This year the network news media provided a stunning example of the way they selectively report economic data depending on which political party is in office. Under Obama, the networks consistently found “hopeful” signs about the economy despite nearly 10 percent unemployment.
A look back at the last time unemployment was so high, in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan, and the networks were not so generous. In fact, reporters in 1982 focused on places where “desperation had turned to hopelessness.”
The unemployment rate reached 9.4 percent under Reagan and under Obama (twice), but received completely different treatment from the networks – and in one case from the same reporter.
Charles Gibson illustrated how dramatically different the network coverage of Reagan and Obama really were.
Gibson, who was a Capitol Hill correspondent for ABC in 1982, told viewers May 7, 1982, “[T]here really isn’t any good news in the statistics. All the numbers are bad.” He then quoted two Democratic attacks on Reagan including Rep. Henry S. Reuss, D-Wis., who charged that Reagan’s “policies aren’t just mistaken, they’re wicked.”
But as an ABC anchor in 2009, Gibson was full of hope. He introduced that night’s story saying “sometimes a bad jobs report can look good.”
“345,000 Americans lost their jobs in May, a big number to be sure. Traumatic if you are one of the 345,000. But the number was smaller than economists had predicted, and that’s good news,” Gibson said before admitting that the unemployment rate of 9.4 percent was “pretty bad.” Neither Gibson, nor reporter Betsy Stark mentioned President Obama at all that night.
On Aug. 7, 2009, Gibson suggested “the economy may be finally turning the corner.”
BMI found that network reports were 13 times more negative in their treatment of Reagan than Obama. In fact, 91 percent of stories (20 out of 22) mentioning Reagan’s administration portrayed it negatively – while only 7 percent (1 out of 15) of Obama administration mentions were negative. Obama was mentioned positively 87 percent of the time (13 out of 15). There was not a single positive mention of the Reagan White House.