1982, 2009: Networks Find Identical Unemployment Numbers 'Good ' News for Obama, But 'All' Bad for Reagan

Unemployment is currently at a 26-year-high of 9.7 percent and expected to continue rising. The last president to govern with such high unemployment was President Ronald Reagan.

But in 1982, when unemployment was rising similarly to the way it has in 2009 the network news media were merciless quoting attacks from Democrats, union leaders and the unemployed to attack Reagan's "sadistic" fiscal policies.

2009 was a different story, for a different president. Even though unemployment has shot up from 8.1 percent since February, network reporters looked for "hopeful signs" of an economic turnaround in their jobs report.

The Business & Media Institute just released a Special Report: Networks Flip Flop on Jobs that exposes that double-standard of unemployment coverage from 1982 and 2009 (See video below). The full report is available here, but here are some of our major findings:

Network Reports 13 Times More Negative Under Reagan than Under Obama: An overwhelming majority of stories mentioning the Reagan administration were negative 91 percent (20 out of 22) while only 7 percent (1 out of 15) of Obama administration mentions were negative. Additionally, Obama mentions were favorable 87 percent of the time, but there were zero positive mentions of Reagan.

Networks Connect Reagan White House to Negative Jobs Numbers Almost Twice as Often as Obama: Unemployment stories in 1982 mentioned the Reagan administration 71 percent of the time (22 out of 31), but 2009 stories mentioned the Obama administration only 40 percent of the time (14 out of 35).

Charles Gibson: 9.4% Unemployment ‘Good News' (Obama) and also ‘All' Bad (Reagan): The unemployment rate reached 9.4 percent under Reagan and Obama. But ABC's Charles Gibson covered the identical rate very differently in 1982 than in 2009. Gibson told viewers May 7, 1982, "[T]here really isn't any good news in the statistics. All the numbers are bad." But by 2009, Gibson had turned into an optimist citing "good news" June 5 and "hope the economy may be finally turning the corner" Aug. 7.


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Julia A. Seymour's picture