The federal government kicked off fiscal 2016 yesterday by reporting that its October deficit was $136.5 billion, 12 percent higher than the $121.7 billion shortfall seen in October 2014.
Single-month comparisons can be tricky because of timing differences, but the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger noted that analyzing the results from this October and last October is an apples-to-apples proposition when he wrote that "In both years, Nov. 1 fell on a weekend, which required the government to mail out November benefit checks in October." But instead of diving into and comparing the two Octobers, the AP reporter devoted the vast majority of his writeup to virtual cut-and-paste regurgitations of previously published news about the 2015 fiscal year and projections for the next two years. He wrote just one sentence directly comparing any of the details in two October statements, and buried it at the end of his report.
Today's "I'm just making stuff up on the fly" award nominee is Martin Crutsinger at the Associated Press.
The AP reporter, named by National Review's Kevin Williamson as America's "Worst Economics Writer" in 2013, lived down to his designation in a Tuesday report on the Census Bureau's September Monthly Trade Inventories and Sales release. He described a sales increase which didn't come close to offsetting the previous month's decline as "robust," failed to note that the reported increase in inventories will likely increase third-quarter GDP while perhaps depressing the fourth quarter, and described a "major effort to work down an overhang" in inventories not found in the report he was covering. His most important miss, though, was failing to note that trade inventories remain dangerously bloated.
As is so often the case with such stories, one can tell how favorable or disappointing a government report on the economy was by whether a story about it is still present at the Associated Press's "Top Business News" page several hours after its release.
Today's news from the Census Bureau on September's factory orders and shipments, released at 10 a.m., was extremely disappointing. Thus, it is utterly unsurprising that Martin Crutsinger's AP story covering that report was not at the "Top Business News" page a mere six hours after its release (it likely came off even earlier, as I didn't check the page until just after 4 p.m.). The AP economics writer's coverage, though bit of an improvement over prior months' efforts, still left important gaping holes.
On Thursday, the government reported that the nation's economy turned in yet another quarter of poor economic performance, estimating that its gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 1.5 percent in the third quarter.
The business press almost universally downplayed the news, and told readers that the fourth quarter will be better. No one talked about how much the tepid growth of the past six-plus years since the recession officially ended has been sacrificed in the name of misguided and dangerous Keynesian stimulus. As is so often the case, an editorial at Investor's Business Daily did that, performing a job the press has consistently refused to do.
Preparing the battlespace for tomorrow's report from the government on third-quarter Gross Domestic Product growth, the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger early this afternoon told readers that we're likely to see "a subpar pace by any standard."
But we shouldn't worry, because the AP reporter contends that tomorrow's news will just be a temporary trough in this year's "dizzying roller coaster ride," and that the fourth quarter will once again bring the economy up to acceptable heights. To make his claim, Crutsinger naturally ignored myriad warning signs that a serious slowdown may be on the horizon. A decade ago, he was hyping other far less serious factors as evidence that the economy would be lucky to avoid a recession.
If you're a few hours late catching up on reports on economic data at the Associated Press, one of the best ways to determine whether the news was good or disappointing is to see whether the story's headline and opening blurb are still present about four hours later among the wire service's "Top (usually 10) Business News" items. The good-news items will usually still be there; the disappointing ones will usually be gone.
Sure enough, as of about 12:30, Martin Crutsinger's dispatch in the wake of the 8:30 a.m. Durable Goods report from the Census Bureau was no longer a Top Story. That's because, even though Crutsinger did his level best to ignore pertinent facts and try to pin the blame elsewhere, the news was awful.
If a Republican or conservative was in the White House, the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger would have found a reason to be unimpressed in his dispatch today about how low initial unemployment claims continue to be, even as hiring has been slowing down. (Ideally, reporters should just relay the facts and leave the theorizing out of their stories, but that ship has sadly long since sailed.)
Crutsinger exhibited no real curiosity because a Democrat is in the White House. Therefore, it's left to New Media to at least get the alternative ideas out there; a contributor at the contrarian blog Zero Hedge did that several days ago. After the jump, readers will find most of Crutsinger's report covering the Department of Labor's initial claims release today, and a healthly chunk of the just-mentioned Zero Hedge analysis.
Although it was very disappointing, the September Employment Situation Summary, which told us that the economy added only 142,000 seasonally adjusted jobs as hundreds of thousands of Americans withdrew from the labor force, was not the worst economy-related news of the day.
That dubious honor belongs to the Census Bureau's Factory Orders report. At least the employment report showed more people holding payroll jobs and overall August payroll employment 2 percent greater than a year ago. By contrast the Census report continued a nearly year-long pattern of declining year-over-year orders and shipments accompanied by still-bloated inventories. As anyone could have predicted, Martin Crutsinger at the Associated Press completely ignored these alarming trends.
The business press is trying to convince readers, listeners, and viewers that Janet Yellen's Federal Reserve kept interest rates at zero not because of U.S. economic conditions, which supposedly "look good" with "steady economic growth." No-no. She stayed the course because of the troubled tglobal economy.
Thursday evening, Reuters wrote that the Fed failed to move "in a bow to worries about the global economy, financial market volatility and sluggish inflation at home." Bloomberg directly blamed "China growth concerns." The Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger cited "a weak global economy, persistently low inflation and unstable financial markets." None of the three noted the deteriorating situation in the U.S., and the only item I could find which cited the Fed's full set of pathetic annual U.S. growth projections was a Wall Street Journal editorial.
Friday's report on the federal government's budget deficit through August told us that with one month remaining in the fiscal year, Uncle Sam will certainly "achieve" an all-time single-year record in tax collections accompanied by all-time record spending.
The Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger apparently didn't consider either item newsworthy. Instead, he decided that the real news is this year's projected deficit will be the lowest in the past years — even though that projected shortfall of $426 billion, though quite likely is by no means certain.
The press's failure to tell the public how seriously the U.S. economy is struggling is not the most egregious exercise in reality avoidance we've seen during the past several months. The willful denial of Iran's intent to destroy Israel and its Western enemies, the refusal to acknowledge the inherent institutional ugliness of Planned Parenthood, and the failure to accurately characterize Hillary Clinton's deliberate circumvention of established national security laws and protocols (all because "Her personal privacy was more important than the national interest") are clearly worse.
Nevertheless, the economy-related deceptions have not been unimportant. The press promotes the general impression that, well, conditions aren't ideal, but they're the best we can hope for — and besides, our mess isn't as bad as what we're seeing in rest of the world (and by the way, if the U.S. economy does tank, it will be the rest of the world's fault, and certainly not Dear Leader's). Let's compare Wednesday's exercise in furthering that impression at the Associated Press and compare it to what is really happening.
Records are made to be broken, but apparently government spending records are not meant to be reported. The Monthly Treasury Statement released today showed that the federal government spent a mind-boggling $374.86 billion in July. That's an all-time single-month record, surpassing the previous high of $369.39 billion "achieved" in August 2012. Yes, there was a calendar "quirk" which caused this month's report to include five Fridays of disbursements; but that happens four times a year, and a record is a record.