Decline in GDP "Hopeful Sign" for NYT; GDP Gain During Bush Years "Arrow" Pointing to Recession

Is there a double standard in how the struggling economy is being portrayed?

Is there a double standard in how the struggling economy is being portrayed during the Obama presidency vs. the Bush administration? While the 1% contraction in the economy reported on Friday was seen as a "hopeful sign" by the Times, "crystallizing expectations of a turnaround," actual economic growth of 1.9% during the Bush years was just another "arrow" seen pointing to a recession.

Saturday's lead story by Catherine Rampell and Jack Healy focused on the Gross Domestic Product figure issued by the Commerce Department, showing a 1% contraction in the U.S. economy in the second quarter of 2009. The Times portrayed it in positive terms: "In Hopeful Sign, Output Declines At Slower Pace - Economy Contracts 1% - Consumers Still Fearful of Spending - Slow Comeback Seen."

The lead was less glowing (as was the story in full), but still positive:

The American economy's long decline leveled off significantly from April through June, the governmentreported on Friday, crystallizing expectations of a turnaround in the second half of the year.

The nation's output shrank at an annual pace of 1 percent in the second quarter, after contracting at a rate of 6.4 percent earlier this year. Government spending, helped by the first payments from the administration's $787 billionstimulus package, propped up activity in the latest quarter and accounted for 20 percent of the country's output.

But consumer spending, which makes up about 70 percent of overall economic activity, has continued to fall as fearful Americans save more. Many economists express concern about what will happen once government spending lets up if consumers remain worried about losing their jobs and their weakened household finances.

In fact, Friday's figures mark the first time in years the economy has contracted for four straight quarters. But the Times buried that findings in the 21st of 25 paragraphs: "The economy withered during each of the last four quarters, its longest string of declines in at least 60 years"

By contrast, one year ago, the Bush administration released GDP figures showing the economy had grown 1.9% in the second quarter of 2008, a substantial increase from 0.9% in the first quarter of 2008.

Did the Times celebrate that uptick in growth during a Republican administration? Hardly. The headline over Peter Goodman's August 1, 2008 story: "More Arrows Seen Pointing to a Recession."

Goodman wrote in his lead:

The American economy expanded more slowly than expected from April to June, the government reported Thursday, while numbers for the last three months of 2007 were revised downward to show a contraction - the first official slide backward since the last recession in 2001.

Economists construed the tepid growth in the second quarter, combined with a surge in claims for unemployment benefits, as a clear indication that the economy remains mired in the weeds of a downturn. Many said the data increased the likelihood that a recession began late last year.

The Media Research Center's Brent Baker first noticed a media double standard in network coverage on Friday night.