After months of struggling with how to report on good economic news, Fox News finally found a new strategy to attack consistently positive labor market gains: move the bar to an unreasonable height. While downplaying the May 2013 jobs report that was better than expected, Fox misleadingly cited employment growth during the Reagan administration and proposed a new standard for growth so unreasonably high that it has only been met three times in the past 30 years.
On the June 7 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, contributor Charles Payne downplayed the May 2013 jobs report -- a report that was better than expected -- saying, "You know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number." He then compared the number to the September 1983 jobs report when the economy added 1.1 million jobs. Later, Payne guest hosted Fox Business' Varney & Co. where contributor Monica Crowley claimed, "At this point in the recovery, you should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month." She also brought up the September 1983 report.
PAYNE: You know what, all things considered, what you just laid out: it's better than expected. But you know, in the grand scheme of things, none of us should really like the number. It's extraordinarily mediocre with what we've gotten in the past. You know, the way we've come out of recessions in the past, we've had some amazing, robust times. I mean, going all the way back to Reagan where one month we actually had one million jobs created in a single month. For us to still be well under 200,000 is really disheartening. But you know, the good news is, a lot of people thought it could have been worse.
MACCALLUM: Wow, that's an - I just want to go back to what you just said. So during the Reagan recovery there was a single month period where we added a million jobs?
PAYNE: One single month. A million - by the way, we had a whole lot less people too.
But Payne and Crowley ignored the context of the 1983 report. While Payne portrayed it as just one example of the so-called "Reagan recovery," according to The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch blog, it was actually an outlier. Market Watch also pointed out that about 640,000 of the 1.1 million jobs can be attributed to striking AT&T employees returning to work. In reality, the average monthly job growth during the Reagan administration was 168,000.
Crowley's assertion that the economy "should be generating 300 -- 500,000 jobs a month," is also unreasonable. When Market Watch evaluated a similar claim by Gov. Mitt Romney, it found that job growth had only surpassed the 500,000 mark three times in the past 30 years. From Market Watch:
How rare is it for 500,000 jobs to be created in a month? The last time was in May 2010 -- when the U.S. hired thousands of workers to conduct the Census. (The next month, payrolls shrunk by 167,000.)
Lest Romneyites think that only President Barack Obama struggled to make that grade, neither President Bush, older or younger, saw job creation that strong. President Clinton had one-plus 500,000 month, when in September, 1997, 507,000 positions were created. (Aided by the return of striking UPS workers.) President Reagan enjoyed a spectacular 1.11 million-job month in September 1983, but that was the only plus-500K mark and was boosted by roughly 640,000 AT&T workers returning from a strike.
Payne and Crowley's claims represent a new line of attack, but this isn't the first time Fox News has reset the bar on how it characterizes economic news. As the economy has consistently improved, Fox News has repeatedly struggled to portray good news in a negative light. In some cases, it has even cut its economic coverage in half.