Unemployment Nearly as Bad as During Clinton

     When the media aren’t talking about the bailout, they’re talking jobs. They should be. Job losses and unemployment are up. A year into what we just heard is an official recession, unemployment hit 6.7 percent. That’s the highest for the Bush presidency. At this rate, it will soon get as bad as it was in 1993 – when Bill Clinton was president.

     Reporters are leaving out that reality of the “staggering” job losses, as CBS called them. Journalists rarely point out that total unemployment isn’t even as high as it was during Clinton’s term (and when they do, the Clinton name is conspicuously absent.)

     Perennial doom-and-gloomer Anthony Mason, of CBS, told the tale the way reporters wanted to spin it. “Across the country, in nearly every industry, the country hemorrhaged jobs. With more than 500,000 layoffs in November, we’ve now lost one and a quarter million jobs in just the past three months.”

     Yes, job loss is bad, but the total unemployment rate isn’t just lower than it hit during Clinton. It’s actually lower than analysts predicted. Here’s what CBS’s Russ Mitchell said on “The Early Show” on Dec. 5, prior to the announcement of this week’s numbers.  “Economists expect the jobless rate to increase to 6.8 percent, that’s the highest in 15 years.”

     I didn’t learn math from the public school system, so I can grasp that 6.7 is lower and thus better than 6.8 – something the networks never mentioned.

     In one bit of inspired obfuscation, NBC’s Ann Curry told “Today” viewers that the loss of  533,000 jobs “is worse than expected, and it is the biggest monthly loss since 1974.”

     While true, her Dec. 5 report left out that unemployment has been far higher in the intervening years. The last time unemployment was at this level wasn’t 1974, it was October of 1993 under Clinton. Unemployment peaked at 7.1 percent during the Big Dog’s term. It hit its 60-year high in 1982 at 10.8 percent under Reagan.

     Still, 6.7 percent means things aren’t easy. When GM talks about trimming 30,000 autoworkers, that’s 30,000 families who are going to have a horrible Christmas. And layoffs are hitting companies across the spectrum. Consumer confidence is hard to find.

     All that pain comes with every recession. This is the fifth since 1980. The last recession, in 2001, officially ended November of that year. Journalists were warning of a new one a little more than two years later – 43 months before one actually began.

     In May of 2004, CBS’s John Roberts was warning that high gas prices could drive another recession. “In the past two weeks, the cost of a gallon of gas has risen a staggering 14 cents, and economists are warning of a new recession if it goes much higher.” Gas was just $2.10 then. It was about a dollar higher in December 2007 when a recession finally hit. That’s nearly a 50-percent increase – a bit more than “much” higher.

     By the time we finally entered into a recession, the word itself was no longer good enough for many journalists. In 2008, the watch word was “Depression.” Journalists made hundreds of comparison to the Great Depression in a classic combination of hyperbole and ignorance.

     Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke tried to put that silliness to rest in a Dec. 1 interview, saying “as a scholar of the Great Depression – and I've written books about the Depression and been very interested in this since I was in graduate school, there’s no comparison,” reported Agence France-Presse.

     Just four days later, former Clinton Labor Secretary turned Obama adviser Robert Reich was showing why liberals love the Great Depression theme. In a blog post entitled “Shall We Call it a Depression Now?” he claimed “we are falling off a cliff.” “When FDR took office in 1933, one out of four American workers was jobless,” he continued “We’re not there yet, but we’re trending in that direction.”.

     There’s a two-fold method in Reich’s madness. It helps make the case for BHO becoming FDR – a media dream theme. And it lays the groundwork for what the left adores – epic spending on what the Dec. 7 Washington Post called “the largest public works program since President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the federal interstate system in the 1950s.”

     Perception becomes reality. Media coverage of the economy in the past several years helps Reich and others make their case. Journalists manipulate statistics to convince or just con the public that a good economy is a recession and now a recession is a Depression. And it’s cold comfort knowing that some of those same journalists will soon be in those statistics.  

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and Vice President of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute.