Unemployment became the top concern of Americans in September, according to Gallup. The Sept. 8-11 poll found that unemployment overtook "the economy" as "the most important problem facing this country today."
It makes sense since the month began with a "dismal" unemployment report showing zero job growth last month and the unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent.
Throughout September Obama has delivered jobs speeches, including one to a joint session of Congress, promoting his American Jobs Act which he said "will put more people back to work." He has campaigned around the country for its passage on the grounds that jobs creation is urgently necessary. Back in August, he told CBS there was a "genuine unemployment crisis" going on for many Americans right now.
Yes, there is a jobs crisis in the U.S. because unemployment has been above 8 percent for the past two-and-a half years. Millions of people desperately need work across the country, but viewers of the broadcast network news shows might not realize just how bad the unemployment crisis is. That's because more than three-fourths of the September jobs stories (77 percent) didn't mention the 9.1 unemployment rate at all. Several stories put a positive spin on the horrendous jobs situation and only four stories mentioned that more than 14 million people are out of work.
The Business & Media Institute analyzed 79 stories on the broadcast evening news programs that mentioned "job" or "jobs" between Sept. 1 and Sept. 26 and found only 18 (23 percent) of them actually mentioned the 9.1 percent rate or said that unemployment was above 9 percent. Stories about "job" approval, people doing their "job" and other non-economic references were not counted.
Just as the networks have downplayed the high unemployment and looked for hopeful signs on jobs during much of the Obama presidency, reporters continued to find "good news" about unemployment to talk about.
CBS "Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley shared "a little bit of good news on jobs" on Sept. 7, 2011. He led into a report about Obama's proposed jobs plan by optimistically reporting that in July there were 3.2 million job openings posted by employers. "That's the most in nearly three years," Pelley said without noting the huge shortfall between available jobs and the roughly 14 million who were unemployed in August.
The other networks found hopeful stories too. ABC introduced viewers to "a one-man fighting force" intent on "bringing America back" economically. The man, Bob Rosenberg, decided to start his own frozen yogurt shop when he couldn't find work in sales. NBC "Nightly News" celebrated a man bringing his company's manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. from China. CBS "Evening News" showed what one Georgia town did with $14.5 million taxpayer dollars to retrain workers for jobs at a Kia assembly line.
Other reports focused on boom towns in Texas and North Dakota due to oil and gas discoveries.
Looking for positive stories to cover in a troubled economy is the opposite of the way the networks have covered unemployment and the economy under Republican presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. In 2004, the news media attacked Bush routinely on the topic of employment, even in the midst of 13 months of positive job creation and other good economic news.
The difference in coverage depending on which party is in power was even more obvious when BMI compared unemployment coverage during similar time periods in 1982 and 2009. In 1982, network reports were 13 times more negative under Reagan: 91 percent of mentions of his administration were negative compared to only 7 percent of Obama administration mentions.
The Obama administration was mentioned favorably in 2009 network unemployment stories 87 percent of the time. While there were zero positive mentions of Reagan in 1982. An identical unemployment rate (9.4 percent) was "good news" for Obama, but all bad for Reagan.
Networks Promote Obama's Jobs Plan, Infrastructure Spending
Even the president has consistently harped on the bad jobs situation. Obama has used high unemployment to demand swift action on his latest $447 billion stimulus bill: The American Jobs Act which he claims could create up to 1.9 million jobs through more infrastructure spending and unemployment benefits.
ABC's Diane Sawyer uncritically reported the same figure, estimated by Moody's, on Sept. 9.
According to Obama, "This jobs bill will put unemployed construction workers back to work rebuilding our schools and our roads and our bridges." Of course, Obama's been talking about putting people back to work "rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges" for a couple years now.
He used that as a major selling point for his enormous $787 billion stimulus in 2008 and 2009 claiming "we will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system …" Even with that first stimulus bill, net job losses in the U.S. are roughly 2.4 million. No wonder only 1-in-6 people polled thought the new jobs package would lower unemployment "a lot," according to ABCNews.com
But public skepticism didn't dissuade network reporters like NBC's Tom Costello from calling for infrastructure spending. On the Sept. 18 NBC "Nightly News" Costello shared "startling new statistics" about the nation's "crumbling infrastructure." His report quoted Obama talking about his jobs plan which would spend money on road and bridge projects.
Costello's report specifically mentioned the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati from which Obama planned to deliver a speech calling for passage of his jobs plan. There was no mention in Costello's report that the Brent Spence Bridge would likely not be "shovel-ready" enough to get funding from that plan, something even left-wing website Huffington Post admitted.
CBS "Evening News" interviewed Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman who called for education, free trade agreements and infrastructure spending on Sept. 13. Interviewer Scott Pelley followed up Oberhelman's remarks with an attack on the GOP's anti-spending philosophy saying: "But you know what the political climate is, Republicans in particular in the Congress are saying no new spending, budget cuts are necessary and no new taxes."