L.A. Times's Oliphant Forecasts Possible Political Peril for GOP in March Jobs Report

The media are hard at work spinning today's jobs report for maximum political advantage for the White House.

Witness Los Angeles Times reporter James Oliphant, who has filed an article for publication in tomorrow's paper entitled, "Drop in unemployment doesn't mesh with Republicans' script."

Here's how Oliphant opened his April 2 story:

The news that unemployment dropped again amid signs that the economy is gaining steam arrives at a perilous moment for the GOP, which has fashioned much of its political message around the argument that President Obama's policies suppress job growth.


According to the Labor Department, the jobless rate has dropped a full percentage point — to 8.8% — since November 2010, coincidentally when the GOP made its major gains in Congress and seized control of the House.

Key Republicans reacted Friday by saying the numbers were good, but not good enough. But given the state of play on Capitol Hill, with a government shutdown looming and a Republican bloodthirst for more spending cuts, there was little more to say beyond that.

Oliphant went on to argue that today's Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report could have "hand[ed] the White House a weapon with which it can argue that the president's economic policies are working and that Republican obstructionism could halt the recovery's forward momentum."

"The news may place even more pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to cut a deal with Senate Democrats to avert a shutdown, even if such an accord will be decried by conservatives and 'tea party' Republicans," Oliphant predicted.

"[T]he unemployment rate has now fallen a full point in the last four months. The last time that happened was the recovery of 1984," Oliphant quoted President Obama from his speech at an UPS facility in Landover, Md. Friday.

"And 1984, of course, is when President Reagan was elected to a second term in a landslide," Oliphant helpfully connected the dots.

Of course, 28 years ago when President Reagan was defending the success of his economic stewardship, the media were far from rosily optimistic about the economy, as Business & Media Institute's Julia Seymour noted last month:

The unemployment rate finally dropped below 9 percent in February 2011, after 21 months at that rate or higher. The Labor Department reported March 4 that the rate had dropped 0.1 percent to 8.9 percent. The New York Times called it a "notable" improvement, but in 1983, the Times was downbeat about better jobs news.


"The economic waiting game may soon be over, as businesses signal that they are finally willing to resume widespread hiring," the March 5, 2011, story by Catherine Rampell began.


In that report, Rampell also emphasized that the 192,000 jobs added that month were the most for job growth in almost a year. Her Times report suggested the rate "could rise temporarily in the next few months, as stronger job growth lures some discouraged workers to look for jobs again."


The last time the unemployment rate dropped below 9 percent after a long period above that marker was in 1983 under President Reagan. Back then the Times was much less encouraged by the jobs report, despite a monthly drop that was five times the size of this year's.


On Nov. 6, 1983, the Times led its jobs story by saying that the 0.5 percent drop in unemployment to 8.8 percent "can't have been much consolation for the 9.9 million Americans who are still out of work."


The most enthusiastic statement in that 1983 story came from the White House which called it "exceedingly good news." But the Times undercut that comment saying, "however, some analysts said the drop may have reflected the fact that more than 500,000 people, many of them young adults, had simply stopped looking."


The disparity of the Times reports echoed the double standard of jobs coverage on the three broadcast networks. In 2009, the Business & Media Institute released a Special Report comparing coverage of jobs report as unemployment rose under President Reagan and President Obama.

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