The research consistently cited by media figures to support cutting government spending has recently been invalidated, raising questions about how mainstream coverage of economic policy promoted incorrect data.
In January 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff released a study that suggested when countries reach debt levels of 90 percent relative to GDP, economic growth would be compromised. Conservatives in politics and media alike repeatedly cited the figure in discussions about the economy.
A study released on April 16, however, found that the conclusions reached by Reinhart and Rogoff were based on data that was riddled with errors. Reinhart and Rogoff's response to the critique -- in which they maintain they never implied that rising debt caused lower growth, just that the two were associated -- shows that media's handling of the figure was wrong all along.
These new developments show that media consistently used an apparently incorrect figure for the past few years to call for austerity measures. Here's a look back at how major cable networks cited the figure in its coverage of the budget and economic policy:
Video by Alan Pyke.
MSNBC's Morning Joe selectively edited comments Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gave in 2002 to assert that she was "beating the drums of war" in the run up to the Iraq war, but the highlighted comments come from a speech in which Pelosi urged Congress to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
During Morning Joe's coverage of the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq war, co-host Mika Brzezinski introduced a prepared video montage on how "it was a lot easier for some members of Congress to support the conflict before they were against it." Co-host Joe Scarborough provided the voice-over in the video, and claimed it showed how "the very same people who spent years beating up George Bush were the very ones beating the drum for Iraq's regime change and Saddam Hussein's ouster."
The video juxtaposes comments made by members of Congress purportedly "beating the drum for Iraq's regime change," against later comments by the same members of Congress criticizing President Bush over the war. One of the voices Scarborough highlights is Pelosi, shown in the video saying:
I applaud the President on focusing on this issue and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein.
But contrary to what Morning Joe implied, these comments come from a floor speech Pelosi gave in 2002 opposing the Iraq war, arguing that it would weaken the country by diverting resources from the war on terror (portion MSNBC aired in bold):
I come to this debate, Mr. Speaker, at the end of 10 years of service on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was one of my top priorities. I applaud the President's focusing on this issue, and on taking the lead to disarm Saddam Hussein.
It is from the perspective of 10 years on the Intelligence Committee that I rise in opposition to this resolution on national security grounds. The clear and present danger that our country faces is terrorism. I say flat out that unilateral use of force without first exhausting every diplomatic remedy and other remedies and making a case to the American people will be harmful to our war on terrorism.
Pelosi concluded her speech by urging her House colleagues to vote "No" on the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, as she did.
UPDATE: On the March 20th edition of Morning Joe, the hosts issued a correction and apologized for the mistake, showing the clip of Rep. Pelosi in full context and acknowledging her opposition to authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman will appear on PBS' Charlie Rose on March 4, following weeks of their high-profile dispute over the proper policy response to two competing problems: historically high unemployment and historically high public debt.
After Scarborough hosted Krugman on the January 28 edition of Morning Joe, he wrote an op-ed for Politico that characterized Krugman as a solitary dovish voice on near-term debt. Over the ensuing weeks, the two sniped at one another, with Scarborough continuing his effort to marginalize Krugman, misrepresenting Krugman's colleagues in the process.
Both economic data and the consensus among economists support Krugman's side of the debate. Still, Scarborough has labeled the economist a 'debt denier,' and deflected fact-based criticism with jokes about "bloggers eating Cheetos" and "skewed graphs liberals make up on their mom's PowerPoint." Given that their debate has at times produced more heat than light, here are five things that host Charlie Rose must take care to include in his show tonight:
1. Debt Levels Are Stable For The Coming Decade.
The Congressional Budget Office says that the ratio of public debt to GDP will hold steady through the coming ten years, even without changes to current law:
The stable near-term debt outlook undermines the common claim of a "debt crisis" that requires immediate austerity.
2. Austerity Is Already Placing An Enormous Drag On Economic Growth.
Government consumption and investment has decreased nearly 5 percent over the past two years. Cuts have shrunk the public sector by a net 712,000 jobs not since the recession began, but since it ended in mid-2009. And the macroeconomic data are clear: the government's declining consumption is a drag on GDP growth.
3. A Wide Range Of Economists Agree With Krugman That Short-Term Deficits Are Not A Priority With Economic Output Lagging.
Scarborough's January op-ed in Politico claimed that "almost all mainstream economists" disagree with Krugman; this is not true, and an accurate representation of expert opinion would improve the conversation.
As Media Matters has shown, it is not just center and center-left economists like Richard Koo, Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker, Henry Aaron, Alan Blinder and Larry Summers who agree with Krugman that short-term deficit reduction is a bad idea with economic output so far behind its potential. It's also John Makin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, The Wall Street Journal's Rex Nutting, former Reagan budget adviser Bruce Bartlett, and others who Scarborough might count as natural allies. Makin's prescription for how we ought to run large deficits is anathema to progressives, of course, but economists across the spectrum agree that we can and should float just a few more years of large deficits, in order to grow the economy.
4. Economists Say The Best Way To Solve Long-Term Debt Issues Is To Invest In Growth Now, While Borrowing Is Cheap.
Economic growth is the key to managing the debt. It is unusually cheap for the government to borrow money right now to finance such growth -- in some cases interest rates are negative, meaning the markets are basically paying us to borrow from them. The CBO finds economic output is $1 trillion behind what it should be, which is why so many economists take Krugman's side in calling for fiscal stimulus. The first CBO report to account for the "fiscal cliff" tax deal reinforced this position, as Nutting wrote in The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch: "the CBO gently hinted that the government should run higher deficits for the next four years to boost economic growth and job creation, and then start reducing the deficit in earnest in 2017 when the economy is fully healed." Any conversation about fiscal policy that fails to note these facts is inherently misrepresentative.
5. President Obama And Congress Have Already Enacted $2.4 Trillion In Deficit Reduction Since The Start Of FY2011.
Although Scarborough blamed "a Keynesian spending spree" for a slowdown in economic growth late last year, the reality is that the President and Congress have passed laws that reduce deficits by approximately $2,400,000,000,000 over the 10-year budget window.
The media frequently fail to acknowledge existing deficit reduction, but it is real and it is important to the ongoing conversation about fiscal policy.
From the March 2 edition of SiriusXM's Media Matters Radio:
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Joe Scarborough dishonestly cited Princeton economist Alan Blinder to bolster his campaign to undermine Nobel laureate Paul Krugman and accuse Democrats of being anti-math.
Scarborough has been engaged in a rhetorical assault on Krugman ever since the New York Times columnist appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe and called on lawmakers to focus on economic growth and job creation in the short-term, pivoting to long-term deficits only after the economy is stronger. Scarborough has spent weeks mocking Krugman, comparing him to National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre and calling Krugman a deficit denier.
In a February 15 Politico column, Scarborough turned his attention to "bloggers," who he said were "mixing up the most basic concepts of economics" in order to back Krugman. Scarborough took particular offense at what he called "a fabulously misleading Business Insider post that claimed to list 11 economists who shared Krugman's debt-denying views." Scarbough continued:
Never mind the fact that most of the links provided actually undercut Krugman's reckless position and supported my view that the most pressing fiscal crisis is not next year's deficit but next decade's debt.
Blinder, a former Fed vice chairman and Princeton economics professor, warned of "truly horrific problems" caused by long-term debt, health care costs and interest on the debt. Paul Krugman's Princeton colleague even shared my conclusion that the coming Medicare crisis will be so great that Democrats won't be able to tax their way out of it.
Far from supporting Mr. Krugman's extreme position, the link to Professor Blinder's New Yorker article undercuts his Princeton colleague's exaggerated "In-the-end-we'll-all-be-dead" approach to U.S. long-term debt.
It is intellectually dishonest for Scarborough to cite Blinder as a fellow traveler.
Here's what Blinder wrote in the Atlantic piece that Business Insider cited (Scarborough incorrectly sourced the column to The New Yorker):
In plain English, the costs of everything on which the federal government spends money except health care and interest -- and that includes Social Security, defense, you name it -- are projected to fall over time as a share of GDP. The message is clear: America doesn't have a generalized spending problem that requires severe cuts across the board. We have, instead, a massive problem of exploding health care costs.
This is the analysis Scarborough claims totally backs him on long-term debt.
But here's what Scarborough had to say earlier this week taking on what he calls the "debt deniers" with their supposed inability to grasp the seriousness of the country's spending problem:
I think we found like 3 or 4 people in America who think we don't have a spending problem, and they're just writing in circles. But as I said yesterday, Josh, it's funny watching this, because, Josh, I said, you got Republicans who don't believe in science, you got some liberals that don't believe in math. Both ways, not good.
But most Americans understand, when you run trillion-dollar deficits for four years, you probably have a spending problem.
Scarborough's problem is that one of the people in America who says we don't have a spending problem is Alan Blinder.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough blamed "a Keynesian spending spree" for the contraction in GDP at the end of 2012, while holding evidence that the opposite is true in his hands. Scarborough's claims fit into his ongoing effort to deny and marginalize demand-side economic policies which continue to enjoy broad support from trained economists.
During a discussion of the 2012 fourth quarter GDP report on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Scarborough implied that the 0.1 percent drop in output was due to government spending since the recession. From Morning Joe:
Scarborough's claim is contradicted by the Wall Street Journal article he held up during the segment, which states that "government spending, which has been a drag on growth for more than two years, declined for the ninth time in 10 quarters." The article's subhead - "GDP Shrinks 0.1% on Government Cuts, but Consumer, Business Spending Offer Hope" - also splashed across the screen moments before Scarborough made his argument.
The Wall Street Journal's reporting is in line with the latest Bureau of Economic Analysis report. The BEA calculates the component parts of the GDP figure for each quarter. This most recent report is notable not because the government spending component of GDP continues to be negative due to shrinking direct spending into the economy, but because, for the first time in the recovery, the government component of GDP was so negative that it overwhelmed the positivity in other components.
Washington Post policy blogger Ezra Klein lays out this chart:
From the January 30 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Right-wing media figures opposed to the Pentagon permitting women to serve in combat roles attacked the decision by pointing to sex-segregated sports teams. But military research has shown that women are capable of serving in combat, and the decision has the support of major political and military figures.
From the January 16 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough strongly criticized a recent National Rifle Association advertisement that politicized the security of President Obama's children.
The NRA ad called Obama an "elitist hypocrite" for allowing for his children to be guarded by armed Secret Service agents while not immediately endorsing the NRA's call for armed guards in every school.
Scarborough, who as a Congressman was a strong supporter of the NRA, responded to the ad, asking "what's wrong with these people?" He continued, pointing out that once Obama decided to run for president, his children "have targets on their backs." Scarborough also said that the NRA is now a "fringe organization with millions of mainstream members." He concluded by saying the ad was "frightening and over the line."
From the January 14 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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In response to a compromise on tax policy, conservative media are again comparing the United States to Greece. According to right-wing logic, the deal brings America even closer to the violence and discord in Greece, Italy, Ireland, France, and just about every European country whose citizens have protested austerity measures.
Of course, conservative media figures have spent at least three years ringing this same alarm. Economic experts have spent just as much time dismissing this panicked comparison, but to little avail. This Media Matters video, drawing on three years of television coverage of deficits and spending, shows the prevalence and longevity of the Greece talking point:
From the December 21 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the December 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the December 10 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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