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Since his election, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed credit for private businesses’ decisions to invest in the United States. His flimsy and misleading boasts have been routinely amplified by compliant media outlets before the claims eventually collapse under scrutiny. Yet the response from mainstream journalists to the president’s latest jobs boast seems to indicate that perhaps some outlets have “caught on” to Trump’s exaggerated pronouncements and have stopped taking them at face value.
On March 27, The Detroit News broke the news that the Ford Motor Co. has announced an investment of “$1.2 billion in three Michigan facilities” and that most of the investment was brokered in 2015 as part of the company’s contract with the United Auto Workers union. Roughly $350 million of that total investment represents new money, but Ford is expected to “add or retain” only 130 jobs -- a marginal amount compared to the 201,000 people the company employs worldwide.
Trump moved early the next day to take credit, tweeting that Ford would announce an investment “in three Michigan plants” and that “car companies [are] coming back to the U.S.” before concluding, “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!” Later in the day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer pointed to the Ford announcement as proof that “the president’s economic agenda is what American businesses have been waiting for.”
Big announcement by Ford today. Major investment to be made in three Michigan plants. Car companies coming back to U.S. JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2017
In the past few months, Media Matters has chronicled dozens of occasions when outlets stumbled over themselves to credit Trump for creating new American jobs based on his misleading claims of playing a role in private sector business decisions that he had little to do with. (See: Alibaba, Carrier, Ford, SoftBank.)
Trump’s tweet about Ford seemed poised to inspire more of the same media fawning, but journalists who covered the news largely downplayed Trump’s role rather than falling for his boast. The Washington Post, USA Today, Bloomberg, and Reuters all reported that the majority of the Ford investment plan far predated the Trump administration and was part of the company’s long-term restructuring plan for its American factories.
New York Times columnist and MSNBC contributor Steven Rattner noted that “The big news ended up being only 130 jobs” and asked of the president, “When will he stop misleading [people]?” CNBC reporter Jacob Pramuk reported that the “White House on Tuesday promoted a Ford investment in American plants” even though “most of [the money] was part of a plan the automaker first announced in 2015.” Vox senior correspondent Matt Yglesias highlighted that CNBC article on Twitter and commented that reporters were “catching on” to Trump’s game. Washington Post reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee pointed out that the Ford investment “had nothing to do [with] Trump’s election.” Meanwhile, New York Times correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum mocked Trump by writing that the president’s tweet contained “three more exclamation points … than the number of new jobs that Ford created today.” In his write-up of Trump’s announcement, CNNMoney senior writer Chris Isidore added that “Ford isn't bringing any work back to the United States from Mexico, or any other foreign country” -- a blow to Trump’s claim that automakers are “coming back to the U.S.”
In contrast to the sober reporting from mainstream media, right-wing outlets that are aligned with Trump continued to promote his unsubstantiated role in creating jobs for American workers. The “alt-right” website Breitbart.com promoted the Ford story under the banner “TRUMP JOBS BOOM CONTINUES” while the sycophants at Fox News called the investment deal “another win for American workers” and Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy hyped the investment plan by stating, “Oh, it’s so much winning.” From the March 28 edition of Fox & Friends:
As the White House has become embroiled in scandal and legislative failure, Trump has flooded the news cycle with lies far more outrageous than his attempt to take credit for jobs he didn’t create. Journalists, therefore, still need to be mindful of the administration’s attempts to build up the myth of Trump as a unique dealmaker and economic leader.
For over seven years, right-wing media have launched an assault on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- a law that has yielded great gains in the economy and public health, especially for the most vulnerable -- pushing multiple myths and false claims about the law. On the law’s seventh anniversary, Republicans hoped to repeal the ACA and pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which contains a wish list of harmful conservative media-backed policies.
Right-Wing Media Sycophants Are Apparently Done Nitpicking The Monthly Jobs Data Now That Trump Is President
Right-wing media reacted with predictable enthusiasm to a better-than-expected February 2017 jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which they attributed to President Donald Trump’s unique leadership. In reality, the economy is currently enjoying a 77-month streak of job creation that began under President Barack Obama -- whom the same outlets routinely blasted for leading a sluggish economic recovery.
On March 10, the BLS released its monthly jobs report for February 2017 showing that the economy added approximately 235,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained little changed at 4.7 percent. After accounting for minor upward revisions to data from December and January, the economy has produced an average of 209,000 jobs per month over the past three months.
As Politico’s chief economics correspondent, Ben White, pointed out, the positive report is “a continuation of a good, long trend” and shouldn’t be attributed directly to Trump. White also noted that it is hard to see a “Trump bump” in the February jobs data, which look “nearly identical” to those of February reports from the past two years. Economist Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) explained this phenomenon at greater length in a March 10 blog, pointing out that Trump “inherited an economy that was already making steady progress towards full employment”:
Today’s jobs report, which showed the economy adding 235,000 jobs in February, is notable for being the first BLS report of the Trump administration. It may be tempting for today’s policymakers to claim credit for this solid employment growth, but credit is only truly deserved when the economy grows faster than expected. It’s important to remember that President Trump inherited an economy that was already making steady progress towards full employment.
The jobs data are certainly strong -- and they undermine Trump’s claim that he inherited a “mess” from his predecessor -- but not everything in the report was good news. Bloomberg financial columnist Conor Sen pointed out that the February report showed a drop in employment for workers without a high school diploma, and University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson noted that labor force participation for men actually declined slightly while participation rates for women increased.
These measured responses from expert journalists and professional economists were not echoed by Trump’s cohort of right-wing media devotees, who trumpeted the jobs report as a major victory for the administration. Under a headline proclaiming that the American economy was “GREAT AGAIN!” Breitbart economic editor John Carney -- who was hired to shepherd the fringe website out of the alt-right fever swamp -- absurdly claimed that job creation last month was “jaw-dropping” and that the “jobs market is sizzling.” On Twitter, the right-wing Drudge Report also proclaimed the report showed America was “GREAT AGAIN.” On Fox Business’ Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney stated that we could be witnessing a “Trump expansion” after 77 months of job creation -- 76 of which predate Trump:
On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, the co-hosts joined Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich in lauding the report. Co-host Pete Hegseth stated that Trump is simply “winning everywhere” while Gingrich suggested that “you're seeing the beginnings, I emphasize ‘beginnings,’ of a potential Trump Economic Era”:
Media Matters pointed out last month how quickly Fox News had shifted from nitpicking the jobs reports to lauding them after Trump’s inauguration -- so quickly, in fact, that the network incorrectly credited a January expansion to the new president. New York Times reporter Sopan Deb mocked Trump and his right-wing allies for suddenly embracing positive jobs data that they spread conspiracy theories about just months ago, while New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait questioned why no outlets were reporting the more than 90 million people who are currently out of the labor market -- a favorite right-wing media misrepresentation during the Obama administration. As FiveThirtyEight chief economic writer Ben Casselman pointed out, no president deserves singular credit for monthly job creation in the vast American economy.
President Donald Trump immediately retweeted right-wing media praise for a strong February 2017 jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which showed above-average job creation and a steady unemployment rate last month. Trump’s willingness to embrace the BLS monthly jobs report is at odds with his past approach -- at least over the last four years -- of slamming the number as “phony” and as merely a political tool of the Obama administration.
Trump’s Misleading Carrier Deal Was A Dominant Narrative During 2016 Coverage Of The Job Market
Media Matters research for the fourth quarter of the year found that broadcast evening news fixated on then President-elect Donald Trump’s misleading announcement that he was responsible for saving hundreds of jobs at an American manufacturer while largely ignoring the roughly 2.1 million jobs gained by the U.S. economy in 2016.
Television news fawned over Trump’s late-November participation in negotiations between state authorities and Indiana-based appliance manufacturer Carrier in which the company decided to move only half of its jobs to Mexico in exchange for tax subsidies. The same outlets continued to fall head over heels for Trump when he misleadingly declared on December 6 that he had brokered a deal with Japanese technology giant SoftBank to create “50,000 new jobs” in the United States. Some journalists were quick to point out that the media may be getting “bamboozled by these announcements,” and the Carrier deal was blasted as nothing more than “crony capitalism” -- a concept that even Sarah Palin understood.
New research from Media Matters revealed that overall coverage of the economy during the fourth quarter of the year spiked after Election Day, in large part driven not by consistently positive economic indicators or discussions of the future of health care reform, but by Trump’s self-serving boasts about his alleged role as a job creator. Of the 275 qualifying economic news segments aired by cable and broadcast programs from October through December, 56 featured a significant discussion of Trump’s supposed deal making with Carrier and Softbank. The media obsession with Trump’s Carrier and Softbank announcements accounted for an absurd 47 percent of evening news segments on the economy for the final 32 days of 2016.
Television news obsessed over Trump’s claims of saving 700 jobs at one plant and practically ignored the roughly 2.1 million jobs that had been created in 2016 as part the longest stretch of job growth on record. Media Matters identified 119 segments on the economy -- some discussing more than one issue -- from November 30 through December 31; of those, 56 discussed deals supposedly brokered by Trump to save or create jobs via Carrier and Softbank. Broadcast and cable evening news coverage of these deals eclipsed all other economic reporting during this time frame: 41 segments discussed tax policy, 30 segments discussed all other news surrounding economic growth or job creation, 26 segments focused on health care policy, 18 segments explored minimum wage policies, and 16 segments discussed economic inequality.
Media all but ignored the big picture by staying so focused on Trump’s pronouncements, falling prey to what ThinkProgress editor-in-chief Judd Legum described as Trump’s “formula for manipulating the public.” News outlets have repeatedly learned the hard way not to trust Trump’s proclamations and “nonsense” supply-side economic proposals. Yet television news still gives Trump an exhaustive amount of attention -- the same type of attention that research found played a role in Trump’s political rise. Now, it could influence public perception of his presidency.
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Representation Of Economists Remained High In Fourth Quarter As Surprising Election Result Forced Outlets To Scramble For Explanations
The final quarter of 2016 saw an increase in cable and broadcast news coverage of the economy from the prior three-month period. Yet the proportion of economic coverage that focused on economic inequality decreased sharply as attacks on progressive economic policies rose. Fox News led the charge in attacking progressive policies and health care reform throughout the fourth quarter of the year, while the leading defender of progressive initiatives, MSNBC, aired most of its economic coverage after Election Day. The relative proportion of economists booked as guests during economic news segments remained higher than in years past but dropped as a percentage from the third to fourth quarters of 2016. The proportional representation of women in cable and broadcast evening news discussions of the economy reached a record, but dispiriting, high in the fourth quarter at a mere 30 percent of all guests.
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Discredited economic pundit and former Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore -- who currently serves as the “chief economist” at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation -- bombarded CNN viewers with debunked right-wing media talking points about the American economy last night. Moore’s prominent role as CNN’s new “senior economics analyst” hinders the network’s credibility, undermining its ability to cover the economy in an honest and accountable way.
During a February 28 panel discussion analyzing President Donald Trump’s speech before a joint session of Congress, Moore sparred with fellow panelists in an attempt to defend Trump’s reckless budgetary, economic, and fiscal policies. Across a spectrum of issues relating to economic growth, job creation, taxes, and regulations, Moore pushed tired and disproven myths pulled directly from right-wing media.
When pressed on how Trump could increase spending while cutting taxes for corporations and high income earners without ballooning the deficit, Moore regurgitated the absurd fallacy that tax cuts would pay for themselves by stoking economic growth to at least 3.5 percent annually. Economist Marc Goldwein of the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget dismissed the 3.5 percent growth target as “pie in the sky” and “pretty much impossible” during the presidential campaign. There is a mountain of evidence from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the Brookings Institution, and elsewhere demonstrating that tax cuts don’t generate new revenue through economic growth. Furthermore, economists across the political spectrum view Trump’s proposed restrictions on immigration and international trade as a detriment to economic growth regardless of tax policy shifts.
Moore’s assertion that the economy can achieve 3.5 percent annual growth isn’t just wrong on the arithmetic, it’s also arbitrary. Former presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) were chided by economists and experts for floating similar targets, and the fixation on getting economic growth above 3 percent was a core of Fox News’ misinformation campaign against the Obama administration. (Last October, Moore told Fox Business viewers that stronger-than-expected economic growth in the prior quarter was “still pretty lousy” simply because it was measured at 2.9 percent instead of 3.)
After falsely claiming that Trump could stoke economic growth by following a tax cut strategy supposedly modeled after former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Moore pushed the misleading notion that regulatory burdens are holding the economy back. This claim, popularized by the right-wing editorial board of The Wall Street Journal (a former employer of Moore’s), is also not backed up by the facts.
After being rebuffed on regulations, Moore tried another right-wing media myth: that it has been “15 years since the average American worker has had a pay raise.” Fox News has spent years blaming President Barack Obama for supposedly stagnant median incomes in the United States, always neglecting to mention that the stagnation began under President George W. Bush and was driven into free fall by the recession Obama inherited. Median incomes are lower than they were 15 years ago thanks to two Bush-era recessions but had gradually improved during Obama’s final years in office -- a fact absent from right-wing coverage of the subject.
Moore concluded his embarrassing performance by recycling false right-wing media talking points blaming environmental protections for declining employment in the coal industry. The fallacy that protecting the environment is killing jobs in the energy sector is so unsubstantiated that even conservative Forbes columnist Tim Worstall has rebuffed it. A recent study from the Brookings Institution concluded that the overwhelming reason for declining employment in the mining and manufacturing industries is automation, a trend that “has been eating coal jobs over a long period of time -- [since] years before concerns about climate change” stiffened environmental protections. Right-wing pundits, including Moore, love to exaggerate the threat of automation while opposing the minimum wage. They rarely mention that machines, not burdensome regulations, are driving well-paid blue collar mining jobs into extinction.
Steve Moore’s short tenure at CNN thus far has been a disaster for the network, which decided to hire arguably the world’s worst economist away from Fox News on January 30. Moore’s unflinching partisan agenda colors all of his commentary and can be easily dismantled by any analyst with a basic competency in economics.
Watch the full segment from the February 28 edition of CNN Tonight here:
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Great Job With That Stephen Moore Hire, CNN
Discredited right-wing economic pundit Stephen Moore used his first appearance on CNN since joining the network as its “senior economics analyst” to put a negative spin on the Obama-era economic recovery while squirming out of questions about lies that President Donald Trump, whom he advised during the campaign, turned into routine campaign talking points.
During the February 3 edition of CNN’s Wolf, host Wolf Blitzer invited Moore to offer his perspective on Trump’s sudden acceptance of job creation and unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which Trump had labeled “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics” just six months ago. Blitzer argued that the jobs data released in the morning show Trump “inheriting a strong and healthy U.S. economy,” and he aired a clip of Trump saying the January numbers were something to be “very happy about” that will likely “continue, big league.”
Blitzer noted that the president has adopted “a very different tone” since taking office with regard to BLS data -- which he regularly blasted as “phony” during the campaign. When Blitzer pushed Moore, who served as Trump’s senior economic adviser, to answer for Trump’s sudden change of perspective, Moore pivoted to recycled complaints about the supposedly lackluster state of the economy under Obama. When Blitzer listed indicators that speak to the overall health of the economy, Moore reverted to his misleading claim that America is suffering through “the weakest recovery since the Great Depression.” Moore also set a seemingly impossible standard of success for job creation, claiming that the economy “should be getting 300-, 400-, or even 500,000 jobs a month to make up for the jobs lost from the recession.” See the full segment from Wolf here:
In five minutes of back-and-forth, Blitzer never got Moore to own up to Trump’s sudden about-face on the monthly jobs report, but CNN viewers were exposed to the same tired criticism of President Obama that you expect to see at Fox News. This fruitless segment is sure to be a sign of things to come now that Moore -- arguably the world’s worst economist -- is serving as CNN’s “chief economics analyst.”
CNN was as culpable as any other network in promoting Trump’s rise, but its economic team usually stood up to the Republican candidate’s falsehoods. Last year, global economic analyst Rana Foroohar left a mark on the campaign by blasting Trump’s trade policy agenda as “either a bad idea or impossible,” and ridiculing his proposal to pay off the national debt as “absolute fabulism.” Over the summer, correspondent Cristina Alesci and then-analyst Ali Velshi torched Trump’s economic fairness agenda, agreeing it seemed to be “designed for higher-income, more affluent families” rather than, as Trump had promised, middle-income Americans.
On the jobs front, just this morning chief business correspondent Christine Romans -- who makes her living calling out Trump’s lies about the economy -- mocked Trump for accepting the jobs data, saying, “There’s no conspiracy in the numbers when they belong to him.” In fact, less than an hour before Moore took Blitzer to the spin room, CNN viewers were treated to White House correspondent Jim Acosta calling out the Trump administration for “embracing” data that it “repeatedly raised doubts about” during the campaign. Contributor Nia-Malika Henderson added that Trump should “send President Obama some flowers” to thank him for leaving behind such a healthy economy.
Moore doesn't do anything to bolster CNN’s economic reporting; in fact, his “troubled relationship with the facts” diminishes the network. All he brings to CNN is his deft capacity to recycle right-wing media talking points that portray Obama in the harshest possible light.
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Fox Credits Trump With January Job Creation He Inherited From President Obama
Fox News gushed over the jobs report for January 2017, the last of former President Barack Obama’s presidency, calling it “fantastic news” but implicitly crediting Donald Trump, who wasn’t even in office when the data were collected, for the success by calling it the “first jobs report under President Trump.”
Fox News correspondent Heather Nauert praised the January jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on the February 3 edition of Fox & Friends, referring to it as “the first jobs report under President Trump” and labeling it as “fantastic news.” Nauert praised the report for showing that 227,000 new jobs were created in January, which she described as “a lot more than expected.” Nauert failed to mention Barack Obama, who was still the president of the United States for most of January. She concluded the segment by reiterating that this is “great news on the jobs front this morning” and suggesting Trump “would call that huge.” From Fox & Friends:
Unfortunately for Fox’s pro-Trump narrative, the job creation in this report does not belong to his administration. University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee, a former chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors, pointed out that the "reference week" for the latest jobs data ran through January 12, meaning the entire report predates the Trump administration by over a week. Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler, who runs the paper's fact-checking research, also noted that the report "still reflects the Obama administration.” Fox also neglected to mention that the report marks 76 consecutive months of job growth -- the longest on record -- for Obama.
The positive coverage of the report is a complete turnaround for Fox, which went to great lengths to portray strong jobs reports in a negative light during the Obama administration.
In February 2015, the economy added 257,000 new jobs, but Fox was concerned that the unemployment rate ticked up by 0.1 points -- the same increase the rate showed in today’s report. In October of that year, Fox & Friends stumbled through a news alert in which a host claimed the economy created “only 271,000 jobs … last month” even though that report, like the data released today, also beat expectations. Last January, Fox’s spin was to claim that 292,000 new jobs was “modest by historical standards,” though it was well over this month’s 227,000. And in April 2016 the network parsed the jobs data to conclude that a report showing 215,000 new jobs was unimpressive because 47,000 of those were allegedly low-quality retail positions -- yet Nauert made no such comment about the 46,000 retail jobs included in today’s report. As Election Day drew near, Fox & Friends falsely claimed that steady jobs data for October 2016 were “underwhelming” and spun the news as a boon for Trump’s presidential candidacy.
Media Matter’s predicted last month that Fox would retool its message on job growth to coincide with Trump’s presidency, arguing that the network’s “campaign of misinformation will likely come to a screeching halt next month.” Fox's spin on the jobs report this morning follows a consistent, deliberate, and predictable strategy of playing the role of Republican cheerleader and “propaganda machine.”