May 05, 2004,
Media Matters for America is a new website (mediamatters.org) "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation." It's been developed with the zillions of tax-deductible dollars that George Soros and others contributed to the leftist Center for American Progress. It's run by a confessed liar, former conservative author David Brock, who has admitted that he knowingly lied in his book about Anita Hill, and has apologized for his reporting on Bill Clinton's sexual misadventures.
So far the work from Media Matters isn't very impressive. But what should we expect when the Left is put in charge of a quest for truth?
The first major article posted on the Media Matters website is an attempted exposť of the often-heard conservative claim that the last economic recession began during the Clinton administration or, in other words, that it was already underway when George W. Bush took office in 2001. The article painstakingly traces the history of this claim through numerous statements by Bush administration officials and conservative commentators, presenting all this as a "successful three-and-a-half year media campaign" that has led to polling results showing "62% of Americans think the recession began under Clinton."
The claim that the last recession started under Clinton is absolutely true. To deny this is not only to blame Bush for a problem he didn't cause, but to deprive him of the credit for fixing it with effective policies which is exactly why the Left is so eager in this case. Here, however, are the facts:
The unemployment rate bottomed at 3.8 percent in April 2000, and started deteriorating steadily from there (during the Clinton administration).
The fed funds rate the overnight interest rate administered by Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve peaked at 6.5 percent in 2000, and had to be lowered in an emergency move on January 3, 2001, "in light of further weakening of sales and production" (during the Clinton administration).
As the chart below shows, GDP growth fell off a cliff in the third quarter of 2000 (during the Clinton administration). Despite the shock of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, growth started to revive in the fourth quarter of 2001 (during the Bush administration).
The one and only piece of evidence offered by Media Matters thatís to the contrary is that fact that the National Bureau of Economic Research set the beginning of the last recession at March 2001 two months into the Bush administration. Check that date on the chart above: This well-respected economic research group set the beginning of the recession after GDP growth had already crashed from almost 5 percent to near zero. But according to Media Matters, this single authority determines truth, and everyone else is a liar. The article declares that "if NBER says the recession began in March 2001, the recession began in March 2001."
The reality is that NBER is just like any other group of economists, struggling with partial and imperfect information to characterize phenomena that don't have any hard-and-fast definitions. Since NBER set the March 2001 recession start date in November 2001, there have been important negative revisions to key data. Most important, back then GDP growth for the third quarter of 2000 was reported at 1.3 percent but now it's been revised all the way down to a negative 0.5 percent. NBER had no way of knowing that then.
In fact, NBER has been on the verge of changing the recessionís start date for this very reason. According to the Washington Post earlier this year,
NBER President Martin Feldstein said, "It is clear that the revised data have made our original March date for the start of the recession much too late," but he did not offer a different date. "We are still waiting for additional monthly data before making a final judgment," said Feldstein, a Harvard University economist. "Until we have the additional data, we cannot make a decision."
Media Matters chooses not to mention this fact.
Liberals have never felt constrained by NBER's "official" dates. For example, last year in a New York Times Magazine article, ultra-leftist economist Paul Krugman cited dates for the economic expansion during the Reagan administration that not only didn't correspond to NBER's dates, but didn't even correspond to Ronald Reagan's years in the White House! The only virtue of Krugman's unofficial dates is that they made Reagan's economic performance look worse (natch).
Of course, liberals are not at all happy with NBER's judgment that the recession that began in March 2001 ended only eight months later, in November 2001. Krugman called it "a controversial decision," and has since stated that the economy is, in fact, "still depressed."
John Kerry can't even bring himself to admit that the recession has ended, even though Media Matters might lecture him that "if NBER says the recession ended in November 2001, the recession ended in November 2001." Instead, Kerry refers in speeches to November 2001 as the date when "the recession supposedly ended."
The great thing about economics, though, is that reality speaks louder than the words from the left. Sixty-two percent of the American public knows that the recession began under Clinton they were there and they experienced it. Now, with GDP growth running stronger than in any twelve-month period under Clinton, the American public knows that an expansion is well underway.
Against that, nothing that Media Matters for America says matters.