good news from now to November.”


9/11 Largely Absent from Unemployment Reporting


     Watching the news about the economy, you might forget that 9/11 ever happened. The media seem to have done so. No story in our study detailed the job losses caused by 9/11. Only six stories made any mention of terrorism or 9/11 at all. The broadcast media were the worst in this area.


     As economist Gary Wolfram said {See Page 18), “In the 100 days following 9/11, one million jobs were lost. When looking at the performance of an administration in relation to job growth, surely this is a relevant addendum. “


     The terror attacks did enormous damage to the U.S. economy, especially to industries dependent on travel and tourism. In the final months of 2001, the United States lost more than one million jobs. Many of the stories in this study mention Bush’s overall job loss numbers. Instead of discussing the 9/11 job losses, several stories repeat the Kerry and his fellow Democrats’ complaint that Bush would be the first President since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net job loss.


     Only one story in our study even made a passing mention of “terrorist threats.” That was only five percent of the time.


     The media reporting of the Friday, October 8, 2004 results was a particularly pointed example of this. In all, there were 11 stories about the employment surveys. Several compared President Bush to Hoover. Only CNN’s John King even made a passing comment about 9/11. None of those reports explained the depth of job losses in the end of 2001.


     Immediately after the second debate, CNN’s King made this minor comment: “In terms of heading into Tempe, they know it’s domestic issues. This President has to make the case that, yes, he will be the first President since Herbert Hoover to have a net job loss during his presidency. Mr. Bush will say recession, September 11, the shortest – one of the shortest recessions in history because of his tax cuts.” That was the only comment about the attacks out of 11 stories involving the October 2004 report – two words. Nothing more.


     History from more than 70 years ago got more comment than the 9/11 attacks. For example, on Sept. 3, 2004, CBS’s John Roberts ran a sound bite of President Bush touting the 5.4 percent unemployment rate, but then Roberts undermined the good news: “What the President didn’t say was that the employment numbers in August again fell short of expectations, and it is now certain he will end his first term as the first President since the Great Depression to lose jobs on his watch.” Roberts painted a more pessimistic view when he stressed how “the situation is worse than it seems. While the President touts the results of his economic recovery plan, job creation hasn’t kept up with population growth. By that measure, experts say, he is several million more jobs in the hole.”


     In those rare employment stories that mentioned terror or 9/11, they failed to discuss the job losses that were caused by the attacks. One such example came from an August 7, 2004 Washington Post article by Nell Henderson made the most obvious reference to the impact of 9/11. Henderson summarized comments from Richard Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research Corp. “He said the economy is still recovering as much from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as from the recession that year.” Henderson still made no mention of the job losses.


     A New York Times article from Sept. 4, 2004 made a small mention of terrorism and a much larger mention comparing President Bush to President Hoover. Reporter Richard W. Stevenson wrote about Bush “portraying himself as the only safe choice in an age of terrorist threat.” That story added a much clearer comment comparing Bush to Hoover. “Mr. Bush still stands to become the first President since Herbert Hoover to have a net loss of jobs in his term.” Stevenson failed to point out the more than one million jobs lost after 9/11.


     Another New York Times story on August 7, 2004 also used that same approach. The story by David Leonhardt linked job loss levels to the days of the Great Depression.


     “The weak increases of the last two months now mean that Mr. Bush is highly likely to stand for re-election with an employment level lower that it was on his Inauguration Day. That would be the first time that has happened since 1932, when the country was mired in the Depression and enduring far worse job losses than any it has experienced recently.” Leonhardt’s assessment ignored any mention of the attacks on September 11 or the million jobs lost in the final months of 2001.


     There is no corresponding event to 9/11 during the Clinton presidency. It is impossible to compare how the media factor the impact of the attacks into stories about unemployment.




Recommendations:


     Media coverage of two similar summers delivered two completely opposite results.The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial on October 11, 2004 that criticized the downbeat view of the economy following the latest jobs data. “The last jobs numbers to be reported before the Presidential election are in, and predictably John Kerry is spinning them as ‘disappointing.’ Well, if this is disappointment, most people would probably like to have four more years of it.”


     The Journal went on to list low unemployment, job growth and “strong economic growth” as reasons for that position. It concluded, “In short, these are good times for most American workers, even though for political reasons some are doing their best to portray them as the worst.”


     Unfortunately, the media are the worst culprits in painting the current economic picture as foreboding. This analysis shows that the media need to do a better job of reporting economic and job issues. This study also shows how the media engage in a double standard by reporting two entirely different ways on two similar economies that are only eight years apart.


     But they can do better. CBS Evening News reporter Sharyl Atkisson presented a story on September 1, 1996, where she referred to 5.4 percent unemployment as, “Low unemployment” and part of, “a strong economy…” She was right then and, since the numbers are similar and unemployment is identical in 2004, she would be correct now. The problem was not her initial reporting, but it is how the media report the issue when a Republican is President. If you have relatively the same economic numbers, then why isn’t it the same story?


     There are several things the media can do to improve their coverage of the employment picture:


    Cover Stories That Reflect The Data: The media need to find a consistent way to cover the monthly release of labor data so that it isn’t spun to show negatives when the news is otherwise or vice versa. If the unemployment rate and jobs report are both positive, let the story reflect that. Don’t try to report the opposite by finding the pocket of unemployment that is worse. The nationwide unemployment number is an general survey. It is virtually impossible for unemployment not to be worse somewhere.
    Educate the Public: The news media have an obligation to inform the public. Complex economic issues remain complex because no one explains them. Even unemployment rates and job creation are more elaborate than they seem. The media need to help the public better understand so that the numbers have significance.
    Make Balanced News Coverage a Priority: This analysis shows that unemployment and job creation are treated differently over time. The media are aware there are problems of balance in coverage; the question remains what to do about it. Media organizations should find ways to monitor their own coverage and ensure that it is balanced. An ombudsman should be hired to monitor and track stories to ensure that economic data are being treated fair with both sides of an issue receiving equal time.