Jan 28 2008

NYT Falls for White House Spin on Economy

No one 'envies' Bush GDP record

The New York Times (1/28/08) claimed in a front-page story that George W. Bush’s economic growth record “would be the envy of most presidents.” This claim has no basis in fact and should be corrected by the newspaper.

The assertion was part of a “White House Memo” by Sheryl Gay Stolberg. Opening with the question, “Will George W. Bush be remembered as the president who lost the economy while trying to win a war?,” she continued:

Mr. Bush has spent years presiding over an economic climate of growth that would be the envy of most presidents. Yet much to the consternation of his political advisers, he has had trouble getting credit for it, in large part because Americans were consumed by the war in Iraq.

In reality, few modern presidents would want to exchange their record of economic growth for George W. Bush’s. Gross domestic product (GDP), the standard measure of economic growth, increased at an annual average rate of 2.6 percent from 2001 through 2006–the latest year available. This ranks the George W. Bush administration 6th out of seven administrations since 1960 in terms of economic growth (counting the Kennedy/Johnson and Nixon/Ford years as one administration each). Only the administration of Bush’s father had slower annual growth. As economist Dean Baker noted in a rebuttal to Stolberg’s piece (Beat the Press, 1/28/08), the statistics for each administration are:

Kennedy-Johnson — 5.2%

Nixon-Ford — 2.7%

Carter — 3.4%

Reagan — 3.4%

Bush I –1.9%

Clinton — 3.6%

Bush II –2.6%

The fact that growth has been comparatively slow under the George W. Bush administration is a basic economic fact that any journalist covering politics ought to know, yet the New York Times‘ White House correspondent seems to be unaware of it. More than a year ago (7/12/06), Stolberg described Bush as “blessed with a growing economy but facing voters who do not give him much credit for it.” She claimed that “by standard measurements, the economy does look good,” citing “a gross domestic product that grew an average of 4 percent in the past three years.”

But the standard way to report GDP growth is to adjust for inflation, which Stolberg apparently did not do; what the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis calls “real” GDP growth averaged 3.1 percent during 2003-05.

If you look at other measures of growth–such as wages, employment, consumption or investment–data compiled by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (1/14/08) show that the expansion under Bush has been notably weaker than most other post-war recoveries. For example, wages have grown by 3.8 percent a year during a typical recovery, but only 1.9 percent per year under Bush (measured from the 4th quarter of 2001). Only in growth of corporate profits has the Bush expansion shown a higher than average rate.

Stolberg’s take on Bush’s economic record seems to reflect the spin she’s receiving from those consternated political advisers she cites; the Washington Post (1/28/08) also had a front-page piece that asserted that the Bush administration “received little credit for the nation’s strong economic performance because of public discontent about the Iraq War.”

The job of White House correspondents, however, is to examine and if necessary debunk administration spin, not simply pass it along to readers.


Please ask the New York Times to correct the inaccurate claim that George W. Bush’s economic growth record “would be the envy of most presidents.”


New York Times


Email: nytnews@nytimes.com

Phone: 1-888-NYT-NEWS (1-888-698-6397).