State-based news the Courier called out the New York Times on Tuesday for their vastly different headlines about the economy under two different presidents.
— COURIER (@CourierNewsroom) August 8, 2023
Is this a fair criticism?
It’s not apples to apples, as one is the headline going to their podcast and the others are articles. This might impact the way a headline is written.
But in this case, it is a good point to raise and worth getting in to, especially as many people only read headlines and most Americans are not aware of the incredible improvements to the economy under President Biden. The best way to educate them would be to have headlines that say what is happening.
Why does this matter? Only 37% approve of Biden’s handling of the economy in spite of the fact that it is performing remarkably well — and so much better than we had any right to hope for. Why don’t people have the information they need to see who is pushing policies that actually help them?
Here are the top four Google hits for Biden economy right now (the one blaming Biden for the Fitch downgrade is an unmarked opinion piece only showing in the URL, oddly taking front row status):
People only know what the media tells them, as most people don’t have the time to pore over economic data after getting home from a hard day’s work, feeding their kids, cleaning the house and more. That’s why the media is supposed to inform voters so they can vote in their own best interests. The NYT might not cater to those people; it clearly doesn’t, actually. But they do set the tone for all U.S. based media.
The differences in Trump versus Biden in terms of headlines (the NYT is hardly alone with this) is even more egregious than it appears on the surface, because President Donald Trump inherited a good economy from President Barack Obama, whereas President Joe Biden not only inherited the economy Trump’s policies damaged before the pandemic, but Biden inherited a pandemic-gutted economy midway through the pandemic. It was a mess.
The reality is actually clear
Eight days ago, the New York Times wrote, “Inflation is cooling, business investment is rising, job growth is powering on and surveys suggest rising economic optimism among consumers and voters.”
The details they cited:
“The economy grew at a 2.4 percent annual rate in the second quarter of the year, handily beating economists’ expectations, the Commerce Department reported last week. Price growth slowed in June even as consumer spending picked up. The Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of year-over-year inflation, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index, has now fallen to 3 percent this year from about 7 percent last June — easing the pressure on Mr. Biden from the economic problem that has bedeviled his presidency thus far.”
In that same piece, they quote an expert who says “the increased investment was ‘undoubtedly linked’ to government policies, in particular the CHIPS Act, which aimed to promote domestic manufacturing, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which targeted low-emission energy technologies to combat climate change.”
So, undoubtedly linked to Joe Biden’s policies. Should he get credit for it? They’re not sure, according to Monday’s headline.
But, if you open that piece, they actually have great news: “The latest economic figures are some of the best of President Biden’s tenure so far. It appears increasingly likely that the United States has managed to tame high inflation without causing a recession.”
They say they are looking at why this hasn’t translated to a bump in Biden’s poll numbers. Might I suggest that headlines asking a question that suggest Biden might not be responsible for the improvement are not helping?
One thing most people in publishing know is that many readers never even open the piece. The headlines inform them. People are busy. Headlines matter. We all get them wrong sometimes. But the media obviously needs to do better than we are right now.
Trump wrongly claimed that he inherited a “disaster” from Obama and bragged almost every single day about how great things were under him. But actually, Trump took the economy Obama saved from the 2008 crash that occurred under President George W. Bush, and set about undermining it and making it work for the wealthy instead of everyone with trade wars, a tax cut that mostly benefited the wealthy (and would only get worse after he was out of office).
Even the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush agrees. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist, was quoted in the New York Times saying, “I can say that the economy was in fine shape at the end of the Obama administration, despite what President Trump sometimes asserts… The tax cuts likely made it stronger, while worsening the long-term fiscal imbalance. Reasonable economists can and do disagree about how much impact the tax plan has had.”
Of course, even in that piece, Peter Barker writes “Mr. Trump has some particularly compelling bragging points, though… Mr. Trump’s supporters argue that he turbocharged them with his tax cuts and deregulation, defying critics’ predictions that he would wreck the economy.”
It should be noted this was dated in 2018, shortly before the impact of Trump’s devastating policies chipped away at the economy he inherited. By July of 2019, economic growth had already slowed “as consumer rebound was offset by rising trade gap,” according to Politico.
In 2018, the NYT were asking another question in a title: “How Good Is the Trump Economy, Really?” As effusive as that June 2018 piece was about Trump’s economy, the enthusiasm sadly turned out to be misplaced.
But when you look at how Neil Irwin closed, his piece tells a different story than the title, “The president inherited an economy that had come a long way toward healing. During his administration, the economy has continued growing at about the same rate it did before he took office, pushing incomes, employment and output to yet higher levels.”
Things were pretty bad under Trump
Trump also should be held responsible for how his poor leadership impacted the United States’ incompetent response to the pandemic, which contributed to the economic devastation the pandemic wrought.
The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, which focuses on how the economy is performing for working people, concluded of Trump’s policies, “In fact, Trump administration policies were squandering the pockets of strength in the U.S. economy that they inherited from their predecessors by using them to disguise the rapid erosion their policies were causing to U.S. families’ economic security… This poor income growth during the Trump administration could be a statistical fluke. But it’s also exactly what one would expect from an incompetent economic manager squandering the pockets of strength it inherited from its predecessors.”
As for the (disingenuous, given how many times “trickle down” has failed to trickle down) conservative argument that the tax cuts stimulated the economy, “On the supply side, the Trump administration would claim that this same tax cut boosted incentives for firms to invest in the economy’s capital stock. The data show pretty conclusively that this is wrong—business investment was absolutely plummeting well before COVID-19 had even appeared in China, let alone the United States.”
Biden Has The Data
Biden has claimed the U.S. economy has the strongest post-pandemic growth recovery in the world, and his administration provided the data to back it up. Newsweek determined, “(I)t does look like Biden has good grounds to make the claim he made about the U.S. economic growth performance.”
It usually takes a few years for the results of a president’s economic policies to be seen, but in Biden’s case, the results came a little sooner due to how much work he had to do to bail this country out of the disaster it found itself in, like so many other countries. His policies can be compared to other countries’ and they show that the U.S. is recovering at a faster pace.
Where are the articles saying Biden has “particularly compelling bragging rights” about this economy? Where are the “Economy Hits a High Note, Biden Takes a Bow” “Biden Has a Strong Economy to Proclaim. In Wisconsin, It Just Might Work.” pieces?
The titles seem skewed in terms of where skepticism is placed. The articles themselves are not skewed in the same way. This is yet another argument for good titles, which are the bane of everyone’s existence but that is no reason not to try harder.
What really matters is how people are doing
The bottom line is that the U.S. economy shouldn’t be measured by how the stock market is doing or bombastic claims by any president. For far too long, the economic well-being of the majority of Americans has been ignored while leaders focus on those who can make big political donations.
Joe Biden is focusing on the majority of people. That is why he keeps working on things like the Biden-Harris administration did today, with Vice President Kamala Harris announcing a new rule via the Labor Department that will ensure investments in America lead to “jobs where construction workers are paid fairly, including the 84% of who don’t have a college degree.”
What’s the deal
The Biden-Harris administration should absolutely get credit for the work they have actually done to prioritize people being supported with well paying jobs and more. What is the deal? Why is it so easy to give a man like Trump credit for something he didn’t actually make on his own, but so hard to give a man like Biden credit for something he has worked his tail off for since taking office?
Joe Biden isn’t perfect and neither is the economy. But it’s doing remarkable well. It deserves to be celebrated. Americans need something to feel good about and this is real and it helps them.
Our legacy papers could do a better job of informing people and setting the tone in their titles. The content itself, however, is fair in all of these pieces. It’s obvious that the average American is misinformed about the economy. There’s no need to give that misinformation further assist than it is already getting from propaganda outlets on the right.