Written by Julie Seymour
Reporters omit failure of stimulus, problems counting jobs created or saved from many jobs stories.
Business & Media Institute
The national unemployment rate rests at 10 percent after 85,000 more jobs were lost in December, while the number of people too discouraged to look for work increased by 642,000. CNBC's Steve Liesman called those figures "absolutely devastating."
Yet the network news media refused to hold President Barack Obama responsible for the losses since the jobs release Jan. 8. Obama has been in office for a full year and made a number of "extravagant" promises regarding job growth, yet network news reports remained uncritical with the exception of Sunday talk shows.
That's a sharp contrast to the treatment of Republican administrations' jobs data. In those cases, the networks were determined to present a negative picture - even when times were good.
Anchor Brian Williams began the Dec. 2, 2005 "Nightly News" with a strong note of caution: "Rebound: A slew of good news about jobs and the economy, but are there warning signs ahead?" That's how he prefaced a report about 215,000 new jobs.
Throughout 2005, the networks emphasized layoffs instead of the 2 million new jobs created that year under President George W. Bush. Now in 2009, Obama has presided over the most job losses in a single year since 1940 and some in the media tried to remain cheerful.
CNN's Susan Lisovicz actually cited the 4,000 jobs created in Nov. 2009 as "glimmers of hope" Jan. 8, the same day Christine Romans called 10 percent unemployment "uncomfortable for many people."
"Ten percent unemployment is just something that is not sustainable in a healthy economy. That's just the bottom line there. But the pace of job loss over the past year has slowed pretty dramatically, and frankly, Heidi, even by the month of November last year we saw some job creation," Romans said during the 10 a.m. hour.
With the exception of a single CBS mention, the networks' job reports also failed to inform their viewers that 2009 had the highest yearly job losses on record (more than 4.1 million). And when Katie Couric did address the historic nature of the job losses, she underreported the number of jobs lost in 2009 by 700,000.
Many of those network stories also failed to admit that the stimulus package hadn't created jobs. A recent Associated Press analysis of the "shovel-ready" construction part of the stimulus found almost no impact on job creation at the local level.
"The effect was so small, one economist compared it to trying to move the Empire State Building by pushing against it," AP wrote.
Obama Says Stimulus Created Jobs, Networks Fail to Contradict
Obama made grandiose claims that his $787 stimulus package would halt rising unemployment, preventing it from climbing above 8 percent. During the campaign he also promised to "save or create" 3-4 million jobs.
But even with the 10 percent unemployment rate as evidence of the stimulus' failure, many in the news media have given Obama a pass, refusing to criticize billions wasted on stimulus and some have even continued to support his plan to create jobs by spending even more taxpayer money.
Only one story on the networks reported the AP's findings about the "failure" of the $20 billion stimulus money spent on roads and bridges to create jobs.
NBC's "Today" even repeated the White House call for targeted spending on jobs. On Jan. 11, Jim Cramer supported the notion saying, "If we don't get more stimulus, we will not have more jobs."
Ironically, Cramer admitted that so far the stimulus package hadn't created jobs. The White House claimed on Jan. 12 that the stimulus had "created to saved" between 1.7 million and 2 million jobs.
But the Washington Post's Jan. 13 article about those saved or created jobs buried a very significant detail in the middle of that story: "Separately, the White House has announced a change in the way those reports tally jobs, a response to critics that could make the reports more reliable but make it more difficult to gauge the stimulus's impact over time."
Where's the outrage over this change in accounting methods? Certainly the networks wouldn't have put up with this under the Bush or Reagan administrations.
AP reported that it is "impossible to quantify exactly what effect the stimulus has had on job creation." So the administration can claim it created or saved any number of jobs because there will be no way to prove or disprove it.
Just counting the jobs is becoming a challenge according to AP, which said: "Those who receive stimulus money can now credit jobs to the program even if they were never in jeopardy of being lost, according to new rules outlined by the White House's Office of Management and Budget."
Downplaying the 'Bad News'
Although the networks were somewhat downbeat using terms like "disappointed" and "less than stellar" after the jobs report came out Jan. 8, most reporters did not portray 10 percent unemployment as a terrible tragedy.
Only one report mentioned that over a half million people were so discouraged in December they dropped out of the workforce, while several mentioned the 17.3 percent "real unemployment" rate.
NBC's Savannah Guthrie reported Jan. 8 "they [White House] tried to put the best face on it here, but there's no question this unemployment report is a disappointment."
"Disappointment" understated the pain felt by many as 4.1 million jobs disappeared during Obama's first year in office.
In 1982, when unemployment was slightly lower the networks quoted vicious political attacks on Ronald Reagan and showed footage of people living out of trucks under a bridge.
Network reports showed desperation, sadness and tragedy as a result of rising joblessness in 1982. NBC pictured lines of people waiting outside a food bank and interviewed crisis counselors in Seattle on May 7.
"More callers talk of despair and even suicide," Don Oliver reported that night, before interviewing Jim and Pam Smalls. Oliver called them "victims of unemployment depression and anger," because Pam had to seek help from a battered woman's shelter.
Nothing like that appeared in the network jobs reports following the Jan. 8 release. In fact, during 2009 the networks found a man "doing backflips" after he was rehired by his company.
Journalists on ABC, CBS and NBC constantly praised Obama for trying to stop rising unemployment in 2009, even as he failed. Month after month they tried to find the "good news" or signs of a turnaround.
The networks have been talking about the economic recovery, but even the economy is recovering as the White House and some journalists claim, it may not feel like one to many people.
According to BusinessWeek, the "misery index" (the sum of unemployment and inflation rates) is at 11.8 percent. That is the highest since May 1991.
"The last time the U.S. misery index was this high, in the early 1990s, gains in consumer prices accounted for almost half its reading. Today inflation makes up less than a fifth of the measure," BusinessWeek wrote.
She edits daily stories, writes trend pieces for BMI's weekly newsletter, The Balance Sheet, and has co-written Special Reports including Debt: Who'$ Responsible?, Global Warming Censored and UnCritical Condition. Seymour has appeared on Fox Business Network, the Christian Broadcasting Network and has been a guest on the G. Gordon Liddy Show.
She has also done over a hundred interviews on a wide-range of topics with radio stations in 23 states as well as nationally syndicated programs.
Her work has appeared or been mentioned by radio host Mark Levin, The Drudge Report, WorldNetDaily, USA Today, CNBC.com, MSNBC's Motley Fool and "Ted, White and Blue" by Ted Nugent. Prior to joining BMI in 2006, she was a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia where she wrote daily articles about bias in lower and higher education and contributed to the book "The Real MLA Stylebook." She holds a B.S. in Mass Communications: Print Journalism from Liberty University. Seymour lives in Northern Virginia.