Americans learned Thursday that the economy is in a recession, at least according to a definition that was widely accepted before last week. But mainstream media went to great lengths to avoid saying so.
Imagine if this were former President Trump’s economy.
Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, fell 0.2% last quarter, the equivalent of an 0.9% annual rate of decline, the Commerce Department said.
- That followed a 0.4% contraction in the first three months of the year.
- President Biden downplayed the numbers in a morning statement, calling them “no surprise” and insisting the U.S. “is not in a recession;” at a press conference later he took no questions.
- White House officials, in anticipation of the bad news, had spent the past week disputing the conventional wisdom that two straight quarters of negative GDP growth defines a recession — and it appeared to pay off.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
In line with White House talking points, reporters tiptoed around the “r” word in their coverage, emphasizing that a recession is officially declared after the fact by a panel in the National Bureau of Economic Research.
1. POLITICO: “[T]he economy contracted 0.9 percent in the second quarter of the year, offering Republicans a tantalizing opportunity to declare that the economy under President Joe Biden is now in a recession.”
Man is that a word salad to get around saying recession. You folks in ‘media’ aren’t even trying to hide it anymore. Not even a little bit.
— Jon Fredericks 🍀 (@fredericks44) July 28, 2022
2. THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Most economists still don’t think the economy meets the formal definition of a recession, which is based on a broader set of indicators including measures of income, spending and employment. … Still, the data released on Thursday left little doubt that the recovery is losing momentum amid high inflation and rising interest rates.”
— Stephen L. Miller (@redsteeze) July 28, 2022
3. THE WASHINGTON POST: “In the past, six months of contraction have usually indicated a recession. The official determination is made by a panel of experts, though recessions aren’t typical when unemployment is near record lows.”
“Reviving recession fears”
And the Titanic sank, reviving Titanic sinking fears.
It’s a recession. By the definition we all accepted until about 72 hours ago. https://t.co/Y21b8Uy3SX
— Sunny McSunnyface (@sunnyright) July 28, 2022
4. CNN: “That decline marks a key symbolic threshold for the most commonly used — albeit unofficial — definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth.”
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) July 28, 2022
5. ABC NEWS: “It’s important to look at what happened today with these numbers and understand that we are sort of in an informal, or quote unquote technical, recession … It really is left up to the panel at the Bureau of Economic Research to formally declare.”
Rep. McCarthy delivers remarks from the House floor after the GDP report released this morning fuels fears of a looming recession. ABC News' @AlexisTVNews tells us more.
"He of course was talking about what he believes is all wrong with what the Democrats are trying to do." pic.twitter.com/AnkOSCWcAA
— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) July 28, 2022
6. MSNBC: The left-leaning cable news network’s website took an innovative approach by apparently not posting any articles at all about the economic … recession?
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A PRESIDENT MAKES
Some of the most prominent journalists promoting the White House’s recession denialism previously endorsed the two-consecutive-quarters-of-economic-contraction definition:
- CNN White House correspondent John Harwood,
- And Politico chief economic correspondent and MSNBC contributor Ben White.
Coincidentally, several Biden administration officials did a similar 180:
- National Economic Council director Brian Deese,
- Council of Economic Advisors chair Cecilia Rouse,
- Economic advisor Jared Bernstein
- And economic advisor Heather Boushey.
Needless to say, the media was much less generous in sizing up the economy during Trump’s presidency.
- In Sept. 2018, the Washington Post fact checker gave Trump three out of four Pinocchios for his claims that the economy had never been “stronger.”
- “The odd thing is that Trump does not need to claim that the economy is the greatest ever. He just needs to say it’s doing great,” wrote Glenn Kessler.
- In August 2020, near the end of Trump’s term, NBC News ran the headline, “Data show Trump didn’t ‘build’ a great economy. He inherited it.”