- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

No reporter asked President Obama about the gross domestic product in the press conference celebrating his first 100 days on Wednesday. That says a lot about the media bias in favor of the president. New economic data released earlier that day showed a 6.1 percent annual rate drop for the first quarter. That news was worthy of at least one of the 17 questions put to Mr. Obama.

The first-quarter GDP numbers mean the U.S. economy is in its largest six-month decline in 50 years. No one would know that by reading the headlines. “GDP: Not as dismal as it looks,” comforted CNN. “In Sharp Contraction, Basis for an Upswing,” noted The Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal trumpeted, “Hopeful Signs Seen in GDP’s Fall.” This is interesting when compared to the Journal’s Feb. 28 headline when GDP numbers were released for the previous quarter: “Economy in Worst Fall Since ‘82.” The Washington Post’s headline for the previous quarter was similar: “Economy Shrinks At Staggering Rate.” The 6.2 percent annual rate drop bemoaned for the fall quarter, when George W. Bush was still in office, was only a tick worse than the 6.1 percent announced to fanfare two days ago.

Across the board, Mr. Obama is getting rosier coverage compared to his predecessor. During the Bush administration, the media constantly claimed the economy was in a recession long before it was. A Google news search for the three months from July through September 2007, when GDP was growing at an impressive annual rate of 4.9 percent, shows 2,475 news stories mentioning the terms “recession” and “U.S.”

The bias isn’t new. A study conducted by John Lott, an editorial writer for this newspaper, and Kevin Hassett looked at 12,620 newspaper and wire-service headlines from 1985 through 2004. The articles were about the government release of numbers on the unemployment rate, people employed, GDP, retail sales and durable goods. Even after accounting for how well the economy was doing (e.g., what the unemployment rate was and whether it was going up or down), there still was a big difference in how positive or negative the headlines were. Democratic presidents got about 15 percentage points more positive headlines than Republicans for the same economic news.

Optimistic headlines mislead the public about the economy, which many indicators suggest is continuing to decline. The 8.5 percent unemployment rate is much worse than last fall’s rate, which had risen to 7.2 percent by December, and the latest numbers show a record drop in investments. Business investments plummeted at a record 37.9 percent annual rate in the first quarter.

Despite the depressing economic news, the daily media speculation about the possibility of a new depression has faded away. That subject dominated the press until Mr. Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package was passed. As Mr. Obama changed talking points and started focusing on the supposed signs of recovery, reporters largely followed along to look for the silver lining among the storm clouds. The positive press helps Mr. Obama push his liberal agenda.

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