Analysis as cheerleading: a day in the life of the "FOX All-Stars"

››› ››› GABE WILDAU

On the August 6 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, the "FOX All-Star Panel" attempted to put the best possible spin on disappointing job numbers for July, discussing the new data using almost the same language as the Bush administration and the Republican National Committee (RNC). The panel, led by FOX News senior White House correspondent Jim Angle (filling in for Hume as host), consisted of three avowedly conservative pundits with a history of misinformation: Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, and syndicated Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer.

The just-released Labor Department data showing 32,000 new jobs in July, was widely regarded as a disappointment relative to economists' expectations. ("Markets had expected 228,000 new jobs in July, according to a Reuters poll.") But the FOX All-Stars offered an "analysis" that closely mirrored the RNC script.

What the FOX All-Star said:

"The underlying economic numbers are pretty good if you looked at manufacturing numbers, service jobs, auto sales rate of growth." (Kristol, Special Report, 8/6/04)

What the Bush administration said:

"The underlying economy, if you look at all the data put together, still looks like it's going in the right direction." (N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, quoted in The New York Times, 8/7/04)

What the FOX All-Star said:

"And I don't think people decide how they feel economically just on one month either. They will decide cumulatively." (Barnes, Special Report, 8/6/04)

What the RNC said:

"The economy has posted job gains for each of the last eleven months -- creating 1.5 million jobs since August 2003, including 32,000 new jobs in July according to payroll survey statistics released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)." (RNC Fact Sheet, 8/6/04)

What the FOX All-Star said:

"And you know, we have things going on like the longest stretch of economic -- of manufacturing growth in 30 years." (Barnes, Special Report, 8/6/04)

What the RNC said:

"The manufacturing sector, which started to decline in mid-2000, has added 91,000 jobs since its low in January." (RNC Fact Sheet, 8/6/04)

What the FOX All-Star said:

"Of course, you know, the Household Survey, which actually covers the self-employed, grew at nearly 700,000 jobs in July." (Barnes, Special Report, 8/6/04)

What the RNC said:

"The BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] also released new household survey data showing a much larger gain of 629,000 new jobs in July, with a total of 2.3 million jobs added since August 2003." (RNC Fact Sheet, 8/6/04) (In his August 10 column in The New York Times, Paul Krugman noted how the Bush administration is touting July's household survey data because last month's numbers are favorable but ignores the highly erratic measure when the numbers are not.)

Bonus FOX spin:

"So the numbers today, not that encouraging for the Bush campaign, Bill; but perhaps more significant politically than economically." (Angle, Special Report, 8/6/04)

"[A] little cloud passing over here." (Angle, Special Report, 8/6/04)

"What's really odd is the incredible attention to one number in this election year, which is job creation. You know, I don't remember that being ever the case. What you normally would talk about, when you are talking about employment and unemployment, is the rate. That's the national rate, and the rate is good." (Krauthammer, Special Report, 8/6/04)

The All-Stars eventually dropped the pretense that they were speaking as independent commentators. Angle narrated as a Bush-Cheney '04 graphic appeared on the screen. The chart, which compared selected economic indicators for January 1996 through July 1996 with the same months in 2004, was designed to show that the present election-year economy is comparable to the economy that former President Bill Clinton touted during his 1996 reelection bid.

As the chart appeared on the screen, Angle explained its findings:

ANGLE: Well, clearly the Democrats were jumping on this today, saying it's proof positive that the president's economic policies aren't working. The Bush-Cheney campaign came back and said, "Well, let's look back in 1996 when the last president was running for reelection, and at the same month." And they looked back over January to July.

[explaining the onscreen chart of economic data] The number of manufacturing jobs created under Bill Clinton, while he was running for reelection, minus 8,000 [in 1996], plus 81,000 this year. Unemployment rate 5.5 percent in both administrations. Average growth in the economy, 4 percent under Bill Clinton, 4.8 percent [under Bush].

[On-screen graphic shows Gene Sperling praising the economy in a May 4, 1996, Washington Post article, with the source again identified as Bush-Cheney '04; the 1996 Sperling quote also appeared in an August 9 RNC Research Briefing.] Interestingly, at the time, Gene Sperling, one of President Clinton's economic advisers, had said that those numbers -- "the combination of the economic numbers was good for us." He now says [reading Sperling's remarks from CNBC's Squawk Box, 8/6/04], "This is bad news," today, "This is bad news for American workers. Very disappointing, very anemic job numbers; not only are we not turning the corner on jobs, it is not even clear we are headed in the right direction." So...

BARNES: You're not suggesting that Gene Sperling is a hypocrite here, are you?

[laughter]

BARNES: That he has some partisan angle on the economy?

What Angle failed to mention (possibly because he had taken Sperling's 1996 quotation directly from a Bush-Cheney '04 memo, not from the original Post article) is that the economic data that Sperling characterized as "good news for us" included more than just the three stats (manufacturing job growth, unemployment rate, and average GDP growth) on the Bush-Cheney comparison chart. According to the 1996 Post article that quoted Sperling, "Wages are rising at their fastest pace in five years, consumer confidence is soaring, and business and consumer spending has fueled an unexpectedly strong burst of economic growth."

By contrast, Bloomberg reported on August 6 that consumer spending fell in June and income growth decreased to 0.2 percent, compared with 0.6 percent the previous months. While consumer confidence is robust, average hourly earnings rose only 1.4 percent between January 2004 and July 2004, compared with 1.6 percent during the same months in 1996 (according to data from the Labor Department's establishment survey).

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