Consumers aren't buying the media's inflation hysteria

Runaway spending

  
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Lining up at the cash register and spending like never before, eager American shoppers are mucking up the media’s preferred storyline about how rising inflation is crippling the U.S. economy. Leaning into the political implications of how higher prices are doing long-term damage to the Biden presidency, the media now seem befuddled as U.S. consumers are ignoring the press’ dire portrait of a 1970’s-style wave of economic malaise that’s supposedly gripping the country.

Having spent months breathlessly hyping GOP talking points about inflation and presenting it as the defining economic indicator in America — not huge job gains, record-setting GDP predictions, or raising wages — journalists now are forced to report on runaway consumer spending, as Americans gobble up a record number of electronics, jewelry, and luxury goods.

If the media were to be believed, spooked consumers scared off by rising prices should be home guarding their wallets. Instead, they’re emptying the contents at shops and online.

Retail sales jumped 1.7% in October, rising for the third month in a row. Adjusted for inflation, sales were up 0.7 percent from the previous month, and up 9.5 percent from a year earlier. Consumers overall spent a record $638 billion at stores and restaurants in October, according to the Commerce Department. That’s up 21 percent from pre-pandemic levels.

“After experiencing one of the most severe economic shocks of the past century in 2020, the U.S. economy has displayed one of the most rapid recoveries in modern history,” according to Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist for Oxford Economics.

But a feel-good story about a red-hot economy in recovery mode is not what the press wants to emphasize. So economic coverage now revolves mostly around inflation reporting, which seems purposely over the top and lacking key context. By constantly doling out sour economic updates in the form of breathless inflation coverage, the press continues to do the GOP’s bidding.

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Also, today’s inflation is a global phenomenon, caused by a global pandemic, which warped supply and demand patterns, creating a mismatch that has driven prices higher. That key point often get ignored as the press eagerly depicts the situation as a Democratic problem.

Inflation is a “political nightmare for Biden,” CNN recently stressed. The Associated Press conceded last week that consumers spending is way up, but claimed inflation was “casting a pall” and that rising prices, not plummeting unemployment, would “likely be the chief economic indicator Americans discuss over Thanksgiving Day dinner.” (The AP can read minds, apparently.)

As one retail chain CEO recently told the New York Times, “People have money to spend, they’re excited to be back out in the world again, they’re excited to be back with their families this holiday season.”

More good news, right? Not so much.

The Times claimed Democrats’ chances in the 2022 midterm elections, 48 weeks away, were badly harmed because of grocery store inflation this year, and specifically because Thanksgiving dinners cost more to make. In truth, the cost of groceries is up five percent, which doesn’t seem like reason enough to convince voters to switch parties next year. Meanwhile, there are lots of great deals to be had, like at the California grocery chain which was selling two frozen pies for just $10 the week before Thanksgiving, and four dozen cans of soda for $12. Consuming hair-on-fire inflation coverage, you’d think shoppers need to take out loans in order to stock their pantries. They do not.

Relaying on anecdotal reporting, the press has spent months depicting U.S. shoppers as being steamrolled by stampeding inflation — it’s just not the case. The press keeps trying, though.

Note that when weekly jobless claims fell to a 52-year low last week, the Times ran yet another Biden Inflation! piece on the following day’s front page. News of the historic jobless numbers ran on page B3.

On Tuesday, the Times was back at it with another big inflation piece, this one about how Millennials have never experienced widespread inflation before. The story though, didn’t quote a single Millennial complaining about inflation.

In November alone, the New York Times published more than 130 articles and columns that mentioned “inflation” at least three times, according to Nexis. That’s an average of four inflation pieces every day for the entire month.

As part of its hysterical, ongoing inflation coverage, the Washington Post claimed rising Christmas tree prices this year means, “many families are unsure whether they will spend the holiday gathered around a majestic tower of greenery or something more reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s sad spectacle.” (According to an industry trade group, live Christmas tree prices this year are up 5-10 percent.)

The Post’s Dan Balz over the weekend insisted Biden was “slow to acknowledge” Americans’ inflationary pain, and presented rising costs as a defining crisis for the White House. Balz in passing did mention, “Some economic statistics continue to show positive signs,” but he refused to detail what those positive signs are: Roaring monthly job gains and an unemployment rate that’s expected to fall below four percent next year.  

The press keeps rooting against the Biden economy. Consumers though, aren’t buying it.

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(Photo: Getty Images)

📺 GOOD STUFF:

Columbia Journalism Review takes a look at CNN’s drive in 2021 to hype drama instead of simply reporting the news.

From CJR’s “CNN’s Tabloid Tendencies”:

Since last year, CNN ratings are down 73 percent. Without the daily spectacle of Donald Trump as president, cable news producers appear to be seeking other dramatic narratives. The network’s exaggerated tone and graphic content increasingly pushes it into the realm of tabloid-like material. 

This trend emerged in September with the death of Gabby Petito, a young woman allegedly killed by her boyfriend. I’ve been told that producers justified that coverage due to the abundance of available Instagram material. But the accessibility of photographs doesn’t make a story newsworthy––it makes it convenient infotainment.

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EXTRA STUFF:

My column Monday about Chris Christie’s book flop generated some media waves. Here’s MSNBC’s Chris Hayes covering a story:

🎄 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

The Irish Rovers, “Down Among the Bushes of Jerusalem”

Since it’s officially December, I’ll start sprinkling in some of my favorite holiday songs this month, ones that don’t traditionally pop up on seasonal Apple playlists.

This historical recounting of the Christmas story from Toronto’s Irish Rovers is a near-perfect folk gem.

Come listen gentle Christians, and you Jews and Gentiles too
And all denominations, a song I sing to you
It's all about a young man, a rebel through and through
Down among the bushes of Jerusalem

🎙 Click here to listen to the music that’s been featured on PRESS RUN, via a Spotify playlist.

Click here to listen via Apple Music.