Upside Down Economics

Despite much better economy, networks blamed President Bush more than President Obama for financial troubles.

There was also a stark contrast when it came to the media coverage of jobs. Bush was attacked on the topic eight years ago, while Obama rarely was – in spite of the fact that there were 4.5 million more unemployed during the 2012 time period.

NBC’s “Today” found a young voter on Sept. 28, 2004, who condemned the President Bush over the issue. “I really think Bush has ruined the economy. We’ve lost so many jobs, and I haven’t seen him do anything to really fix it,” the voter said. Never mind that the Bush economy had already weathered a spike in unemployment stemming from the 9/11 attacks and the dotcom collapse Bush inherited from President Clinton.

The young voter’s criticism was the same Bush’s political opponent had been using earlier that month. As CBS’s Pitts said on Sept. 3, 2004, “today [Sen. John] Kerry slammed the president’s record on jobs.” Kerry said, “I think that doing nothing, when millions of Americans are losing their jobs over four years and doing nothing, makes you unfit to lead this nation.” “Evening News” report didn’t include any defenders of the president or his record, nor did Pitts push back against the attack.

The media even helped Kerry try to link Bush to President Herbert Hoover. ABC’s Betsy Stark said on Sept. 23, 2004, “one [campaign claim] seems to resonate above the rest.” Which one? Kerry’s claim that “All 11 presidents, from Herbert Hoover on, created jobs in America, except George W. Bush.” Stark went on to tell viewers that there were 900,000 fewer jobs than when Bush took office, although she did remind people of the recession and war that followed 9/11 “put a deep chill on hiring.” had debunked the Hoover comparison long before Stark’s report, saying “In fact, the economy lost a smaller percentage of jobs in the Bush downturn than in seven of the ten previous downturns going back to 1945 when the federal government began keeping the statistics on total non-farm employment.” Media Bush/Hoover comparisons were part of the spin mentioned in the MRC’s list of Ten Worst Media Distortions of Campaign 2004.

But in September 2012, job issues were covered very differently. In fact, NBC’s “Today” optimistically reported on Sept. 20, that “New census data shows the U.S. economy may be on the road to recovery. Figures from 2011 show more young Americans are now moving out of their parents’ homes to go to college or to hit the job market.” Although Natalie Morales mentioned that the unemployment rate remained “elevated” she did not mention the actual rate of 8.1% or the president.

One of the rare instances of blame for Obama came from MSNBC’s sometime conservative Joe Scarborough, while he was busy criticizing Romney’s campaign on NBCs “Today.” Scarborough complained that conservatives “can’t believe that Mitt Romney is blowing a race against a president who they believe has mismanaged the economy terribly over the past four years, has spent us $5 trillion deeper into debt, has run $1 trillion deficits per year. ... Unemployment is still 8 percent! Plus the economy is still in tatters.”

Even an Associated Press analysis of recoveries following the last 10 U.S. recessions concluded the 2012 recovery has been the worst. AP’s Paul Wiseman wrote, “Economic growth has never been weaker in a postwar recovery. Consumer spending has never been so slack. Only once has job growth been slower.” But you would hardly know that from the network stories mentioning economics in the month of September.