Networks Project Economic Gloom Before Release Of Positive GDP

May 14th, 2008 1:21 PM

     To say we’re in a recession or not to say we’re in the recession, that used to be the question.  Not anymore, according to polls released on the NBC “Nightly News” April 29.

    “When asked if we’re in a recession, 81 percent [of Americans] say yes, 15 percent say no,” anchor Brian Williams reported, blaming Americans’ opinions of the economy on record gasoline prices, high rates of foreclosure and student loan debts.

     But Williams’ report came a few hours too early. Figures released April 30 show the U.S. economy growing 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2008. That means the economy doesn’t meet the technical definition of a recession, which is characterized by two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

      The National Bureau of Economic Research suggests looking at more than just the two quarters of negative GDP indicator to qualify a recession, which would mean a reclassification of what the media have typically defined as a recession. All three networks have used the technical definition in the last few years.

      “It’s a contraction in the economy over a period of several months felt across the economy broadly,” CNN’s Ali Velshi said on “American Morning” April 30, justifying how journalists can call positive GDP growth a recession. “It doesn’t mean two-quarters of negative growth – we often say two quarters of negative growth – forget it. That hasn’t been the definition for a long time. Forget that. That’s not what you want to be looking at.”

      NBC wasn’t the only network to report bad economic predictions ahead of unexpectedly positive economic news. The CBS “Evening News” on April 29 prepared Americans for the possibility of negative growth in the first quarter with stories of financial struggles.

      Proposing that the next president may be “inheriting a lot of economic headaches,” Katie Couric turned to Jim Axelrod so he could spotlight the growing oil profits amidst coverage of rising gas prices.

      Couric then moved to Americans who were “drowning in debt,” saying “Americans are addicted to plastic these days.” But the elderly couple CBS focused on racked up $57,000 in credit card debt, nearly 10 times the average credit card debt of senior citizens that CBS cited in the same segment. The couple’s bankruptcy attorney referred to them as “typical.”


      Lastly, “Evening News” did a segment on veterans fighting for a new G.I. bill that would expand the benefits for soldiers who want to get a college degree. CBS reported that attending a public college costs an average of $13,000 a year and that the U.S. generally covers half that, asserting that “with expenses exploding, the value of the benefit has plummeted.”

     However, one of the veterans featured in the segment, Todd Bowers, said that he was forced to drop out of George Washington University because the compensation he received from the current G.I. bill was not enough. Tuition at the private school in Washington, D.C., is more than $40,000 a year, making it one of the most expensive schools in the country and roughly six times as much as CBS estimated the benefit was worth. The expansion of the G.I. bill that Todd Bowers is fighting for would still only cover the cost of the most expensive in-state schools, not private schools like GWU.

     In reporting Bush’s economic press conference, ABC’s ‘World News with Charles Gibson’ on April 29 showed Bush’s reminder that congress had blocked his proposals for new oil refineries. But then, ABC shifted blame for rising costs to big oil companies. “Experts say it’s not Congress but big oil companies, which reported record profits again this week, that have been reluctant to build new refineries,” said ABC’s Betsy Stark.

     Neither report mentioned that drilling in the ANWR had been vetoed in 1995 by President Bill Clinton.