As megablogger Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, has noted with amusement, the word “unexpectedly,” or variants thereof, keeps cropping up in mainstream-media stories about the economy.
“New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly climbed,” reported cnbc.com May 25.
“Personal consumption fell,” Business Insider reported the same day, “when it was expected to rise.”
“Durable goods declined 3.6 percent last month,” Reuters reported May 25, “worse than economists’ expectations.”
“Previously owned home sales unexpectedly fall,” headlined Bloomberg News May 19.
“U.S. home construction fell unexpectedly in April,” wrote the Wall Street Journal May 18.
Those examples are all from the last two weeks. Reynolds has been linking to similar items since October 2009.
The mainstream media may finally be catching up. “The latest economic numbers have not been good,” David Leonhardt wrote in the May 26 New York Times. “Another report showed that economic growth at the start of the year was no faster than the Commerce Department initially reported — ‘a real surprise,’ said Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics.”
Which raises some questions. As Instapundit reader Gordon Stewart, quoted by Reynolds on May 17, put it: “How many times in a row can something happen unexpectedly before the experts start to, you know, expect it? At some point, shouldn’t they be required to state the foundation for their expectations?”
One answer is that many in the mainstream media have been cheerleading for Barack Obama. They and he both naturally hope for a strong economic recovery. After all, Obama can’t keep blaming the economic doldrums on George W. Bush forever.
I’m confident that any comparison of economic coverage in the Bush years with the coverage now would show far fewer variants of the word “unexpectedly” in stories suggesting economic doldrums.
It’s obviously going to be hard to achieve the unacknowledged goal of many mainstream journalists — the president’s reelection — if the economic slump continues. So they characterize economic setbacks as unexpected, with the implication that there’s still every reason to believe that, in Herbert Hoover’s phrase, prosperity is just around the corner.
A less cynical explanation is that many journalists really believe that the Obama administration’s policies are likely to improve the economy. Certainly that has been the expectation as well as the hope of administration policymakers.
Obama’s first Council of Economic Advisers chairman, Christina Romer, whose scholarly work is widely respected, famously predicted that the February 2009 stimulus package would hold unemployment below 8 percent. She undoubtedly believed that at the time; she is too smart to have made a prediction whose failure to come true would prove politically embarrassing.
But unemployment zoomed to 10 percent instead, and is still at 9 percent. Political pundits sympathetic to the administration have been speculating whether the president can win reelection if it stays above the 8 percent mark it was never supposed to reach.