Tuesday :: Feb 17, 2004

Detached From Reality: The Post and Bush's Election Chances Due To The Economy

by Steve

As a follow-up to Mary's great post about what Bush will run on, and your comments on how it will be sold, here’s a textbook example of how the media helps Bush even in the face of contradictory evidence. In today’s Washington Post, Jonathan Weisman gets a Page One story whose premise is that the economy may actually help Bush. Weisman says that personal income growth from the Bush tax cuts makes the situation pretty good for those who have jobs, and those who have homes have been able to refinance and take on more debt to stay afloat. It is also postulated in the story that some voters won’t hold Bush accountable for the economy.

Based on these claims, and the interviews with several individuals with homes and an economist that has already decided that Bush will win in “a romp” this November, he concludes that Bush may be helped by the economy. Yet nowhere in Weisman’s rosy analysis does there appear room for talk about deficits and sluggish if not nonexistent job growth in three years. Nowhere in the chart used to summarize Bush’s “accomplishments” are deficits mentioned, and the loss of over 2 million jobs since 2001 is downplayed by showing the loss in percentage terms. And somehow according to the Post, a 4.1% growth in weekly wages over three years is considered good without factoring in the increase in energy costs over that same period.

Finally, Weisman’s piece seems to have been written in ignorance of a Gallup Poll issued just yesterday which showed that voters in fact do think that a president’s policies do affect the economy in general and them personally. Furthermore, Bush’s handling of the economy amongst voters, contrary to the rosy assessment painted by Weisman by interviewing several people and a friendly economist is rebutted by the results from the poll:

Nine in 10 Americans think the president's policies affect national economic conditions. Even more significantly, 8 in 10 believe that the president's policies affect their own personal economic situations. Clearly, the public sees job creation as part of the presidential job description.

Declining consumer confidence and increasing job fears have led to a reversal in the public's approval of the way Bush is handling the economy. In early January, 54% approved of Bush's performance on the economy and 43% disapproved. Today, only 45% approve, while 52% disapprove.

But Weisman’s piece wasn’t alone in the misleading happy talk derby today. A piece in the USA Today has a title that gives the impression that the Bush tax cuts are the primary reason for our economic growth, and indicates that most economists agree with this. Yet when you ready the actual story, several reasons are given for the rebound, including this inconvenient paragraph:

These economists also say tax cuts were just one of several influences that helped the economy out of its slump, and it's hard to determine how they rank.

It was left to the New York Times’ David Sanger and Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times this morning to point out that Bush is selling this “the economy is great thanks to me” message at stage-managed appearances in front of hand-selected crowds, hardly a sign of a man who will coast to election due to the economy, as the Post claims.

But, as all of you note in your comments, a large part of Bush's success or failure centers on how well he can spin the message, and how much of an accomplice the media will be in those efforts. From the looks of it, the Post is safely on the payroll when it comes to the economy.

Steve :: 12:21 PM :: Comments (15) :: Digg It!