After ignoring all three estimates of first quarter GDP growth, ABC, CBS and NBC found the second quarter estimate too good to overlook.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis announced on July 27, that the economy grew by 4.1 percent in the second quarter, the highest quarterly growth in nearly four years. It was a strong number, but the networks were quick to look for problems with it — especially CBS.
ABC, CBS and NBC evening news shows each included a story about the U.S. economy and latest GDP estimate on July 27, but they weren’t exactly reveling in good economic news. Although it did consult one optimistic business, CBS Evening News was still downbeat, saying “economic growth is not expected to continue at this pace” and turning to an economist who called it “a bit of a mirage.” That show also spent the least time on economic growth of the three news programs that night — just 1 minute 32 seconds.
Economist Diane Swonk attributed the latest strong growth to U.S. soybean exports sent to China ahead of the potential trade war, telling CBS “that helped to add more than a percent to overall GDP growth in the second quarter. So some of what we’re seeing is a bit of a mirage.”
Correspondent Vladimir Duthiers also closed the segment pessimistically saying, “But economic growth is not expected to continue at this pace. Swonk says we’ll probably see 3 percent at the end of the year. Jeff, She says things like tariffs and a sluggish housing market are a concern, too.”
NBC Nightly News struck a more balanced tone. Tom Costello's NBC story included a very optimistic CEO in Chicago, but acknowledged a farmer “operating at a loss right now” because of the trade war. They also consulted a Nobel-winning economist concerned with “substantial drag on the economy” that could result from a trade war.
“It’s a vibrant economy and I think people are positive how it will turn out for them. And it’s certainly from a small-to-medium sized business there’s a lot of supports,” Truss CEO Andrew Bokor told NBC.
Nightly News spent a total of 2 minutes 2 seconds on economic growth that night.
ABC World News with David Muir not only had the longest segment, of 2 minutes 12 seconds, but was also the most upbeat. Chief Foreign Correspondent Terry Moran also specifically credited Trump policies for some of the gains.
Muir introduced the segment calling the GDP report “a bright spot for the president and the nation.” Moran took over from there.
“It’s the best number since 2014. Americans are spending more, businesses are investing more. Trump tax cuts and massive deregulation having a positive impact,” Moran said. He acknowledged trade concerns saying a “closer look” revealed some economic “shadows.”
Moran also cited farmers’ concerns, but unlike the other two networks he suggested two possible outcomes for the trade situation, rather than just one that devastates the economy.
If Trump “succeeds in opening new markets, there will be a lot more growth. He will have redefined how presidents do economic policy. If however, those retaliatory tariffs keep piling on, there will be a lot more pain out there,” Moran said.
On Spanish language networks, Univision’s evening newscast did not report the latest GDP estimate. Its rival, Telemundo did. Telemundo’s newcast dedicated 34 seconds to U.S. economic growth, with anchor Julio Vaqueiro opening his network's report by noting that "here in the United States, the economy is strengthening solidly."