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Upside Down Economics

Despite much better economy, networks blamed President Bush more than President Obama for financial troubles.

President Bush was criticized for years by the news media on economic issues. High gas prices and “record high” oil prices formed the basis for some of the attacks. But jobs were another major focus. The unemployment rate had risen to 6.3 percent in 2003, but dropped by to just 5.4 percent by September 2004.

By contrast, the Obama economy has received far less criticism in network reports. The lead up to the election was marred by high unemployment, low workforce participation, record debt and gas and oil prices nearly double the Bush numbers. Yet President Obama received many free passes in coverage.

In September 2004, the economy was humming along quite well compared to the same month eight years later. In fact, September 2004 outperformed September 2012 in a dozen key economic measures. (SEE CHART)

In September 2004, the national unemployment rate stood at 5.4 percent; it was announced that 144,000 jobs had been added in the prior month; the economy was expected to grow at 3.3 percent for the second quarter, and gasoline cost just $1.92-a-gallon. Even the $7.4 trillion federal debt, which people on both sides of the aisle criticized Bush seems almost quaint by comparison to today.

Now consider the very same month in 2012. Obama presided over 8.1 percent unemployment, only 96,000 jobs were added in August. (The October jobs report revised that total, but that came after the study period.), Gasoline hit records for Labor Day weekend at $3.83-a-gallon, almost exactly 100 percent higher than it had been eight years earlier.

By a dozen economic measures, things are much worse now. Yet Bush was blamed more than twice as often for economic woes – in more than 14 percent of economic stories, compared to just 6 percent for Obama.

CBS chief national correspondent Byron Pitts, found a man on the street who blamed Bush for his troubles on Sept. 15, 2004. Pitts said, “Over the last four years, Mr. Jolliffie’s worked longer hours for less money. He blames President George W. Bush, but he’s still not sold on Senator John Kerry.” Pitts also made Kerry’s argument for him, mentioning Bush’s “highest deficit in history” and the “most job losses of any administration in the last 72 years.”

Liberal politicians also blasted Bush on news programs. Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean slammed the president for “half-trillion dollar deficits” in a Sept. 27, 2004, “Today” interview. 

But in 2012, there was little indictment from politicians or reporters about Obama’s $1-trillion per year budget deficits. In fact, on Sept. 6, “Good Morning America” allowed White House senior adviser David Plouffe to claim the Obama administration had “cut over $3 trillion in spending, more than what was called for in the Bowles-Simpson plan.”

Interviewer George Stephanopoulos, formerly of the Clinton administration himself, didn’t mention that the federal debt was then $16.1 trillion, or that that the president got zero Senate votes in favor of his 2012 budget. Not just zero Republican votes. No Democrats voted for his budget either. 

The networks even let President Obama himself slam his political opponents Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on the deficit issue, without pointing out his big spending ways.