CNN: December Layoffs Exceed Expectations...But Still Good News

January 9th, 2010 11:19 AM

CNN's efforts to spin the current economy have gotten to the point of being ridiculous.

For three days in a row, a series of reports all showed persistent layoffs above expectations, and in each case inexplicably reported optimism. 

First up was an ADP report released Wednesday which tracked the economy from the side of business owners and how many workers they laid off. Instead of showing the complete picture, CNN chose to present a decidedly upbeat angle.

CNN Money writers Jessica Dickler and Hibah Yousuf set the tone as they worked hard to spin unexpected layoffs as a positive sign in their rosy-headlined "Job Picture Gets a Little Bit Brighter":

In some welcome news on the job front, the pace of U.S. job losses eased in December, according to two reports released Wednesday.

Automatic Data Processing (ADP, Fortune 500), a payroll-processing firm, said private-sector employers cut 84,000 jobs in December, the fewest since March 2008.

It was the ninth straight month that job losses narrowed from the previous month. The number of cuts in November was revised down to 145,000 from the previously reported 169,000.

Economists surveyed by had forecast a loss of 75,000 jobs in December.

As an example of actual journalism, the Dow Jones newswire gave an objective summary of the ADP report that included more information. December's numbers showed a temporary boost for jobs in customer service, mostly due to extra shopping for Christmas and Hanukkah, while other industries kept shrinking. Worse yet, even with the retail hiring, there was still more overall loss than what experts had predicted.

By contrast, nowhere did CNN's article explain exactly how persistent layoffs were a sign of good times to come, nor did the writers ask how these predictions seemed to be wrong so often. In fact, speculation about the future was a tangled mess throughout the piece.

After glossing over the blown forecast, Dickler and Yousuf eagerly recounted a new set of cheerful words from an expert about what might happen next:

"We're moving in the right direction, and I think we're only a month or two away from reporting a positive top line number," said Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, in a conference call.

For those who don't speak finance, a positive top line simply means companies are earning some revenue. It does not automatically mean profit, and it's no guarantee they will start hiring more workers any time soon.

Indeed, Prakken followed with a warning that despite positive numbers on an income statement, unemployment would remain high and possibly rise in the near future.

Yet CNN couldn't be bothered to explain the apparent contradiction.

In line with Prakken's estimation, the Department of Labor made its own prediction that the national unemployment rate will reach 10.1% by early spring - a tiny detail CNN mentioned in the very last sentence.

Thus in the span of 15 paragraphs, CNN went from a "brighter" economy on the verge of rebound to unemployment that would keep going up.

Believe it or not, CNN was never so generous while reporting such things under President George W Bush. In September 2004, when unemployment was at 5.5%, John Kerry was on the campaign trail comparing Bush to Herbert Hoover - and CNN gladly reported it as important finance news.

Then in 2006, when unemployment went as low as 4.7%, instead of celebrating the end of recession fears, CNN found a way to rain on the parade:

The drop in unemployment was the latest sign of a tightening labor market, which could put upward pressure on wages and prices in the months ahead.

On Wall Street, stocks fell as investors worried that the report makes further interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve more likely.


Jeoff Hall, the chief U.S. economist for Thomson Financial, agreed that the unemployment rate could bounce back up in coming months as those now not counted as in the labor force start to look for or find jobs.

Under Republican leadership, anything above 5% was Hoover-esque while anything below 5% would cause higher interest rates. Under a Democratic President, double digit unemployment comes with abundant hope that things would look up any day.

Actually, when reporting a tough economy under Democratic leadership, CNN's strategy seemed to be ignoring President Obama's influence altogether. The bright future of 10% unemployment did not mention a single politician or any thought of the drastic measures recently taken to stimulate the economy.

On Thursday, Yousuf was forced to return to the issue when the government released fresh data on rising unemployment claims. Once again, there was no blame put on leaders in Washington, no pondering what a slow recovery could mean in an election year.

Instead of dwelling on the negatives, Yousuf got right back to work on sunshine and lollipops:

With layoffs slowing, Lonski expects job growth may be near.

"Fewer layoffs implies that financial conditions of businesses have improved," he said. "In time, businesses will need to hire more workers in order to fulfill customers' needs."

He added that the unemployment rate could have peaked October at 10.2%, and employers could start adding enough jobs to see positive job growth as early as March.

Literally 24 hours after layoffs had been worse than expected, there was CNN finding so few of them.

But just you wait - the worst was yet to come.

On Friday,  the Labor Department released an official report on December layoffs that was even higher than the initial findings of ADP. NewsBusters highlighted the bleak announcement with a bit of curiosity in how the media would cover it.

CNN Money jumped right in. Writer Donna Rosato began with the headline "Jobs Report Wasn't All Bad News," still leaning on retail hiring for the holidays, and also trumpeting growth in healthcare with no worry current efforts by Congress might stymie one of the few positive industries left.

And then Rosato let slip one of the funniest lines to appear in print for some time:

That figure dashed hopes that the final month of 2009 would be the first to show jobs being added back to the economy. With more than seven million jobs lost in the last two years, no one was looking for major job creation.

No one expected major job creation? Really?

For a fun little trip down memory lane, observe CNN Money claiming in August that improvement was just around the corner - after predicting a recovery in July and smugly touting a strong dollar that would surely save the economy in March.

After spending almost a year on job creation, CNN Money felt no shame in denying their own archives.

At some point, readers will begin to realize that CNN always promotes recovery no matter what the numbers might say -- as long as there's a Democrat in the White House, that is.