No thorns in networks' rosy reporting on the economy

WASHINGTON — President Obama has had no better ally on the state of the American economy over the last six years than the nightly network news shows.

When the economic numbers have been terrible or just plain mediocre, the newscasts have often ignored or underplayed the larger human story of jobless people struggling to survive. When there has been periodically modest improvement, however brief, they’ve made it sound like the economy was roaring back.

You would be hard-pressed to find a major story on the network news over the last six years of Obama’s presidency that really dug into the troubles of the long-term unemployed or the part-time workers that have defined his economy — and still do.

There’s been a political cover-up about how anemic the job numbers have been, and more recently in the last year or so, it’s gotten worse. It’s not just about the numbers the networks report, but the numbers they don’t.

Let’s start with how the networks ecstatically promoted and whitewashed the Labor Department’s unemployment rate report for December.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the Obama economy produced 252,000 jobs last month and that the jobless rate plunged to 5.6 percent. That’s how NBC, CBS, and ABC ballyhooed the story. But there’s a lot more to the numbers that the networks didn’t want you to know.

The economy created an estimated 353,000 new jobs in November, so the real story should have reported that the number of jobs produced last month was 101,000 less than the previous month’s numbers.

And the fact that the unemployment rate fell was in large part due to thousands of discouraged, long-term jobless Americans giving up, telling the BLS they’ve stopped looking for work. Under its crazy rules, these workers are not counted as unemployed because they’re no longer actively looking for work, at least for the time being.

Moreover, a careful reading of the figures buried in the BLS report noted that nearly 7 million Americans in the new job count were part-timers who needed full-time work but couldn’t find it in Obama’s economy.

You didn’t hear any of this in the networks’ reporting on the numbers. Jobs are jobs, and they make no distinction in full or part-time. The rule among the networks is to keep it simple and shallow, and leave out anything that might undercut the story of a strengthening economy.

Most likely, you weren’t told that while more jobs were created, the nation’s total labor participation rate continued to shrink in December. A smaller labor force is a disturbing sign of a structurally weaker economy.

This week, CBS News anchor Scott Pelley was gushing over a BLS report on the number of job openings rising to 5 million last month. As he turned the story over to CBS economics and business correspondent Anthony Mason, Pelley said, “The job market is getting better and better.”

The BLS report was “the peg” for Mason’s story, but he didn’t really report much of what it contained — especially the numbers that suggested the job market wasn’t exactly soaring into record territory.

After leading with the 5 million job openings, the rest of his story dealt with a car salesman who obtained a better-paying job, and the Aetna insurance company boosting the pay of its employees.

Mason’s rah-rah business stories over the past several years have almost uniformly suggested the economy was on its way back, only to be followed by new disappointing data showing this was far from the case.

His story Tuesday night on the job openings report did not provide viewers with any of the BLS’ data that pointed to large numbers of worker layoffs and dismissals. Why confuse viewers with the bad stuff that just gets in the way of a pro-Obama economy story?

Among the passages in the BLS report that Mason did not bother to mention: “There were 1.6 million layoffs and discharges in November, little changed from October.”

The report — which counts job hires and “separations” — said there was actually only “a net employment gain of 2.7 million” over the course of a 12-month period.

Do a little division, and you find this comes out to a minuscule average monthly gain of 225,000 jobs. That’s hardly going to make a dent in a labor force of 160 million.

While the 5 million job openings in November sounds impressive, BLS also says, “There were 4.6 million total separations” that month (discharges, layoffs, people who quit). So the 5 million figure isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, which is why it drew little or no attention in the rest of the news media.

So without giving “CBS News” viewers much in the way of substantive, supporting numbers — and leaving out the negative data — Mason concludes that “wage pressures” are building in the economy. Huh?

The fact of the matter, widely reported throughout this dreadful Obama economy, is that wages remain largely flat. That hasn’t changed.

Here’s what University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici, who has studied these numbers very closely, has to say about the BLS report:

“Job openings are not rising, layoffs continue to top one and a half million, wages are stagnant. Still not a great job market.”

Other economists agree. “The bad news is that we are still digging our way out (of) the recession, and wage growth remains stagnant and untouched by recovery,” says Elise Gould, senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.

We’re seeing further evidence of the weakness in this economy that the big three broadcast news networks all too often play down or ignore altogether.

Retail sales posted their largest decline in 11 months in December. U.S. factories grew at their slowest pace in six months. The unemployment rate is being driven down by a shrinking labor market. The stock market’s tanking, hurting worker pensions. First-time homebuyers aren’t buying.

So the next time Scott Pelley tells you that things are getting better and better, don’t believe it. He’s pushing CBS’ agenda, not yours.