Good, bad, or indifferent: Media coverage stumbles over strong June jobs report

Mainstream and conservative outlets alike were at pains deciding whether a good monthly jobs report might actually be a bad thing

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a monthly jobs report for June that beat expectations and demonstrated steady job creation and wage growth across the country last month. With so much of their economic news primed for sensational coverage of inflation and gasoline prices, several outlets faltered in their reporting on this seemingly positive news. Mainstream outlets even adopted conservative framing in an attempt to put “an asterisk to this jobs report,” in coverage that strongly contrasted with their past record of giving better coverage to weaker jobs numbers during the Trump years.

It seemed as if the media had been banking on a genuinely difficult situation combining both inflation and weak jobs numbers. (We know for a fact that Fox News was betting on a bad jobs number.) But with continued strong job creation, many media outlets instead barely altered their scripts, promoting a simplistic and negative view of the U.S. economy instead of a more nuanced and overall positive one.

The Associated Press ran an article with an initially positive headline, “US employers add a solid 372,000 jobs in sign of resilience.” But the article’s lead paragraph, along with a tweet from the AP, depicted the economy in purely negative terms while predicting higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve.

The New York Times also claimed that the strong jobs number “may ease worries of an impending recession, but that also complicates the job of the Federal Reserve as it seeks to quell inflation.” The reality is arguably the opposite, when one considers that the strong jobs numbers should instead enable the Federal Reserve to have more confidence in the economy’s ability to withstand higher interest rates, as the AP had noted. (If the jobs numbers had been weak, combined with inflation, then the Fed’s job would have indeed been more complicated.)

The discussion on CNN Newsroom was not much better, even going so far as to admit that they really ought to be covering the jobs report as straightforward good news.

“It is sort of confusing. We live in this world where a good jobs report is almost bad,” proclaimed CNN anchor Erica Hill. “How does that work?”

In response, CNN business correspondent Rahel Solomon contended the “reason that we need an asterisk to this jobs report” was supposedly because of high demand for more workers, which was fueling further inflation.

“So, this is a jobs report that was certainly a lot hotter than most people expected,” Solomon concluded. “And at any other time, Erica, this would be a great jobs report. But in this environment, it makes the job of the Fed much harder.”

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Citation From the July 8, 2022, edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom.

Fox News also seemingly had an entire segment ready to go on talking down the economy, and simply proceeded ahead in spite of the good news.

Earlier in the morning, before the new BLS numbers were released, Fox News claimed that the White House was “bracing for” what was “expected to be an underwhelming” report showing “the weakest jobs growth since April 2021.”

When the numbers instead beat economists’ expectationsAmerica’s Newsroom co-anchor Bill Hemmer played a video clip from the previous day that was clearly intended to mock White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for saying the economy was strong. Hemmer cued it up by claiming that Jean-Pierre was “looking at what some consider to be an alternate reality,” despite the positive economic reality that was just announced.

Fox News correspondent Mark Meredith then read through political predictions of electoral peril for Democrats before quickly acknowledging the strong jobs numbers.

“While the latest jobs report will be seen at the White House as a sign of success, it only gives us one brief idea of where things stand with the economy,” Meredith said, in contrast to inflation numbers coming next week.

Hemmer then interviewed Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, who opined that “so many people are questioning how it is possible that we can generate 372,000 jobs even in potentially a recession, which is where we are potentially right now.” Bartiromo concluded the interview by brushing off these positive results and bizarrely predicting negative economic news to come.

“But we'll see if this is the last strong report that we see before evidence of a recession, Bill,” said Bartiromo. “Mixed story in my view.”

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Citation From the July 8, 2022, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom.

MSNBC’s Morning Joe did a better job at accentuating the positive news, but still approached the report as more of a political story than an economic one.

“People keep trying to push this economy into a recession, but it will not go quietly into that dark night,” host Joe Scarborough said, also noting multiple times during the discussion that the unemployment statistic was now only half the size it was when President Ronald Reagan was reelected on his “Morning in America” slogan.

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Citation From the July 8, 2022, edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe.

But after speaking briefly with CNBC correspondent Dominic Chu, Scarbought then turned to a discussion with Politico correspondent Eugene Daniels and MSNBC host Jonathan Lemire. Audiences would have benefited from more discussions with economics experts, rather than continued coverage of the new jobs numbers as part of the partisan horse race.

Gasoline and oil prices are declining. Job creation and wage growth are strong. The American economy is projected to grow faster over the next year than peers like France, Germany, or Japan, and even increased inflation in the U.S. is on par with other developed economies. Amid all of that, media outlets just don’t know how to handle good news.