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Media outlets work overtime to spin bad economic data

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The big news Thursday was that America's economy shrank during the first quarter of 2014, its worst performance in three years -- but reporting that news apparently didn't sit well with several major media outlets.

“U.S. economy shrinks, but it's not a big deal,” read a headline on CNNMoney.com.

“Blame Old Man Winter: economy contracts for first time in three years,” NBC News tweeted.

The U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis revised the numbers downward from prior estimates to show the nation’s GDP contracted at an annual rate of negative 1 percent. It was the first negative quarter since 2011, and one more three-month stretch in the red would put the U.S. is back in recession. But nightly newscasts sought to present the data as a blip, blaming it on the weather — if they mentioned it at all.

"When the media aren't ignoring bad economic news to protect Obama, they're spinning it into good news.”

- Brent Baker, Media Research Center

“All that snow and ice froze business, but most economists believe it sets the economy up for rebound this quarter and there are some encouraging signs in the numbers,” CBS News’ Anthony Mason reported.

 

Neither ABC nor NBC reported the disappointing numbers at all. The preliminary quarterly estimate from the U.S. Department of Commerce had been that the economy grew at a modest 0.1 percent rate.

Economists, including those at the Federal Reserve, generally agree that unusually brutal weather played a role in the economy contracting by a full percent for the first three months of the year. Some say President Obama’s economic policies didn’t help, either. But while that kind of analysis has a place in fair and balanced reporting, such rosy spin rarely found its way into headlines during the economic doldrums of the Bush administration.

"When the media aren't ignoring bad economic news to protect Obama, they're spinning it into good news,” Media Research Center's Brent Baker, who drew attention to the apparent double standard on the MRC's NewsBusters site, told FoxNews.com. “That sure wasn't a favor the press corps ever provided George W. Bush."

The New York Times used the double entendre "Frigid First Quarter" to characterize both the lack of economic growth and the reason for it, while media outlets more versed in economics, such as Forbes, simply stated the facts up front and allowed informed sources to provide commentary below.

Economist Kevin Hassett, a former advisor to Mitt Romney and now an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the weather was indeed a major drag on the economy.

“I think Obama's policies have absolutely put us on a lower growth trajectory, but I also think that the weather was 99 percent of the story in Q1,” said Hassett, who has written extensively about media bias. “Now, this is, in part, a testable thing.  If Q2 includes a major bounce back, of say, 4 percent instead of 2, then the weather story gets more credibility.”

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