Sometimes it is difficult, even as a seasoned observer, to make sense of the political world. A president leaves office with a recession, the 9/11 plot in place and having acted in such a way to inspire the phrase “doing a Lewinsky,” yet he still enjoys high approval ratings. A president who liberates 50 million people, leads the country out of a recession, enacts tax cuts that result in record economic growth and cuts the deficit in half several years earlier than he promised, constantly struggles to maintain public support. Evidently public opinion of a presidency is not all about “the economy, stupid.”
Public opinion over the past few years has depended less on the economy and more on the situation in Iraq. Even if voters were naming the economy as their number one issue though, President Bush might not be faring much better. Many public opinion polls show Americans rating the economy negatively in spite of most all economic indicators showing a booming economy. I chalk it up in large measure to the way the media have covered economic news. Every piece of good news for the Bush economy, if it even gets reported, gets passed along with warnings of doom and gloom to come, in stark contrast to the rah-rah reporting the economy received in the Clinton years.
If the tone of economic reporting has influenced public opinion, consider how much more significantly the news from Iraq and the war on terror might have. While the spin put on economic reporting has resulted in a public perception at odds with economic facts, in some cases the reporting from Iraq and the war on terror has gone far beyond spin and entered an alternate reality completely divorced from facts.
In August, Mary Katharine Ham listed dozens of reasons conservatives don’t trust the mainstream media, many of them going beyond the bias long tracked by the Media Research Center and others, to reach the level of full-fledged fabrication. Included in her list were instances of “fauxtography” -- photographs faked by computer, and then sold to Reuters and other news agencies and published in news stories all over the world. Since then, the list of such examples has grown even longer.