Upside Down Economics

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

ABC, CBS and NBC continued to have trouble with consistency when it came to debt and deficits. Sound reasoning would suggest that if a $400 billion deficit was a “huge” problem in 2004, then $1-trillion deficits would be a similar or greater threat in 2012. And the sky high $16.1 trillion debt  of 2012 should be a bigger problem now than the $7.1 trillion debt of 2004.

That was not the case.

Eight years ago, Bush’s deficits were indicted by reporters and politicians. In 2012, a few stories included political criticism of the massive debts incurred by Obama, but he was often allowed to deflect or shift blame on the subject. Networks repeatedly included Democratic attacks on the GOP on the issue.

On Sept. 14, 2004, “Today,” Katie Couric warned viewers that discussing the deficit could be nauseating. “This morning, taxes and the deficit. You might want to grab an air sickness bag for this one,” she said. Couric said the “sky-high budget deficit” was the “most dangerous storm” facing the economy, according to some economists.

ABC took a theatrical approach. “Good Morning America” invited the inappropriate puppets from the lefty play “Avenue Q” to hold a mock Bush/Kerry debate. Most of the mockery was directed at Bush, from the puppet that was pretending to be him. 

“Well, hey America, I’ve got big plans for this country. Yeah, if you think you’re excited now, wait ‘til you get me re-elected,” the Bush puppet said. “If I am re-elected, hey, remember that $300 check that I sent everybody back in 2001? Well, if I’m re-elected, I will be the best lame duck president ever. I will up the deficit and I’ll, and I’ll one-up on Oprah and I’ll give everyone SUV’s. How’s that? There you go.”

In 2004, reporters called the budget deficit of $422 billion “massive,” “huge” and something the president would have to defend. CBS’s Bob Schieffer even gave Sen. John Kerry some free advice on Sept. 23, saying he’s “got to start talking” about the economy and “what’s ahead if we don’t begin to bring down this deficit.”

But in 2012, CBS’s political director John Dickerson gave Obama a pass on the identical topic, saying “on the question of the [national] debt, I mean, it’s a great question. You know, it’s also not the president’s fault alone that this hasn’t been solved.” 

NBC’s Matt Lauer casually noticed that the deficit numbers for Obama were “bad,” but used them to make the Romney campaign look incompetent. Lauer asked Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie: “Since the Democratic convention, there’s been a string of bad news on the economy, the jobs numbers, the deficit numbers and yet, while the challenger in this race, Mitt Romney, should be taking advantage of that, by just about every estimate this was a bad week for his campaign, would you agree?”

In other stories, Obama and his Democratic allies actually attacked the GOP on debt and deficit issues. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., even caused a stir on CBS “This Morning” when he defended calling Paul Ryan a “fraud” when it comes to the deficit.

“The sad fact is that U.S. federal debt will soon reach economically damaging levels, and spending will be the driver of that explosion. The three major entitlements – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – will accelerate spending growth in the future due to demographic changes and rising health care costs,” Alison Acosta Fraser, Heritage Foundation’s director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, warned in a June 5 Issue Brief.

The second chart in her brief warned that “unless the U.S. controls spending, America’s debt will surpass those of troubled nations [Greece/Italy/Spain], leading to similar economic woes.”