Despite Strong Economic Growth, Top Newspapers Pitch Bad Times

By Josiah Ryan | September 9, 2008 | 4:56 AM EDT

Top American newspapers reported strong GDP growth wrapped in dour analyses and bleak predictions about the economy.

(CNSNews.com) – Although a recent federal report showed that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product grew at a strong 3.3 percent during the second quarter of 2008, most of the top American newspapers reported that growth wrapped in dour analyses and bleak predictions about the economy.
 
One expert from the conservative Heritage Foundation told CNSNews.com that the negative newspaper coverage of the GDP growth does not accurately describe the state of the economy.
 
An economist from the liberal Brookings Institute and a spokesman for the liberal media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Media (FAIR), however, told CNSNews.com that the newspapers acted responsibly by including negative facts  about the economy.
 
GDP is the estimated value of all goods and services produced in the United States. The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis had earlier estimated that second quarter growth would equal 1.9 percent but was compelled to adjust its estimate to 3.3. percent after analyzing the GDP indicators.
 
“Tax rebate checks and robust exports helped the U.S. economy grow at a faster than expected rate in the second quarter, the government reported Thursday,” read the lead paragraph in an Aug. 28 Los Angeles Times story. “But some economists warned that those two pillars could not prop up growth for long.”
 
“Positive GDP report makes investors smile; Economists warn lift may be fleeting,” read the headline of an Aug. 29 Chicago Tribune story.
 
“Whether that pace of growth continues, however, is another issue,” read an Aug. 29 Washington Post article, after reporting the facts on GDP growth.
 
“The economy expanded at a 3.3 percent rate from April through June, far faster than we first thought, the government said on Thursday,” reported The New York Times on Aug. 28. “But the outlook for the remainder of the year remained grim.”
 
 “The economy pulled out of a dangerous rough patch in the spring, thanks largely to strong exports, but the rebound isn't expected to last,” reported the Associated Press on Aug. 28, in an article carried by many newspapers across the country.
 
An economist at the Heritage Foundation, however, said that while the economy does have problems, things are not as bleak as the newspapers indicated.
 
“While there is certainly weakness in the economy and high unemployment, it’s not exactly as they are reporting it,” James Sherk, the Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy at the Heritage Foundation, told CNSNews.com. “We are not in a recession.  It’s modest growth, and the number of job losses that we see now are half of what we would have in a real recession.”
 
“These numbers show that the economy is growing, though sluggishly,” he said. “Things are not as bad as a lot of people are making them seem. The sky is not falling.”
 
But Martin Baily, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, told CNSNews.com that he considers the newspaper coverage even-handed.
 
“I think this kind of coverage of the growth is fair,” said Bailey. “I would expect the third quarter and fourth quarter to be much slower. We may get a negative growth, and I think we are going get a sluggish recovery.”
 
Isabel McDonald, a spokesperson for FAIR, told CNSNews.com that reporting negative facts in conjunction with positive growth is responsible journalism.
 
“I don’t think you could find an economist who would find that this is unfair,” McDonald said of the New York Times article on the GDP growth. “They also include the data on unemployment, which is responsible to do because GDP is only an average. I don’t fault them for including that extra information.”
 
McDonald argued that the media had actually participated in irresponsible journalism earlier in the year when they had not recognized an impending economic crisis.
 
“It was unduly optimistic for too long,” said McDonald.  The real question is not, ‘Why is the media not reporting this as great news,’ but ‘Are they warning people about what will happen ahead of time?’”
 
“The fact that they talked about rising unemployment is very useful for people to know because a lot of Americans are affected by that,” said McDonald.
 
Free-market economist Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institute wrote in his Sept. 1 column that talk about the U.S. “economy in turmoil” by Democratic candidate Barack Obama and others is “standard stuff on the left and in the mainstream media, which has been dying to use the word ‘recession.’”
 
“Not only has the economic slowdown failed to reach the definition of a recession, the most recent data show the U.S. economy growing at a rate exceeding 3 percent, a rate that many European economies would die for, despite our being constantly urged to imitate those countries whose end results are not as good as ours,” Sowell wrote.

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