After Cheerful Morning Spin, The Media Sober Up For Brutal Inflation Report

“Disappointing”. “Frustrating”. “A rough day for the markets”. After this morning’s cheerful attempts to spin the higher-than-expected Consumer Price Index for January, the networks have very clearly course-corrected. The evening newscasts were far more reflective of the harsh reality of what the report indicated. 

Watch the most brutal of these reports, as aired on NBC Nightly News on Tuesday, February 13th, 2024:

LESTER HOLT: Now to the economy and a rough day for the markets. The Dow falling more than 500 points after inflation slowed last month, but not as much as expected. The January Consumer Price Index rose 3.1%, still far from the Federal Reserve’s target. Our senior business correspondent Christine Romans is here to explain what drove the surprise. 

CHRISTINE ROMANS: You know, Lester- gasoline and used car and truck prices fell. Housing, groceries, car insurance and health care, among the biggest costs for most people, they all rose. And when you look at the cumulative effect, overall prices are almost 20% higher today than four years ago, before the pandemic. And grocery prices, they’re up 25%. That’s hitting people when they go to the store. It’s part of the disconnect we are seeing between recent progress on inflation and strong economic numbers and how people are feeling. And with inflation not coming down more sharply last month, you saw that big drop in the markets today, in part because the Fed is less likely to lower interest rates any time soon. 

HOLT: All right, Christine, thank you. 

ABC’s report, as aired on World News Tonight, wasn’t as detailed as NBC’s, but was equally funereal in tone. 

DAVID MUIR: Back in the U.S., and to the economy tonight, and to a disappointing new report on inflation, sending stocks tumbling. Consumer prices in January were up 3.1% from a year ago. With prices for housing and food stubbornly high. Energy prices did fall. The inflation news dimming hopes of lower interest rates in the near future. The Dow falling 524 points. The biggest one-day loss since last March. Today’s down day in the market comes after weeks of new record highs. 

The same can be said for CBS’ report as aired on CBS Evening News.

NORAH O’DONNELL: Frustrating news about inflation sent stocks spiraling today. The Dow had its worst day in nearly a year, dropping almost 1.5%. It was no better for the S&P 500 or the NASDAQ. Those losses were triggered by a new report showing inflation came in higher-than-expected, at 3.1% last month, meaning a cut in interest rates may not come for several months. 

Compare NBC Nightly News’ more thorough report, for example, with the spin that ABC’s Good Morning America tried to put on the bad numbers (click “expand):

ABC: Good Morning America

2/13/2024

8:05:52

MICHAEL STRAHAN: Now to the latest on inflation. And new numbers are expected to show signs of lower prices. Chief Business correspondent, Rebecca Jarvis has the latest for us including how it may affect your Valentine’s Day gifting. Good morning Rebecca.

REBECCA JARVIS: Ah, yes. It might, Michael. Nice to see you again. And the reason that we watch these reports so carefully is because they show both how much things cost us, but also they can signal whether the Fed is going to hike interest rates again, making it more expensive to borrow and pay down that credit card bill.

In real terms, a typical family is spending about $211 more a month on the same goods and services as they were a year ago. But where you really feel that difference is when you compare your spending to two years ago; it is up $605 a month. Compared to three years ago, it is up more than $1,000 a month.

And one area that is driving prices lower right now is gasoline. The national average is about $3.22 a gallon. A year ago it was $3.42 a gallon. There are also items on your breakfast table that are dropping. Cereal’s down 2.4 percent, sausage is down 1.5 percent, and thank goodness coffee is down one percent in price.

But it is a very different story if you’re going out to eat. Prices there are up 5.2 percent. And as Michael told you, Valentine’s Day might be pricey if you haven’t already bought those chocolates, you might find a loveless surprise at checkout. Cocoa prices are at a 47-year high due to climate issues and chocolate prices as a result have surged 17 percent over the last two years. Hershey’s says their prices rose nine percent last year. So that dinner out and a large box of chocolates could be a heartbreaker of a price, but it’s a price you should pay if you want to keep the hearts intact. 

Notice how correspondent Rebecca Jarvis touted the one-two-and three-year inflation for what people are paying in total, but doesn’t do that for the items she said had a “modest” increase or even outright decrease  compared to last year. What was the price of gasoline three years ago? What was the price of these individual food items before inflation began to bite? The comparisons are brutal, hence the need to spin.

To their credit, the evening newscasts just pulled the band-aid on the economic news of the day.

Note: MRC News Analysis Division intern Kathryn Eiler contributed to this report.

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