‘Economic Disaster’ Brought to You by Obama, News Networks
August 25, 2008The American economy is a “disaster.” The media have been singing that song for at least a year. When a presidential candidate recites the refrain, it’s news.
Or it should be.
But in the election of 2008, such a ridiculous claim earned Democratic Sen. Barack Obama compliments from the mainstream media, not well-deserved critique.
During an Albuquerque, N.M., town hall meeting, Obama complained about the criticism his spending policies had received from his opponent, Sen. John McCain. According to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, Obama plans to increase government spending by $343.6 billion each year. That hike is more than the Gross Domestic Product of all but 30 nations, but Obama doesn’t like to be called on it.
“Then he started running ads saying oh, Obama’s just going to raise your taxes and he'll lead to an economic disaster,” he told the crowd. “Mr. McCain, let me explain to you, the economic disaster is happening right now. Maybe you haven't noticed,” Obama ranted.
And no one on the network news shows even blinked.
Instead, that’s what NBC’s Andrea Mitchell called “hitting McCain on the economy.” ABC’s Jake Tapper described it as another form of combat. “Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., continued his sharper attacks on Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., today at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque, NM.,” he wrote in an August 18 blog post.
In most places, Obama’s comment would simply be laughed at.
Back in June, Tapper told viewers of the two candidates, “both believe the other would lead to economic disaster.” The difference is Obama is getting away with saying we’re already there. “Economic disaster?” It’s pathetic to even have to address that issue. The 47-year-old Obama has lived through at least six recessions in his lifetime, according to a list compiled by CNBC.com. Would he define those as “disasters” as well? Probably only the ones he was sure he could pin on Republicans.
Was the 1973 Arab oil embargo and recession a “disaster?” Drivers who could only buy on either odd or even days probably felt so. How about the dot-com implosion. It’s doubtful Obama would blame that one on his new buddy Bill Clinton in the spirit of convention “unity.”
But, after all, Obama is running for office. Americans expect him to make things up. What’s really bad is that no one in the media even commented on the big lie. Either because they believe everything Obama says or because they already believed it themselves.
The last four years have been a case study of how the media can misrepresent and undermine the economy. Journalists aren’t satisfied with a downturn. They make seemingly endless connections to the Great Depression. More than 70 times in the first six months of the year and that’s just on the three broadcast networks. Apparently, that economic delusion worked with Obama and his speechwriter.
What’s interesting is Obama’s disaster quote isn’t prominent on the economy section of his own Web site. Instead, there is a much more optimistic quote from a September 17 speech. “I believe that America's free market has been the engine of America's great progress. It's created a prosperity that is the envy of the world. It's led to a standard of living unmatched in history.”
Mr. September is a lot more accurate than the latest incarnation of Obama. The U.S. is still shy of the definition of recession used by all three major networks – two consecutive quarters of negative growth. And some economists actually see light at the end of the tunnel – like CNBC’s “Kudlow & Company” host Larry Kudlow.
“If the economy is in recession, why are business durable-goods orders and shipments booming?” Kudlow asked on July 25. He then explained how non-defense spending is up and concluded: “Business looks pretty healthy to me.”
This disconnect isn’t at all surprising. Journalists have little understanding what the word “disaster” even means any more. When they use it correctly, they bombard their viewers with “disasters.” Fires, floods, tornados, plane crashes and crane collapses. Everything that goes wrong to anyone, anywhere is a “disaster” by network definition – even what ABC called “the near disaster that wasn't, called Y2K.”
At the same time, reporters have dumbed down the meaning of the word. In June, NBC’s “Today” host Al Roker cautioned the audience about “fashion disasters that happen to everybody.” The August 2 “Today” actually warned viewers how driving and text messaging is “basically a disaster waiting to happen.
That last comment sounds just like Obama’s. Perhaps what he really meant to say isn’t that the economic disaster is “happening right now.” Maybe he meant it as a prediction for some time in January.
Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and vice president of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute. He can found on the Web on both Facebook and Twitter.