Ah, that 'unexpected' bad economic news

Michael Barone:

As megablogger Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, has noted with amusement, the word "unexpectedly" or variants thereon keep cropping up in mainstream media stories about the economy.

After listing a half dozen examples from recent economic reports, Barone offers an explanation:

Mainstream media may finally be catching up. "The latest economic numbers have not been good," David Leonhardt wrote in the May 26 New York Times. "Another report showed that economic growth at the start of the year was no faster than the Commerce Department initially reported -- 'a real surprise,' said Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics."

Which raises some questions. As Instapundit reader Gordon Stewart, quoted by Reynolds on May 17, put it, "How many times in a row can something happen unexpectedly before the experts start to, you know, expect it? At some point, shouldn't they be required to state the foundation for their expectations?"

One answer is that many in the mainstream media have been cheerleading for Barack Obama. They and he both naturally hope for a strong economic recovery. After all, Obama can't keep blaming the economic doldrums on George W. Bush forever.

I'm confident that any comparison of economic coverage in the Bush years and the coverage now would show far fewer variants of the word "unexpectedly" in stories suggesting economic doldrums.

It's obviously going to be hard to achieve the unacknowledged goal of many mainstream journalists -- the president's re-election -- if the economic slump continues. So they characterize economic setbacks as unexpected, with the implication that there's still every reason to believe that, in Herbert Hoover's phrase, prosperity is just around the corner.

Most mainstream media business reporters know little about business, and a lot about street gossip and the "expectations game." They have their favorite prognosticators for a wide variety of indicators whose estimates may vary wildly from source to source. A JP Morgan analyst might have far different numbers on expectations for durable goods from month to month than another analyst working for a different Wall Street firm. While it is true that there are some consensus guesses about economic yardsticks, those estimates vary from news outlet to news outlet and are based on different guesses from a wide variety of economists.

So when reporters say that a certain economic number is "unexpected." they are basically saying that it was unexpected to them based on the sources they rely upon to predict what is happening. 

What all this "unexpected" bad news says is that the experts are flummoxed as to why Obama's economic policies aren't working according to their estimates. The textbooks are saying one thing while the real world economy is doing something else. In this light, while bias may play a role in how the bad news is reported, why that news is "unexpected" is more a product of ignorance than partisanship.

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