Another Week That Reeked at the 'Administration's Press'

In the space of seven days, to name just three of the more obvious offenses, alleged journalists at the Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Presstold us that “home construction is near a three-year high,” when it’s nowhere near there; seemed astonished that presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney didn’t serve up any “red-meat conservative policy” in a college graduation address; and wondered whether John Boehner and congressional Republicans are “deliberately stalling the economic recovery to hurt President Barack Obama’s re-election chances.” Oh, and it would appear that the folks at AP are coming down with a developing case of what I would describe as “thin-skin syndrome.”

The “home construction” howler of May 16 came about because AP economics reporter Chris Rugaber, perhaps with help from a colleague who has made the same mistake, seems to believe that “housing starts” and “home construction” are synonymous.

That’s wrong on two levels. First, “residential housing” includes single and multifamily units; “homes” is a word usually reserved to describe “single family homes.” Second, the housing starts statistic, while useful as an indication of where the industry might be headed in the coming months, is arguably the least important of the three items one must consider to get a handle on the current level of “home construction” for comparative purposes. The other two, as seen in the Census Bureau’s definition of “new residential construction,” are “total units under construction” and “units completed.”

So how does the current level of “home construction” as properly defined square with Rugaber’s claim that it’s “near a three-year high”? It doesn’t — at all:

  • Single-family starts are indeed higher than they were three years ago. But whether you look at the seasonally adjusted figures or the raw (i.e., not seasonally adjusted) data, they haven’t even hit two-year highs in the past three months —


  • The number of single-family units under construction has been scraping along at or barely above its seasonally adjusted all-time low in over 40 years of related recordkeeping for about a year. That didn’t change in April, and the number of units on which builders are working is 25% lower than it was three years ago —


  • The number of single-family homes completed during the first four months of this year was also well below levels seen both two and three years ago —


To paraphrase Munchkinland’s coroner in The Wizard of Oz, Rugaber’s statement that “home construction is near a three-year high” is not only merely false, it’s really most sincerely false. If the AP reporter is unhappy with this inarguable contention, my response is: “Too bad, so sad, Chris.”

Longtime readers know that there is no love lost between yours truly and Mitt Romney, but any fair observer should give him high marks for the content of his address to Liberty University graduates on May 12. Of course it wasn’t the job of AP reporters Kasie Hunt and Rachel Zoll to do that, but they could at least have recognized that a commencement speech isn’t the time or place for the “red-meat conservative policy speech” they apparently anticipated.

Since we’re dealing with a condescending animal-equivalent reference, when was the last time a report from AP or anywhere else in the establishment press characterized an oration by even the most radical leftist as a “red-meat liberal policy speech”? Searches on that phrase at Google Web, Google News, and the Google News Archive returned no examples showing that it has ever occurred.

Hunt and Zoll could easily have lightened up on their disappointment and found room for an important point which Romney said he gleaned from the left-leaning Brookings Institution about how relationship and education choices affect one’s life prospects:

For those who graduate from high school, get a full-time job, and marry before they have their first child, the probability that they will be poor is 2%. But, if those things are absent, 76% will be poor.

But they didn’t. Readers can be excused for believing that because doing so might have cast Barack Obama’s reelection challenger in a positive light, the AP pair passed.

Charles Babington’s May 19 dispatch on John Boehner’s debt-ceiling negotiating position (“Is GOP trying to sabotage economy to hurt Obama?”) was especially risible, and not only because the AP has as far as I know never asked an equivalent question about Democrats who really did spend almost all of George W. Bush’s two terms, with a great deal of media assistance, attempting to talk down the economy. The closest the wire service ever got during the Bush 43 era at most amounted to a few “Republicans accuse Democrats” items. That’s far different from what Babington and his headline writer did in pretending to pose a legitimate question.

John Hinderaker at Power Line showed how Babington’s work, properly seen, was in effect an abuse of his power and an abdication of journalistic responsibility:

The headline appeared on the main Yahoo page, which is far more heavily trafficked than any newspaper, and was picked up, based on a Google News search, by several hundred newspapers. The article doesn’t conclude that Republicans are deliberately hurting the economy, of course. That wasn’t the idea: the idea was to attribute plausibility to what is in fact a laughable suggestion.

Whether or not that was the idea, it certainly was the result.

Babington never bothered to ask how the sabotage argument can be valid if, as is the case, the deep-red states Obama lost in the 2008 presidential election have on the whole been economically outperforming those he won by a significant margin. Babington’s report wasn’t about journalism; it instead came off as an exercise in propaganda.

In a sign that someone is getting touchy, an AP media relations official on Sunday alleged in a comment at my home blog that I “ascribe(d) motives” that were “ridiculous” to his wire service when I questioned the unusual presence of two identically worded but differently headlined stories about recent evidence released in the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case at the AP’s national site (both were still there when I prepared this column).

What I really wrote is that the continued and very unusual presence of the story’s duplicate and slightly older version with an inaccurate headline (“Cache of evidence in shooting, still huge gaps”) “is pretty convenient for those who desperately want to keep portraying Trayvon Martin as an innocent, harmless victim while continuing to fan racial animosities.” That’s because it is. Ordinarily, older AP reports go away and largely disappear in syndication when a story’s headline or content is revised. This didn’t happen with the “huge gaps” version of the Martin-Zimmerman story. Rather than explain how this could have occurred, the AP official went after me for merely documenting the problem. Of course, I pushed back.

I can’t prove what motives the folks at AP have as they go about their daily tasks. But I can show, and in fact just have shown, that they all too often engage in sloppy, misleading reporting on the economy, and that they have a double standard (whether conscious or not — and does it really matter?) in how they cover political candidates and partisan disputes depending on the political party involved. It also seems that their case of “thin-skin syndrome” has grown as the reelection prospects of the guy over whom their outgoing chairman obsequiously fawned in April seem to be deteriorating.

It’s going to be a long election season for those of us who monitor the output of the Administration’s Press.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified image.)