Spin spun

Spin spun
: I mentioned disappointing job results below and the comments starting spitting and sputtering at me. (Amazing how when I post in favor of the war in Iraq, I’m a right-wing kook and when I kvetch about the state of the economy, I’m a left-wing nut.)

Anyway, I took the criticism in the comments to heart and went looking for the jobs spin in the press.

The difference is so obvious you’d think the writers of the stories and headlines would see it.

Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s take on today’s jobs report under the online headline “Payrolls Grow by 112,000 Jobs As Unemployment Rate Drops”:

Payrolls grew in January at the fastest clip in three years but fell short of expectations.

Nonfarm businesses added 112,000 jobs in January. It was the largest gain since December 2000, when companies added 124,000 positions, and was well above the revised 16,000 gain in jobs seen at the end of last year. December’s gain had initially been estimated at 1,000 jobs.

However, January’s number was far below the 160,000 jobs economists had been expecting, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC.

And here’s the Reuters report picked up by the NY Times report:

The U.S. economy created just 112,000 new jobs in January, far fewer than expected, government data showed on Friday in a disappointing report that will likely weigh on President Bush’s re-election campaign.

And the AP in the Washington Post:

Civilian unemployment dropped to 5.6 percent in January to the lowest level in more than two years as companies added 112,000 new jobs, fewer than expected but still providing fresh signs the prolonged hiring slump may be ending.

The NY Times/Reuters combo took it as a Bush blow (and that’s where I happened to get the news before I posted what I posted below and continued the spin). But the Washington Post editor picked a far more upbeat AP story. Same report. Same numbers. Different spin. Different agenda?

  • JohnO

    Well, as of 10:38am Wall Street doesn’t appear to regard the news as “disappointing”. Both the Dow Jones and Nasdaq are up big.

  • You’re such a Centrist whacko!

  • David Cushing

    What do you want to bet the headlines would be a bit different if a Democratic President were presiding over the fact that 1000 jobs were created in December, and 112,000 jobs were created in January? It would’ve been nice to hit 150,000, but we’ll see how February does.

  • anne.elk

    If you don’t like the spin from journalists such as yourself who are not experts in the economy, why not go straight to the economists’ blogs and gather the straighter dope from them?
    Try Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, Max Sawicky, or sites like jobwatch.org or the economist. Since these are all on your blogroll, I won’t bother linking them in.

  • sligobob

    Unless it is in-house, why would the WAPO accept Reuters or AP spin, whether gloomy or sunny in outlook. How about just reporting the facts. Jobs created are x. Forecasts were X. WAPO editors can edit out the gloom or sun. Unless there is staff reporter by-line, words like “disappointing” and “fresh signs” have no place. Get someone to quote who is saying it is “disappointing” or represents a “fresh look.” You know, be a reporter, do some leg work, get on the phone.

  • Reid

    Anne, your recommendations do not advance the goal of getting balanced information very far. Indeed, I would say you’ve lost yardage and are now very deep in left wing territory. Careful or, I might have to call a safety.

  • scott orrell

    Why Reid, what are you implying?
    I always get my straight dope from Krugman and Delong. Are you suggesting they might be a little partisan? Right wing nut, aren’t you?
    (Does sarcasm work on the internet, or do I have to leave one of those damn, cutsey ;-) things?)

  • Franky

    According to this report, the stocks are up precisely because the job report was weak.
    Bloomberg follows a pretty similar line (economy can grow (no one disputes that) at a rate that will not force the federal reserve to raise rates – so the bad news is good news).
    Whenever anything (financial data, financial reports from companies) fails to match a financial prediction, it’s usually reported as bad news. It’s not a question of who’s in power or not.

  • Jeff-
    This episode reminds me of 1992. GHW Bush was running for re-election and Mr. Clinton was running against the “terrible” economy and the federal deficit.
    By September of 1992, we had at least 6 straight months of economic growth. All of the major media (NYTimes, NBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, WaPo, etc.) were reporting the economic news with qualifiers implying that the economy could slip back into recession at any moment.
    By Inauguration day of 1993, things were doing quite well economically after at least 9 months of recovery. All without any guidance from Mr. Clinton or Mr. Bush.
    When non-‘liberals’ rail against the mainstreamliberalmedia, this sort of subtilely shaded reporting is precisely the sort of thing about which we are talking.

  • SM

    Drop Janet’s boob. Use the extra time to read more than the NY Slimes. What? You became aware of media spin *today*? MoveOn.orB

  • Steve in Houston

    I think it just shows that the capital-M Media is in the business not of “reporting the facts”, but instead is in the business of “framing and narrating the multivariate situations that impact and are impacted by the facts.”
    OK, I’m ready for my media studies PhD.

  • Harry

    Good post, Jeff. It’s handy to have these examples brought together for public inspection.

  • Jeff,
    This example of spin is inconclusive. A better one is when Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post told Brad DeLong to fuck off because DeLong pointed out errors in Weisman’s analysis of the Bush budget numbers.

  • Michael Demmons post was funny.
    But seriously, why can’t they leave the facts in the main story with caveats saying the numbers are regarded by Dems and disappointing and Republicans show them as signs of improving?
    Then the papers can go into the op-ed pages and make their opinion known, instead of making the main story their opinion?

  • Richard Cook

    You might get dope, but it won’t be straight from Krugman.

  • chris b

    Brad DeLong is a reasonably fair source. As for Krugman, it’s more like the reverse of FDR: a first-rate intellect, but a third-rate temperment.

  • JorgXMcKie

    Jeff, I suspect that sometimes you get so far left (or right) that you meet yourself coming the other way. No middle about it. Just keep up whatever it is you’re doing. You’re one of my regular stops.

  • John

    Sometime it comes down to the writers, sometimes to the editors (who should catch biases, but sometimes insert them on their own). Given the fast repoting on the new data numbers, I would point towards the writer’s bias in this case, though it is also interesting to see the reaction of people offended by such biases.
    Brit Hume on his Fox News show Thursday correctly pointed out an AP error in a story on George Tenet’s speech Thursday, in which the lead included the claim that Bush had said Iraq was an imminent threat. The AP attribution was played at the beginning of Hume’s report, but when he went onto his next story, about John Kerry’s alleged help to insurance company AIG in getting extra funds from Boston’s “Big Dig” project in exchange for campaign cash, the fact that it was an AP investigative report didn’t merit mention until the end of the story.

  • Insufficiently Sensitive

    The business of ‘meeting expectations’ is a blazing warning to the reader, because it is NEVER stated whose expectations they are, or how arrived at. The economic analysts at my local bar have all sorts of expectations, usually pretty much like those of the AP or Reuters: far higher than the real world justifies, but always expressing such sincere hopes for pie in the sky. Such exaggerated ‘expectations’, when unmet, are mainly useful as a basis for sneering at the Bush Administration. Biased media such as AP have a well-rehearsed staff of Expecters who produce the tactically required Expectorations of the day.

  • Sandy P.

    Econopundit.com is where I go. Yale’s fairmodel has been revised. (Right now, W will win a 2nd term w/60% of the vote.)
    Actually, I’m wondering if we’ll get the number of jobs we’re looking for. For the last couple of months, the blogosphere has been having a discussion on Labor v. household reporting. Labor doesn’t account for those who have left working for someone else and started their own businesses.
    There have been quite a few workers who have done this.
    The question is, tho, will they return to the job market or remain solo because they see an improvement in their business and want to keep at it?
    Plus, longer term, if there are more entrepreneurs, they are exposed to the burdenmsome tax/fee structure and how will this affect those in the future? More people wanting to keep their own money have a tendency to get involved. AND they’re now paying both side of SS, if they’re not getting paid in cash.
    One of the economic blogs I read had a list of partial taxes/fees a MN businessperson had to pay. It wasn’t pretty.

  • Greg

    I would say something similar to Wallstreet Journal. It was dissapointing, yet it seems to still be full steam ahead for employment.

  • Franky

    This is simply not a case of media bias. Let’s go through this. Reuters makes most of its money from reporting financial news. Do you think financial journalists (who, in my expeirence at Dow Joines and Bloomberg, are by the way normally more right-wing than the average person on economic matters) sit in a newsroom and decide to put their spin on the news which will go to traders, potentially jeopardising the credibility of their organization and therefore their own jobs (you think these hacks don’t know they’re immediately answerable to the traders they’re selling news?).
    I understand Jeff’s pointing out of the difference and it was interesting, but what I fear is that this is being jumped on and used as an excuse for more paranoid whinging about how the media is ganging up on poor old George.
    Regarding the post on “expectations”, now most of the time there will be some mention of where the “expectations” came from somewhere in the story, although for style purposes rarely in the lead. At Bloomberg we were forbidden from using the term without immeidately citing the source of the expectations

  • syn

    My brother, small business owner, recently needed to hire a web master for his business. The pay was fair, the hours were flexible, and the working environment was friendly.
    He only received five applications.
    From personal experience I am finding this whole unemployment thing a big con game perpetuated by people who never had any intention of working in the first place.

  • Randy

    Jeff – It seems to me that the WSJ lead confined itself to the facts (positive and negative) while the others strayed into conjecture or opinion.
    I’m capable of my own interpretation and happy to read (or ignore) some partisan interpretation on the editorial page, but I am weary of wading through paragraphs full of speculation posing as certainty, and conjecture about possible consequences masquerading as a given.
    The facts are as the WSJ reported them: More jobs but fewer jobs than surveys predicted, largest increase in three years coming after a tiny gain of 16,000 the prior month.
    You are a professional reporter. I am not. Do you disagree?

  • rivlax

    The mainstream press takes refuge from bias charges by claiming they are just “framing” issues to make them understandable to harried readers. Bushwa! The most common bias tool these days is the “In an effort to…” lede, such as “In an effort to deflect criticism, George Bush today…” Usually, stories with ledes that begin this way are not supported in any way whatsover in the story. More often than not, no one is actually quoted as saying this is what Bush is doing. Sometimes the mysterious “some” are paraphrased, such as, “Some say they are troubled that the president…” Who are these “some”? The truth too often is that they are the other reporters this particular reporter got drunk with the previous night. And still Poynter, E&P, Romenesko, Annenberg, et al, see, hear and speak no evil when it comes to left-wing media bias in the mainstream press. That’s why blogs are flourishing.

  • Sandy P.

    Via Rantburg, seems a disconnected view for some reason:
    The US economy strengthened considerably in December, leading the global economic recovery and leaving Europe and Japan behind, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said today. The upbeat assessment of the US economy from the OECD came just hours ahead of a meeting of finance ministers from the G7 group of leading industrialised countries, with the weakness of the dollar the prime subject of concern. “Moderate to strong recovery lies ahead in the OECD area,” the organisation said in a statement. “December data signal continued strong improvement in the United States but weaker development for Italy.”

  • Sandy P.

    Oh, yeah, and as Bill Hobbs says, “I blame the Bush tax cuts.” I think he was a journalist, Jeff. He’s in TN.
    Another interesting site, tho it might give anne the vapors.

  • Sandy P.

    And one other thing by a poster at rantburg:
    the gap between the household and the employer reports was even worse than usual this month — the imputed job increase based on the household survey was about 500k as opposed to the increase based on the employer report of about 100k.
    We’re smoking, not looking at the right indicators. Cut corp. taxes and get tort reform and this is very sustainable, plus easing our HC problem.

  • John

    Jeff, your discussion about the BLS survey of jobs missed the biggest point of all: there are two surveys of jobs, and the other survey, the household survey, which includes people working as contractors, showed an increase last month of almost half a million jobs. On the second page of the WaPo article you linked:
    * Some economists think hiring really is occurring in the economy, but it is not being reflected in the Labor Department’s monthly survey of business payrolls. In the separate survey of households, employment jumped by 496,000 last month.
    The household survey counts self-employed workers and contract workers, which are increasing. The survey of businesses does not.
    “They’re not recording the outside contractors – they’re not reflecting something that is tremendously fundamental now to the American corporate scene, and that’s outsourcing to outside contractors,” Mayland said.
    The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledged the continuing discrepancies, and said it is investigating.*
    Bear Stearns did some analysis which showed that we are now getting back to the ratio of household survey workers to BLS employment survey workers that we had for most of the last 30 years. In 1999, at the top of the “hire any warm body,” 3.9% unemployment boom, the hiring was more in the BLS survey. There is much more hiring now in the household survey, as we get back to the normal ratio of household survey to BLS survey jobs.

  • Jon H

    Wall Street Journal also has a selection of opinions from a bunch of economists.
    I wouldn’t say the consensus is positive. More like disappointed:
    “The number was very disappointing”
    “The level of job creation is well under expectations and certainly disappointing”
    “It is not disastrous news, but it is definitely disappointing.”
    ” This is the weakest job-creation rate relative to economic growth on record.”
    “Employment growth is gaining, but remains too soft to conclude the way is clear for sustainable growth into 2005.”
    There really aren’t any positive comments.
    But this is not inconsistent with being good news in the stock market. I’ve seen someone quoted who said that, to the stock market, the slow hiring is good because it means companies will be using productivity increases to generate profits, rather than adding staff.
    Also, the slow hiring means Greenspan won’t be raising rates anytime soon, which is another plus for the market.
    So I don’t think the negative spin was spin. It was a valid interpretation of the data.

  • Jon H

    Oh, btw, each quote in my comment above is from a different economist. It’s not a series of statements by one gloomy economist.

  • >From personal experience I am finding this whole unemployment thing a big con game perpetuated by people who never had any intention of working in the first place.
    The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough jobs for any American who wants one, it’s that higher paying factory jobs are being replaced with low paying retail jobs. Something like 15k factory jobs were lost last month and replaced with 75k retail jobs.
    Now, this alone is not such a big deal but when you add in the high rate of consumer debt it can spell out big trouble down the road.
    The economic recovery in the US is based on some very shaky fundamentals.

  • ed

    No offense to those people who think the household survey is great but …
    When people work as contractors they’re not necessarily raking in the big money. They might, in all probability are, working as contractors in construction. The only real gains in employment are in construction and the service sectors. Of these construction lends itself the easiest to self-employment.
    Frankly I’d be a LOT more suspicious of these statistics. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of controls, no real way to audit them and so the numbers could be really just made up.
    Additionally people have always tried the self-employment route in a down jobmarket. That’s generally because there’s nothing else to turn to. It’s a lot better response than having to admit that you’re a prole-on-the-dole and it may simply be a face saving response. Whether it’ll amount to anything or die a tragic death, who knows. But I figure there has to be limits on how much we can sell crap to each other on Ebay.
    In summary: The job market is crap. It was crap, is crap and will continue to be crap. In fact my prediction is that it will get even crappier. This economy is supposed to be creatign 300k-400k jobs per MONTH. Little over 100k is not all that wonderful. That might bring snow to your fairyland but does nothing for me. Especially when the previous month only added 16k and the last six months (from last August), according to the White House, only added 366k jobs. Not much of a dent into that there 2.4 million eh?
    btw I’m a conservative (sometimes) republican. Not a left-winger so get your insults and innuendos correct ok? :) I’m a right-wing jackass, not left.

  • ed

    “The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough jobs for any American who wants one, it’s that higher paying factory jobs are being replaced with low paying retail jobs. Something like 15k factory jobs were lost last month and replaced with 75k retail jobs.”
    Don’t forget the IT sector. IT has been shedding jobs like a cat does hair. It’s not, IMHO, all that great that $75k-$120k per year jobs are being offshored while $12k per years jobs are being created in their place.
    I don’t know why but it seems to be dificient in some way.

  • rivlax

    Wish they’d had blogs when all the buggy-whip manufacturers were being put out of work. Then people could have whined about the changing economy and how President William McKinley’s administration was ruining the horse economy.

  • Bryan C

    It’s definitely spin. I was also struck by the big difference in the quality of reporting between the lead paragraphs.
    The Reuters quote offers no context for the number at all, except the implication that it’s “disappointing” and worrisome for President Bush’s campaign.
    The AP version falls somewhere in the middle. Not as detailed as the WSJ (understandable) but still fairly informative.
    The WSJ presents the new number in context, shows the trend, explains exactly how the real number compares to the projected number, and tells me where the projected number came from. I had only a vague idea if 112,000 jobs was good or bad, now I’ve learned something.
    Yeah, I know this sort of thing is the WSJ’s bread-and-butter, but it really isn’t that hard to explain things up front. Is it?

  • Jim Coomes

    Divide and Concor!

  • Kozinski

    Bottom line is it was the best job creation number in 3 years. It’s hard to spin that as a negative. But many in the press will try because good economic news is bad news for the Dems. And the fact that it was under analysts expectations was a boost to the stock market.
    Its funny how the market goes in cycles in the way that it reacts to news. During the depths of a recession or early stage recovery when there is good economic news the market reacts positively, because, well its good news. During a middle stage recovery, the boom, and early recession the market reacts negatively to good news, because they’re afraid the Fed will raise interest rates.
    I guess we’ve reached the middle stage of the recovery.

  • Ed
    Pls explain your “2.4 Million” jobs “lost”.

  • Charlie

    Guys — re IT jobs and contracting. I was laid off from Sun two years ago; since then I’ve been making less money, but only working a week or two a month (I’m writing a book.) I’m getting about $1K a day, but as I understand it I’d be listed as a “discouraged worker” according to the payrolls survey.
    I also keep an informal count of the number of postings to the local job mailing lists. At this time, I’d say the jobs-offered postings are up 60-70 percent from six months ago, but they’re very often for contract work, not full time employment. (On the other hand, the jobs that list contract to full, or full time, are up a lot in the alst month.)
    I don’t know how to evaluate the general statistics, but I’m convincved the job market for IT is *lots* better than it was in June.

  • Yes, and you’d think one of the best and brightest lights of the blogosphere (that would be you, sir) would see the folly of taking “The paper of record” at face value!

  • Carolynn

    I read in the Miami Herald that about 449,000 new Sole Proprietorships have been formed as well )the time frame may not have been indicated…its not next to me, I can

  • Jon H

    Ed writes: “When people work as contractors they’re not necessarily raking in the big money. They might, in all probability are, working as contractors in construction.”
    Or in Real Estate. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story showing that the ranks of realtors have increased dramatically since 2000. Membership in the National Association of Realtors increased by about 250,000 members in that time.
    Great, right? Maybe not. Real estate agents only get paid on commission. No benefits. Expenses come out of your pocket. An agent isn’t an employee of the agency they work with.
    If someone’s running himself ragged trying to find clients and sell houses, he’s likely to report himself as ‘working’, even if he hasn’t made a cent yet as an agent.

  • Reid

    Robert MeClellan said:
    “The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough jobs for any American who wants one, it’s that higher paying factory jobs are being replaced with low paying retail jobs. Something like 15k factory jobs were lost last month and replaced with 75k retail jobs.
    Now, this alone is not such a big deal but when you add in the high rate of consumer debt it can spell out big trouble down the road. “
    I remember when the exact same claim was being made in the Reagan years. The job market may change but, the Democrats’ playbook never does.

  • C.S. Froning

    Based on purely anecdotal evidence, I’d say the economy has turned the corner here in Colorado, at least among tech/engineering jobs. The people I know who have been looking for 1-2 years with only a few interviews here and there are suddenly getting many interviews and job offers.
    From one tiny pocket of the American economy…