Split Personality: One Hour After Cheerleading, AP's Aversa Goes Dour on Economy


In an item time-stamped at 1:16 p.m. today (in case updated, here is a graphic capture of the first six paragraphs as they then appeared) covered by yours truly a short time ago (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), the Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa discounted today's weaker than expected economic growth report from Uncle Sam showing that gross domestic product only grew by an annualized 2.2% during the third quarter (two months ago, that growth was thought to have been 3.5%.

Not to worry, Aversa said, because the fourth quarter is going to be really good ("[possibly] the strongest showing since 5.4 percent growth in the first quarter of 2006"), and the first quarter of 2010 will be okay ("growth will slow to a pace of around 2 or 3 percent in the first three months"). To be fair, she did entertain the possibility of a double-dip recession in 2011 in her 18th of 21 paragraphs. But of course most readers won't get that far, and most editors trimming her piece down will leave it on the cutting room floor.

Strangely, Aversa made no attempt to hide her near gloom in a dispatch time-stamped at 2:22 p.m. (first section graphically saved here), barely an hour after her paean to fourth quarter growth.

It's also more than a little odd that after years of the establishment media telling us that the future of the economy as we know it depends on a robust Christmas shopping season, Aversa tells us that this time it's really no big deal:

Strong economic rebound depends on more than Santa

Don't count on holiday shoppers to fuel the economic recovery.

.... Even if holiday sales exceed expectations, the broader recovery is expected to remain weak - for the rest of the year and beyond.

.... usually as recoveries begin, the economy roars to life as pent-up spending is lavished on cars, clothes, homes and appliances. Consumers become an engine of economic strength.

Not likely this time.

.... Despite the glimmer of optimism on the surface ... the economic fundamentals are weak," said Sung Won Sohn, economist at California State University's Smith School of Business.

Many economists do think the economy is growing faster now than it did last quarter. JPMorgan Chase Bank, for instance, has bumped up its forecast for growth this quarter from 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

.... But that's no thanks to consumer spending, which is forecast to slow compared with last quarter. Growth is instead being driven by companies restocking shrunken stockpiles of goods.

Yet that benefit could be fleeting.

.... The economy isn't usually this weak early in recoveries.

.... As long as consumers and small businesses remain unable or too cautious to borrow and spend - during and after the holidays - the recovery is likely to make only fitful gains.

How odd, considering that Aversa's 1:16 p.m. GDP report waved around the possibility of 5% annualized fourth-quarter growth under our noses:

The economy is probably growing at nearly 4 percent in the October-to-December quarter, analysts say. A few peg it closer to 5 percent. If they're right, that would mark the strongest showing since 5.4 percent growth in the first quarter of 2006 - well before the recession began. The government will release its first estimate of fourth-quarter economic activity on Jan. 29.

Whether it's bias or something deeper, you've got to admit that it's a long way from "Recovery likely strengthening after weaker 3Q" to "The economy isn't usually this weak" barely an hour later.

If there's an explanation for this outside the realm of psychiatry, it may be that Ms. Aversa wants to be able to cite items such as her later report and say, "See, I'm perfectly fair!" -- knowing full well that her coverage of today's GDP result will be much more widely used by AP's subscribers than any analysis she attempts.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Economy Media Bias Debate Double Standards Business Coverage Recession Wire Services/Media Companies Associated Press Jeannine Aversa