It takes a special talent to spin news which is unquestionably positive into something negative. But Christopher Rugaber and Josh Boak at the Associated Press were up to the task in a Wednesday afternoon report on bonuses, pay raises, and other benefits which now have been showered on well over 2 million American workers since the December passage of federal tax cuts.
On Friday, the government reported that the economy added a seasonally adjusted 211,000 jobs, and that the unemployment rate dropped to a 10-year low of 4.4 percent. The day's press coverage had three noticeable highlights. The first was the headline at the Associated Press's coverage — "US JOBS DATA SHOW SOME SCARS FROM RECESSION FINALLY HEALING."
In a dispatch accusing the Trump administration of hypocrisy in expressing pleasure over Friday's jobs report from the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics, Associated Press reporters Jill Colvin and Christopher Rugaber, with additional assistance from Jonathan Lemire, either betrayed an amazing collective level of ignorance about what a households is, or were so blinded by the need to criticize Donald Trump that they didn't see how ridiculous they made themselves and their wire service look. The trio's error, shared by their editors if such people even exist any more, is so obvious that one simply has to believe that it's the latter.
There is little doubt that the big economic news Wednesday was payroll and employee benefits giant ADP's estimate that the economy added 298,000 seasonally adjusted private-sector jobs in February. Over seven hours later, the New York Times did not have the news on its website's home page — or even at its "Business Day" business and financial news web page.
There are predictable signs that after eight years of giving the problem inadequate attention and occasional ridicule, the business press has decided that federal budget deficits and the national debt are going to start to matter again. Gosh, I wonder why? The Associated Press's Christopher Rugaber was relatively subtle about it in a report on Uncle Sam's December and year-to-date budget deficits on Thursday. As would be expected, Paul Krugman wasn't subtle at all in his latest New York Times column.
The Associated Press's coverage of the U.S. economy is undergoing its own presidential transition. One might expect a bit of chaos as the AP moves from frequently and inordinately praising and defending the historically awful economy we've seen during the past eight years under a Democratic administration to eventually downplaying and bashing it at every opportunity once a Republican takes over. The best example of that chaos is found in its claim (with "expert" help, of course) that the economy grew as fast as it realistically could during the Obama administration, while unwisely laying down an unmistakable marker that it can't and therefore won't grow any faster during Donald Trump's presidency.
A Pew Research report published three weeks ago on America’s Shrinking Middle Class presented a fundamentally misleading narrative which the press was only too eager to relay and continues to use, namely that the middle class has been seriously shrinking since the turn of the century. Christopher Rugaber at the Associated Press typified the initial press coverage, writing: "In nearly one-quarter of metro areas, middle-class adults no longer make up a majority ... That sharp shift reflects a broader erosion that occurred from 2000 through 2014."
The not particularly subtle message: "It all started with George W. Bush, and it hasn't let up since then." This post will disprove and thus discredit that notion.
In mid-April, as I noted in a NewsBusters post, the Associated Press, apparently desperate to find any kind of good economic news that might offset the impact of an awful national industrial production report from the Federal Reserve, cited a positive manufacturing survey from just one state to claim that "goods production in the U.S. could be stabilizing."
Lo and behold, yesterday that same one-state survey, the Empire State Manufacturing Index, showed that manufacturing in New York went into the tank in May, dropping into serious contraction after just two months of expansion. The wire service produced a terse four-paragraph report on the news, and appears to taken measures keep the bad news away from much of the nation.
On Sunday, I noted how the Associated Press wouldn't let the awful national news from the Federal Reserve on Industrial Production (second straight month of 0.6 percent contraction) stand alone without trying to offset it with phony evidence that U.S. manufacturing is showing "signs of stability." That "evidence" was primarily a positive manufacturing survey result from just one state: New York. The AP also dedicated a separate national story to that New York Federal Reserve-published result.
So when the Philadelphia Federal Reserve published its manufacturing survey earlier today, one might have expected that AP would have given it a story, especially since today wasn't a particularly big day for other impactful economic releases. Of course, AP ignored it — because the result was negative, defying expecations that it would remain positive for a second straight month. From what I can determine, the Philly Fed's release is not even a local AP story.
Key data about the U.S. economy's performance released this past week was mostly dismal. Wednesday brought news that seasonally adjusted March retail sales, instead of climbing as predicted, fell by 0.3 percent. Later that morning, the government reported that manufacturing and trade inventories and sales both fell in February.
The worst news came on Friday, when the Federal Reserve reported that March industrial production, defying predictions of a tiny decrease, fell by 0.6 percent for the second straight month. The manufacturing component fell by 0.3 percent, and February's 0.1 percent manufacturing increase was revised to show a 0.1 percent decline. The Fed's Friday report was especially problematic for the Associated Press.
Today's report from the government on retail sales was awful — "unexpectedly" so, according to both Bloomberg and Reuters. Following on the heels of a 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted decline in January and a flat February, March sales fell by 0.3 percent.
Two of the three main U.S. business wire services blamed the American people, not the worst post-recession economy since World War II during the Obama administration — an economy which is clearly weakening even further — for these results.
The Associated Press, the nation's de facto business news gatekeeper for those who don't follow the economy or the markets closely, is telling America that the U.S. job market is fine, and ignoring the dismal results seen in weekly pay during the past several months.
Christopher Rugaber's Friday evening coverage of the government's jobs report earlier in the day described the reported 215,000 in seasonally adjusted payroll job additions as "last month's healthy hiring." Paul Wiseman, in a separate dispatch dealing with downbeat news in the University of Michigan's consumer confidence survey, which had the worst reading in five months, insisted that "the job market is healthy." Well, more people are working, but even with their slightly larger numbers, they're collectively working fewer hours and earning less total pay than they were two months ago.