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NPR’s New Double Standard for Biden


Coddling Trump?

December 6, 2021

By Eric Boehlert, PRESS RUN.

Is adding more than 200,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy in a single month good news or bad news? At National Public Radio, the answer seems to change depending on who’s president.

On Friday, the Labor Department announced that as the economy emerges from the pandemic, 210,000 jobs were added in November, fewer than what analysts had expected. NPR immediately pounced on Twitter: “November hiring was a bust, with only 210,000 jobs created — and those numbers came in even before omicron was identified.”

NPR’s report was clear: Hiring was in the ditch and it was likely to get much worse with an “even more worrisome coronavirus variant” looming. (For the record, scientists don’t yet know if the Omicron variant will be worse than the Delta variant.) The political implications for the Biden White House were obvious, as well. The Beltway press for months has been stressing that the economy, and especially inflation, was a major political problem for Biden, and constantly listed it as one of his pressing “crises.” According to NPR on Friday, that crisis just got worse because the jobs report — 210,000 new positions — was an unequivocal “bust.”

What’s odd is how NPR previously covered similar jobs announcements under Trump. Back in January of 2020, NPR cheered that the U.S. economy was “revved up” because 225,000 jobs had been created. The year before that, an NPR headline read, “Job Market Surges As Employers Add 266,000 Jobs In November.” NPR made sure to include an excited quote from the White House in the third paragraph of that report: “It’s a tremendous report. Obviously, it’s something to be very happy about.”

Both of those recent cases during the Trump years make it sound like adding between 200,000 and 300,000 jobs in a month is a very good thing. But under Biden it’s a “bust” because “just 210,000 jobs” were created.

Note that according to Friday’s Labor report, unemployment last month dropped from 4.6 percent to 4.2 percent, and is now down two entire points in twelve months, which is unprecedented in American history for a president’s first year in office. Prior to Biden passing the Covid relief bill last winter, the CBO predicted it would take until 2025 for the U.S. to reach an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, which means we are four years ahead of schedule in terms of this historic economy.

After I tweeted about NPR’s recent coverage, network host Steven Inskeep responded to me and others asking about the double standard in play:

Thanks. Jan 2020 beat expectations. Nov 2021 fell short. Thus, 2020/2021 tweets differed. Here’s a fair critique: “Who cares if numbers beat expectations? They’re often revised later anyway.” I’d be with you if you said that! Instead you discover a pro-Trump conspiracy.

Inskeep’s referring to how on the eve of each month’s jobs report economists are polled to see what they think the jobs gain number will be. That is used to determine if the report exceeds expectations or not. And he’s right, the January 2020 jobs report under Trump did exceed expectations, in part because expectations were for a modest 150,000 jobs to be added.

But notice how when NPR on Twitter immediately labeled the November jobs report to be a “bust,” there was no reference to expectations. It was simply stated as fact.

Inskeeps then mentions that in recent months each jobs report has been revised upwards with massive additional gains being reported by the government. For instance, the initial August jobs report this summer claimed 235,000 jobs were added. But that was soon revised all the way up to 483,000, a development that received comparatively little press coverage.

But again, none of that was mentioned in the NPR report which claimed 210,000 jobs represented a clear failure for Biden.

Lastly, Inskeep suggested that by pointing out the network’s Biden double standard I’m claiming to have uncovered some kind of “pro-Trump conspiracy.” My hunch is he thinks that’s supposed to sound outlandish, the idea of NPR ever being pro-Trump. In truth, the network over the last few years has been guilty of every other Beltway media failure in terms of clinging to Both Sides journalism, refusing to call to Trump a liar in daily news reports, wildly overplaying the inflation story, and portraying Biden as being dogged by a failing economy.

The signature timidity from NPR’s political reporting likely spring from being intimidated by Republicans who have threatened to slash public broadcasting funding because of so-called liberal media bias. How do you prove you’re not in the tank for Democrats? You claim that a jobs report in which the unemployment rate tumbles to 4.2 percent is a flop.

NPR has not alone in adjusting how it covers 200,000-plus monthly job gains under Biden (bad news!), compared to 200,000-plus monthly new job gains under Trump (great news!).

The solution for journalists is simple: Accurately report economic news without trying to fit it into a preferred storyline.



Boehlert is a media critic who has been monitoring right-wing misinformation for years, first as a staff writer for Salon, for ten years as a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, and most recently as a media critic at Daily Kos

To date, he has written three books, including Lapdogs: How The Press Rolled Over For Bush, and Bloggers on the Bus: How The Internet Changed Politics and the Press.

He is a frequent cable news commentator, making hundreds of television appearances discussing the media, and quoted in dozens of publications, including BuzzFeed, the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. He is also a Twitter thorn in the side of the D.C. press