David Gregory Mistakes Dow for Opinion Poll

David Gregory, host of NBC‘s Meet the Press (3/1/09):

The Obama stimulus package, $787 billion. The housing plan, $75 billion. That’s $2.3 trillion. Seven hundred and fifty billion dollars additional in this document for additional bailout money for the banks. Meantime, what metric do we have to see how people–what people think of that government intervention? The Dow is one metric. It closed on Friday at its lowest level since 1997, just over 7,000.

The Dow is not a measure about what “people” think about government policies. It’s a measure of what the tiny, elite group of people who trade stocks think stocks are worth, which is to say what they think other people would pay for them. These evaluations have little to do with the long-term health of the economy. In some cases, a declining stock market might be good news for the economy, particularly if stock prices have been unrealistically inflated.

If you want to find out what people in general actually think about President Obama’s economic policies, a better way to do so is to ask a statistically representative sample of them. Such efforts generally provide much more positive results than the Dow Jones “metric.”

Someone whose feelings you can predict based on what the Dow does, though, is Gregory’s NBC colleague Chris Matthews. When stocks go down, Chris Matthews gets mad. Here he is a couple of weeks ago (Hardball, 2/23/09):

I want to ask you when we get back, how does he deal with the fact that he has a scorecard now. It’s called the Dow Jones. Every day now–first of all, they’re going to nationalize the banks. Then they’re not going to nationalize the banks. No matter what they say, the Dow keeps going down. It’s down to almost 7,000 now. I used to think 8,000 was the floor. It’s heading toward 6,000! People are really getting angry! I’m getting angry!

People have saved money, who are facing retirement, are ripped right now. It’s absolutely disturbing, to put it lightly, what this must be saying to people who are retired now. They have a nest egg, a 401(k) that’s now a 101(k). They are ripped. I’m only saying it the nice way. They are really angry and they’re going to get mad at him if we don’t get this market turned around.

We’ll be right back with Howard Fineman and see how the president does with his scorecard, and Gene Robinson, can he deal with that Dow Jones scorecard every day in decline?

If you’re pulling down a multi-million salary like Chris Matthews, you probably invest quite a bit of it and therefore you might have a lot to lose when the stock market goes down. Your personal losses don’t turn the Dow Jones into a “scorecard” for the president, however.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.