Misinformation has Americans depressed about the economy

The American economy is objectively strong and improving — but right-wing media tell the public the opposite

A panel on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Thursday highlighted the role right-wing misinformation is playing in distorting perceptions about the state of the economy and the rate of inflation, which a majority of Americans incorrectly believe is headed in the wrong direction.

Wall Street Journal economic reporter Greg Ip drew attention to the enormous disparity between perception and reality when it comes to consumer sentiment about the economy in an April 4 article, titled “What’s Wrong With the Economy? It’s You, Not the Data.” Ip pointed to public opinion data showing that a vast majority of respondents incorrectly believed inflation has gone up in the past year, when indeed it has fallen significantly and stabilized in the nearly two years since peaking in June 2022. Furthermore, Ip highlighted a survey showing that by 40-to-60 point margins, respondents think the overall U.S. economy is getting worse while their own state economy is getting better. He also cited data indicating that by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, a majority of Americans wrongly believe the economy — which has enjoyed robust job creation and GDP growth — has gotten worse over the past year.

Ip's article spurred a conversation on the set of MSNBC's Morning Joe, where co-hosts Mika Brzenski and Joe Scarborough and New York Times columnist and CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin keyed in on the role played by the partisan misinformation ecosystem in fomenting pessimism and distorting reality.

“The misinformation that’s been put out across the country about this issue is so shocking, because of the way people feel versus the actual reality of the numbers,” said Sorkin. “It’s hard to tell people that you shouldn't feel one way, and I know that is true, but the numbers are directionally, shockingly, going in a good place.”

NBC News national affairs analyst John Heilemann chimed in that while the economy has improved, the tapering of inflation happened slowly, and that from a political standpoint for the Biden White House, “You cannot argue people out of their feelings,” with Heilemann recommending a different approach.

“You have to figure out a way to say to them, hey, we know that prices are still too high, we know you're still feeling it in your pocketbook now, but look at all the progress we've made,” Heilemann said. “Give us some more time, because you know it's just going to be worse with Donald Trump. He's not on your side. We're on your side, we fixed a lot of stuff. This thing still, we need some work, we've made some progress, but not enough.”

Indeed, liberal and conservative economists agree that Trump’s policies would make inflation worse — but mainstream media outlets have barely covered this.

Scarborough then contrasted the poll findings that people thought their own state economies were doing well while the rest of the country was doing badly, then turned the question back to the sheer volume of right-wing media misinformation.

“I'm sorry but, you know, if you looked at certain cable news channels you would think we were in the middle of a Great Depression, that illegal immigrants were racing through schools across America stabbing people in the face, and that leprosy is going to be spread by migrants going across the border, and that trans athletes are coming to your middle school to beat up your, you know, sixth-grade girl,” Scarborough declared. “I mean, seriously, turn it on any time. Turn it on any time, and it’s the economy is in free fall, migrants are coming to kill you, and trans athletes. I mean, it's constant — it’s a constant, constant churning of these messages. And it has an impact on polls after [airing] 24/7.”

Right-wing media have often painted the completely false picture of the dystopian, even post-apocalyptic America that Scarborough described. On those exact topics that Scarborough mentioned, for example, Fox News has ignored or dismissed positive economic news, falsely depicted a “war on fossil fuels” when in fact the country is producing more energy than ever, and depicted minimum wage increases as a danger to the economy and American way of life. Fox has also run an obsessive level of coverage depicting migrants as a criminal threat to the country, and hyped supposed new threats without any empirical evidence. (Scarborough’s reference to immigrants purportedly carrying leprosy was actually a Fox News narrative from 2018.)

And of course, Fox has engaged in a vast culture war against transgender people, and the network drastically picked up its coverage in 2021 as soon as Democrats took control of the White House and Congress. This intense coverage has continued for years, including targeted hate campaigns, treating urban legends as if they’re real news, and whipping up new cultural battles via days of relentless coverage and dishonestly edited footage.

Watch the full segment from Morning Joe below:

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Citation From the April 4, 2024, edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe