Friday Talking Points [157] -- Eight Point Nine

03/07/2011 11:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This just in... Charlie Sheen and Sarah Palin caught smoking pot in love nest!

Well, no, sorry, that's absolutely false. However, it would make a dandy headline, wouldn't it? In terms of media catnip (or even "click-friendly" online media), the obsession over the shiny, shiny media non-stories sadly continues, at the expense of the actual news (not to mention the field of "journalism"...). So, while that first line was indeed fun to write, there will be nothing at all in this article about Charlie Sheen, Sarah Palin, smoking pot, or love nests. Sorry about that.


In other mainstream media idiocy news, today was the day all the networks had slated as "Government Shutdown Day" (you just know they had snazzy graphics and a theme song waiting in the wings, don't you?). Sadly for them, it did not come to pass.

The media, of course, loves conflict. They bear a giant portion of the blame for politics descending to Roman-gladiator levels, and this was to be the prize fight -- Democrats! Republicans! Obama! Granny's Social Security check! But, again, it didn't happen, and you could just see the disappointment dripping from the well-coiffed set on television this week as they reported that the shutdown had been averted. Oh, well, maybe they'll get lucky in two weeks when we go through this all over again.


In other non-news, two Republican presidential hopefuls toyed with the media, but did not actually throw their hat in the ring. Fox News suspended two contributors who may run for president, but inexplicably did not suspend two other prominent Republican possible-candidates who work for them as well. Of course, actually running for president (or even forming an official exploratory committee) involves reporting all your financial information to the Federal Election Commission, which is why Donald Trump is just not going to run. Not in a million, billion years. It's also why Newt Gingrich may not run, either; but this time around Newtie is looking a little more serious than the last two or three times around, so who knows? Gingrich and Trump, currently, are duking it out to win the "Best Fake Candidacy" award, I guess. The only real news here is the story most are ignoring -- Republicans have been strangely quiet on the presidential candidacy front, and unlike four years ago, none of the big-name candidates has actually made any sort of announcement about running. Perhaps it's because Obama's poll numbers have been climbing of late, who knows?

In other election amusements (can't really call it "news"), Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah, seems to be awfully, awfully worried about being "Tea Partied" in his re-election bid. Utah is a caucus state, meaning it would be awfully easy for the Tea Party Republicans to oust him from the general election ballot. Hatch was pretty far to the right to begin with, but now he's quite obviously discovered that you've got to be angry to placate his base. Which was on full display on PBS' NewsHour the other day (Hatch looked like he had wandered in from a Fox News appearance, and moderator Judy Woodruff was downright astonished by the end of it).

But the really astonishing thing, to me at least, is the way the media has reported the unemployment rate for the past few months. A quick review is in order. In November of last year, the unemployment rate was 9.8 percent -- about where it had been for the past year or so (it was actually on an upswing from 9.5 percent in July). December, unemployment went down to 9.4 percent. January, it hit 9.0 percent. And today, it was announced that unemployment in February went down even further (if not as fast) to 8.9 percent -- the first time it has gone below nine percent in almost two years. Those are the facts. You would think this would be presented as good news.

You would be wrong. Compare these facts to the coverage this news brings (admittedly, I have not watched how mainstream television news has reported the February number before writing this). Even from the progressive side of the media. From a Huffington Post article which ran today:

The last several months of job growth have been achingly slow. Despite numerous indicators of economic recovery -- manufacturing expanding for the nineteenth straight month, gross domestic product on the rise, and growing corporate profits -- the unemployment rate didn't drop below a grim 9 percent.

While technically true ("job growth" is not the same thing as the unemployment rate), but that last sentence could also have been written as: "the unemployment rate fell at the fastest rate in over fifty years -- since 1958, to be exact." Both are true, and yet they tell very different stories -- "a grim nine percent" versus "fell at the fastest rate in over fifty years."

Now, I understand that the economy isn't out of the woods yet, and that there are other indicators which show this to one degree or another, but come on -- this is good news! Politicians -- from both sides -- are obviously wary about overpromising on the economy at this point. Republicans are wary, because they know full well that if the recovery kicks in, their chances of electing a Republican president in 2012 decline. Democrats are wary, for two reasons. The first is, the numbers could always take a turn for the worse, in which case you look like an idiot for offering up rosy predictions that later turned out to be false. Secondly, 8.9 percent unemployment -- taken as a standalone number -- is nothing to be jumping for joy over. Democrats know that if they're seen as too positive, then folks who are still being affected by the recession are going to grumble that the politicians "are out of touch."

To a large extent, this last rationale has been driving the media storyline as well. They don't want to be seen as "out of touch" either, so they've been downplaying the good news for the past two months, just in case there's a turnaround. And to show empathy for those still out of work, as well.

But at some point, the storyline has to turn to reality. This has been the best three months, in terms of changing rates, that the United States economy has had since Eisenhower was president. That is news. That is a story. It's been going on for three months now, consistently. As I said, I have not yet seen any of the television news today, so hopefully I'll be pleasantly surprised that the unemployment number won't be reported with the usual doom-and-gloom backdrop later tonight, but I wouldn't bet a lot of money on it at this point.

And finally, a story which really should be getting a lot more attention -- Speaker of the House John Boehner has refused a request to let the last American soldier from World War I to lie "in honor" in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Frank Buckles lied about his age to join the military when only sixteen, and he was the last survivor of the "War To End All Wars." Refusing this honor is just downright inexplicable, and indefensible. This is how Republicans honor our veterans?

Oh, wait, Charlie Sheen just said something outrageous! Sarah Palin tweeted about it! Gotta go....


Continue reading this full article at, complete with our weekly award picks and our talking points section, where we just had to rip into John Boehner once again.


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