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September 18, 2006
AP Prefers Anecdotes To Real Data

As we approach the midterms, the media will attempt to kneecap Republicans on one of the issues where they can point to real success: the economy. Over the last three years, as the last of the tax cuts came into force and provided more incentive for investment, the economy and job growth have both erupted, resulting in one of the biggest booms over the last twenty years -- and this just after the 9/11 attacks designed to crush our capacity for growth. In doing so, media sources will avoid talking about real data and go on a search for individuals experiencing hard times, arguing a standard that no economy can be good for the nation as long as a few individuals have not prospered from it.

Meet Liz Sidoti, who takes that approach in a release today from the AP, one that will no doubt be reprinted in thousands of client newspapers by tomorrow. Her piece, titled "GOP talk of vibrant economy rings hollow," follows this tired and dishonest playbook to the letter:

FALMOUTH, KY - Used boots fetch $3 and old salt-and-pepper shakers bring in a buck at a makeshift flea market along Highway 27, presumably not what President Bush and Republicans have in mind when they herald a vibrant economy.

Times are "very good for the rich and very, very bad for the poor" who "can't afford to live," laments Larry Mitchell, 43, a now-and-then merchant peddling his wares recently in a submarine sandwich shop parking lot. He says the middle class is "having a hard time."

In the Ohio River Valley, where people decry high gas prices, stagnant wages, lost jobs and factory closures, many don't buy the claim that the economy is humming along.

Seven weeks before the midterm elections, the gulf between Bush's perceptions and that of voters form the political backdrop across the country as well as in a region with several competitive House races. This area typically gets left out of national boom times and usually feels the pinch more than others during slowdowns.

Here and elsewhere differing views on the economy could hurt the GOP's efforts to retain control of the House and Senate this fall, and give voters reason to put Democrats in charge instead.

Sidoti at least relates some of the true economic data, even if she does so dismissively. She reports the 5.7 million jobs created over the last three years, making hash of the argument that Democrats used in 2004 of a "job-free recovery". Remember that canard? That doesn't get a mention in Sidoti's article. She also notes that unemployment is down to its lowest level in almost ten years and that wages are rising, although she claims that inflation takes a big chunk out of them. She also states ominously that economists predict "subdued" growth but most don't expect a recession.

Interesting, then, that she chooses to lead with such a distorted sense of the economy in the first five paragraphs of her piece. If Sidoti's job is to report the news, then why doesn't she do so until halfway down the piece, and why did the AP headline writer create such a misleading banner for the story?

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has much better information than the AP provides. The annual rate of growth for 2006 hummed along at 2.9% in the second quarter, down from a more spectacular 5.6% in Q1 but still respectable growth. Disposable income is up 2.5% over the same month as last year in real terms as of July, the last month the BEA reported the data. It went up 0.5% over the previous month, again the latest in a string of increases.

By all measures, the economy has grown substantially and broadly, and it continues to do so. Instead of reporting the real effects of the economic policies of the last few years, the media seems determined to distort the record by highlighting the exceptions and eschewing real data for anecdotes. Unfortunately, Sidoti's approach will surprise no one familiar with the media's political biases.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 18, 2006 6:00 AM

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