In 2001 Press Attacked Bush For 'Talking Down Economy,' Obama Given Pass For Same in '08

Jonathan Alter was an early accuser of new President George W. Bush when he and VP Cheney began to try to warn the country that an economic downturn was well underway as he was taking office. As Bush tried to warn the nation, the media jumped all over him for “talking down the economy.” Yet, as we watch the reporting of Obama’s current down talking of the economy, the media has said nothing similar to the condemnation reigned upon Bush.

The myth that people like Alter was pushing in 2001 was that Clinton bequeathed a good economy to Bush, but the reality was that the spiral had already begun to fall into negative territory months before Bush took office. Despite that obvious downturn, the media formed a chorus of attacking Bush for being too negative in the face of the American people. On March 26, Alter unleashed his Newsweek piece headlined “Thanks Ever So Much, President Poor-Mouth.” Alter called Bush’s warnings “risky and unusual,” and made the pronouncement that Bush was wrong to do so. “Even if Bush turns out to be right in his predictions of gloom,” Alter wrote, “that doesn’t mean he was right to make them.”

On CNN, Lou Waters needled Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer on January 12, 2001 about the “politicalization ” of the economy. “President Clinton, sort of, answered that as well today. He’s talking up the economy. There are economists who say you guys are talking down the economy. What’s happening here in this transition period, the whole, sort of, politicalization [of the economy]…,” Waters said.

On March 19, The New York Times scolded Bush that presidents were supposed to be “cheerleaders for the nation’s economy.”

Yet, has anyone seen any similar scolding of the new “cheerleader” in chief, Obama? Has anyone seen an Alter sternly scolding Obama for “poor-mouthing” the economy? Has there been any hectoring from CNN over Obama’s grave warnings? Where is The New York Times beating up that downcast Obama?

In fact, every single report I have seen about Obama’s talk on the economy has been matter of fact. Even sometimes giving him cover for changing his campaign rhetoric about the economy by asserting his acknowledgment that he has changed his tune. (such as MSNBCs recent coverage)

The New York Times went so far as to assess Obama’s mood as optimistic, despite his claims of an further economic downslide. “Despite the bleak economic picture awaiting him, Mr. Obama sought to project an air of determined optimism,” the Times published on December 7.

For its coverage, the Washington Post, assures us all that Obama is putting things in “perspective” for us as he prepares to take office. “Six weeks before taking office, just three weeks before Christmas, there was little levity in his taped appearance on Meet the Press. Yet Obama, prodded by anchor Tom Brokaw, sought to put the challenges in perspective. He said the situation today is not as gave as it was for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decades earlier…” Not a shred of castigation in the Post’s coverage.

In any case, what we have here is a typical Old Media double standard. Harsh words for Bush and either neutral reporting or even praise for “their” guy.

For a good summation of the media attacks and the actual economic situation in 2001, see “Talking Down the Economy,” by James D. Agresti.

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