Networks Do a Poor Job
with Unemployment Coverage
Labor coverage evokes a depression, but
it’s more depressing than reality.
By Dan Gainor
The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow
Jan. 25, 2006
Â Â Â Â
Ford and now DaimlerChrysler are the latest companies to take the
layoff route to try and save their corporate skins. We watch our TVs
day after day as the numbers add up – 7,000, 20,000, 30,000 …
600,000 jobs lost. If you pay attention to the news, you might
believe American business is creating a giant soup line stretching
from Wall Street to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
Â Â Â Â Only that story is a fairy tale. Certainly, there have
been job losses. Autoworkers have been particularly hard hit, as
have residents of the Gulf areas savaged by Hurricane Katrina. But
the real story of American employment in 2005 wasn’t a depression,
it was good news – news often ignored or disregarded by the very
media supposed to report it.
Â Â Â Â Two million new jobs were created in 2005. More than
4.6 million have been added since May 2003 – 31 straight months of
positive job growth. Unemployment dropped down to 4.9 percent, lower
than the average of all three recent decades.
Â Â Â Â That wasn’t the way the jobs engine was described on
the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news shows in 2005. The broadcast
networks downplayed strong growth and, instead, emphasized things
like corporate layoffs and outsourcing in slightly more than half of
the employment stories.
Â Â Â Â As Trish Regan of “CBS Evening News” phrased it in the
July 20 broadcast, “Twenty-five thousand layoffs and more on the
way. I’m Trish Regan with why the jobs picture is looking very
‘pink’ these days.” Her comments ignored the fact that less than two
weeks earlier the government had reported an increase of 146,000
jobs. And that number already took into account the jobs that had
Â Â Â Â But perception is a powerful thing. Imagine what
ordinary workers think when they see that half of the evening news
stories on jobs were about job losses – government cutbacks,
outsourcing, downsizing, you name it. By comparison, only a bit more
than a third were stories about jobs being added.
Â Â Â Â Those “good news” stories weren’t as good as they
should have been, either, because the evening news ignored the
monthly revisions in the employment report. In 2005, most of the
monthly changes added jobs – 283,000 in all. So network news skipped
more than a quarter million jobs – except those few times that they
mentioned cumulative totals. This was especially important because
September’s initial post-Katrina job numbers were negative and
that’s how they were reported. When the Labor Department revised
them upward later, none of the three networks mentioned it.
Â Â Â Â These findings come from an analysis by the Media
Research Center’s Business & Media Institute, which studied 151 employment
stories on the 2005 evening news shows from all three broadcast
networks – ABC, CBS and NBC.
Â Â Â Â They were incredibly consistent. Pick a major issue
related to jobs, and the shows tried to find a downside. Take the
auto industry as one example. Toyota and Honda aren’t hurting, but
that barely gets noticed. In a June 5 report, CBS’s Mika Brzezinski
delivered a typical network good news/bad news story about the auto
industry. She mentioned two car plants – one opening and one
closing. The new facility was mentioned just once, but the one
closing down was the focus of the rest of the lengthy report.
Â Â Â Â Then there was the massive devastation of Katrina.
Experts first predicted a loss of 500,000 jobs and a huge hit to the
economy. The results were staggering in a different way. The economy
barely missed a beat and most of those who had lost jobs in the Gulf
soon found work elsewhere.
Â Â Â Â The evening news shows didn’t seem to notice and spewed
more than their fair share of Katrina job loss stories. A Jan. 23,
2006, article from The Birmingham News showed what the networks had
ignored – many of that city’s new residents had found jobs and
decided to stay.
Â Â Â Â Underlying this reporting is the false belief that
150,000 is the magic number of new jobs needed each month. Any month
that didn’t reach that mark was declared a failure. However,
according to a paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the
actual number is about 98,000 jobs per month, almost 70,000 fewer
than the economy averaged in 2005.
Â Â Â Â President Bush’s State of the Union address on January
31 will place those economic results under fresh scrutiny. It is
essential to separate the success from the network spin – what
Heritage Foundation economist Tim Kane labeled “unfulfilled promises
Â Â Â Â If the media want to keep up that image of doom, even
depression, then it’s up to us to demand a new deal instead of the
raw one we’ve been getting from network news.
Dan Gainor is a career journalist and The Boone Pickens Free
Market Fellow. He is also director of the Media Research Center’s
Business & Media Institute