Flipping Over GDP At The MRC
The Media Research Center rushed to proclaim that President Biden created a recession when GDP turned negative. But when quarterly GDP took a positive turn, the MRC desperately clung to its "Biden recession" narrative.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has long been hypocritical about coverage of the economy and how the media should cover it. During the Trump years, it attacked the non-right-wing media for allegedly talking down the economy:
That concern over the media talking down the economy disappeared when a Democrat became president. The MRC rushed to blame President Biden for uneven economic numbers early in his presidency that are more logically blamed on uncertainty in the midst of a pandemic -- a pattern it kept up throughout 2021.
The MRC ramped up economy-related attacks on Biden over the summer. In a June 23 post, Kevin Tober actually attacked a MSNBC host for using the same argument that the MRC was praising Fox News hosts for using about whether the media can talk down the economy, while going on to, yes, talk down the economy:
On Wednesday’s The 11th Hour on MSNBC, in her discussion with NPR business correspondent David Gura, host Stephanie Ruhle proved once again that she knows very little about economics or even basic business. While Americans are suffering under crushing inflationary pressures, Ruhle let the Biden administration off the hook and claimed the media and people with political agendas are leading the United States into a recession and enabling businesses to use the constant drum beat of inflation chatter as an excuse to raise prices.
The MRC then moved on to a different economic narrative to bash Biden, which involved talking down the economy even more. It declared that there is only one possible definition of a recession -- when GDP does not increase in two consecutive quarters -- and anyone who does not adhere to that definition must be attacked as liars (if the president under whom those numbers occur is a Democrat, at least). When it was suggested that might happen for the second quarter of this year, the MRC was extremely quick to scream "RECESSION!" and, yes, attack anyone who wanted to look at all economic indicators instead of a single number.
Bill D'Agostino started spinning with old quotes in a July 25 post:
On July 21 the White House published a document on its official blog attempting to redefine an economic recession, to exclude the widely accepted criteria of two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction. This vague new “definition” came at an extremely convenient time for President Biden’s economic advisors, considering all signs point to the country having just experienced its second quarter in a row of negative growth (pending a report coming this Thursday).
The document in question called for "a holistic look at the data" that would show that two quarters of negative GDP would not necessarily indicate a recession; D'Agostino didn't explain why the White House is wrong about that, or why GDP is the only possible measurement.
Indeed, this commonsense examination -- especially needed since that COVID-induced the economic downturn and the recovery from it is not like a normal economy where the usual rules and definitions apply -- became a right-wing attack point. Scott Whitlock ranted: "Monday morning saw the news that the Biden administration is trying to change the definition of a 'recession.' It seems as though CBS Mornings on Monday got a jump on the official government talking points. Reporter Ramy Inocencio focused on the upside to inflation, high gas prices, and a struggling economy: Cheap gelatos, croissants, and espressos over in Europe." Tober repeated the authorized spin from Fox News and complained that non-right-wing channels weren't following it:
On Sunday, Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich took to Twitter to note how the Biden administration and the Council of Economic Advisers are seeking to redefine what a recession is. In reality, a recession is defined by two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. Concerned that this week’s GDP report will show the second straight quarter of negative growth, the White House published a blog on their website in an attempt to gaslight Americans into believing we won’t be in a recession if we have another negative quarter.
The MRC kept on spinning and talking down the economy over the next couple days:
In a July 26 post before that number came out, Jeffrey Clark lashed out at a Biden economic adviser -- who he denigrated as a "lackey" in his headline -- for committing the apparent heresy of arguing that two straight quarters of negative GDP might not be the only standard:
President Joe Biden’s chief economic advisor claimed that the economy is “demonstrating resilience” and attempted to split hairs over the definition of a recession to protect his boss at the expense of the American people.
Alex Christy spent a July 27 post attacking MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle for pointing out the obvious fact that the post-COVID economy is not following normal economic rules:
After spending Monday praising the Biden economy as the country barrels towards a possible recession, MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle used Tuesday’s The 11th Hour to say to conservatives that miss the Trump economy, that things were not that good under the prior administration, even without the pandemic.
All of this, by the way, came before the second-quarter GDP numbers were actually released -- which means the MRC was merely spinning and shouting. At no point did any writer explain why GDP is the only possible indicator that can be considered or why other economic numbers cannot be taken into consideration.
When the GDP numbers finally did come in and showed a second straight quarter of slightly negative growth, the MRC fully deployed the narrative it had set up. Clark returned with a July 28 post under screaming headline "RECESSION":
Four liberal outlets peered into their crystal balls and declared that the economy would show signs of growth, not shrinkage, just days and weeks ahead of the government’s second-quarter GDP report.
A July 29 post by Joseph Vazquez whined that PolitiFact and even Siri wouldn't adhere to the newly preferred rigid right-wing definition of a recession:
Facebook fact-checker PolitiFact played the role of the village idiot by fact-checking an Instagram post that dared to slam the Biden White House for redefining the word “recession.”
Vazquez found a biased economist from the libertarian American Institute for Economic Research to complain that the National Bureau of Economic Research is not "the official arbiter of recessions," as PolitiFact suggested.
Tim Graham grumbled in a post promoting his July 29 podcast on the subject:
When the fact emerged that we've had two quarters of negative economic growth, marking a recession, the so-called "reality-based press" suddenly folded and let the Biden people "push back" at reality.
Graham didn't mention that he and his employer have been working to make "misinformation" a subjective thing lest he and his fellow right-wingers be accused of spreading it.
That was echoed in a July 30 column by Jeffrey Lord, under the headline "Journalists Tank Their Remaining Credibility With Recession Denial":
As noted here in NewsBusters, the liberal media’s reflex to protect Biden is yet again on display, this time with the Biden problem being that yes, indeed, the U.S. has just experienced two quarters of negative economic growth considered by economists as the official sign the US is in a recession. (For more, see Accuracy in Media's comprehensive round-up of media spin.)
Says the guy who spent years protecting Donald Trump and has tanked what little credibility he has by defending the corrupt, falsehood-laden right-wing channel One America News.
Clark then showed how much more important pushing a political narrative is to him by using an Aug. 3 post to promote another discredited activist: "Glenn Beck RIPS Biden: The President ‘Refuses to Recognize Truth’ on Recession, Inflation." On at the MRC would a charlatan like Beck be considered a credible observer.
The Soros-Wikipedia conspiracy theory
The MRC even roped its favorite conspiracy target, George Soros, into its recession obsession. A July 26 post by Vazquez -- the MRC's chief Soros obsessive -- suggested Soros was behind a grand conspiracy to redefine a recession:
The White House attempted to gaslight Americans by casting confusion over the meaning of a recession. But did it take its cues from a major publication funded by liberal billionaire George Soros?
In the world of Vazquez and the MRC, disagreeing with right-wing propaganda means you're spreading "propaganda" yourself.
A July 29 post by Jeffrey Clark bizarrely portraying Wikipedia edits as part of a Soros conspiracy:
Wikipedia, a site funded by George Soros, followed the liberal media’s lead in shielding the Biden administration on bad economic news. The online encyclopedia literally redefined the word recession on its website in recent days.
Does Clark nor anyone else at the MRC understand how Wikipedia works? It's a user-edited website, and users are the ones who worked on the recession page. Clark offered no evidence whatsoever that Soros personally directed anyone to edit the page, nor did he explain why he thinks Wikipedia management should meddle in content management -- which he would be attacking as "censorship" if the page in question involved something near and dear to the hearts of right-wingers like himself. Indeed, he complained that "MRC Business has yet to receive comment from Wikipedia on why so many changes were allowed before the second-quarter GDP report dropped early on July 28," apparently not understanding that limiting what edits are "allowed" is generally not something Wikipedia does.
The MRC's obsession with Soros is going further into la-la land.
The positive GDP flip-flop
Tober was still harping on those negative GDP numbers in a Sept. 29 post:
On Thursday morning, The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released their third and final revision on the nation’s GDP growth for the second quarter and it wasn’t good. The BEA found that the economy shrank 0.6 percent for the second straight quarter which means the United States economy is in a recession. Knowing this news is bad for the Biden administration and the Democrat Party [sic], the evening newscasts made sure to cover it up.
Tober offered no evidence that network newscasts have ever covered GDP revisions. Curtis Houck whined in a post the next day:
Amid their non-Hurricane Ian coverage on Friday, NBC’s Today and the 3rd Hour of Today returned to a recent liberal media trend in defending the Biden administration by dismissing the reality that the country’s in a recession. This time, they wondered if it “matter[s] when everything you buy everyday is more expensive” and “it doesn’t feel good out there.”
Of course, neither Tober nor Houck provided any evidence that specifically links any Biden policy to the decline in GDP.
In another Sept. 30 post, Vazquez hyped "the economy’s poor performance under Biden," adding that "following new third estimate data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing that U.S. GDP contracted for the second straight quarter in a row to meet the technical definition of a recession, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 550 points on Thursday; the S&P 500 dropped 2.4 percent and the Nasdaq sank 3 percent." Vazquez cited only partisan right-wing sources like the New York Post and the Washington Examiner as purported proof that Biden was to blame.
Suddenly, positive GDP
But a funny thing happened on the way to the MRC's narrative manufacturing facility: GDP increased in the third quarter. That blew up the narrative it had been peddling for months, so it was forced to reverse direction -- which meant finding a new way to blame Biden for the supposedly terrible economy. An Oct. 27 post by Tober demanded that we look beyond the numbers -- exactly the opposite of what he and his co-workers had been telling us month earlier -- to argue that the GDP growth doesn't actually mean anything:
On Thursday morning, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released the third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) numbers which reportedly showed that the United States economy grew 2.6 percent in the third quarter. Predictably the three evening news networks hyped the supposedly good news for their friends in the Biden administration and ignored the real reason for the positive economic growth despite the two past quarters being negative. The 3rd quarter numbers were almost entirely due to U.S. trade exports, not due to the health of the economy at large.
Tober made sure to praise his favorite cable news channel for making the partisan narrative flip-flop along with the MRC:
Back in reality, on Fox News Channel's Special Report, Jacqui Heinrich told viewers the truth about the state of the economy: "At first glance, today's GDP Report suggests the U.S. Economy is turning around after two consecutive quarters of negative growth," Heinrich prefaced. "But a closer look shows the 2.6 percent growth was driven by fluctuations in international trade, not reflecting the underlying health of the economy and increased government spending."
Tober didn't explain why it suddenly became "reality" to look beyond the GDP numbers when it had criticized those who previously did so.
Despite having to explain away that inconvenient number, the MRC continued to cling to the old narrative as well. A Nov. 1 post by Clark huffed that "the U.S. entered a recession roughly three months ago. A July Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) report revealed that GDP fell for a second quarter in a row, which meets the definition of a recession, according to American Institute for Economic Research economist Phillip Magness." Clark rehashed the obsolete talking point again in a Nov. 14 post:
For the “past century,” as economist Phillip Magness explained in August, a recession has primarily been defined as GDP falling for two consecutive quarters. That’s precisely what happened in July, per a Bureau of Economic Analysis report, but President Joe Biden’s media cronies have been crusading to redefine the meaning of the word “recession” in an attempt to stem political backlash from President Joe Biden’s economic disaster.
In both posts, Clark censored the fact that GDP increased in the most recent quarter -- which would have undermined his narrative. And narrative is more important than the truth at the MRC.