A New, More Prosperous Black Friday For the New Democratic-Controlled Age

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Nov 25, 2006 12:03 PM

It's sounding like Black Friday shopping was big this year.

I ventured out last year and bought myself a pair of jeans. Yeah, I know. Bah humbug, right? But I'm not ready to shop for anyone else this early in the season.

Early reports last year seemed to indicate that the season would be good, and it was, but a lot of news outlets did their darndest to hide the good under gloomy headlines and misleading ledes on this day a year ago. But now that the New Age of Prosperity in a Time of Democratic Control TM has dawned, the stories look very different on this day after Black Friday, 2006. Let's compare and contrast.

New York Post, 2005:

Big Sales Lure Reluctant Holiday Shoppers

Several major retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Macy's, as well as mall operator Taubman Centers Inc., estimated they drew bigger crowds for the official holiday season launch than last year.

Sure, there were a lot of shoppers, but they were very reluctant.

New York Post, 2006: Stores Score Big as Shopping Season Starts Off With a Bang

Millions of crazed Christmas shoppers stormed retailers across the city and the nation yesterday to take advantage of the wee-morning store hours and spectacular sales - making it one of the strongest starts to the holiday season in years.

The National Retail Federation is predicting that sales this holiday season will rise a whopping 5 percent from last year - to $457 billion...

It was absolute madness as those shoppers, armed with lists, circulars and cash to burn, lined up outside stores in the city before dawn to snag the cheapest deals on electronics, toys and clothes.

Houston Chronicle, 2005:

That Black Cloud Over Retail Has Brightened

An uptick of 7.2 percent in consumer spending in September and October, combined with falling prices at the pump, is providing "strong momentum" for the holidays, said Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation.

Because, you know, what's an economic headline without "black cloud"?

Houston Chronicle, 2006: Retailers Hope Black Friday Means Plenty of Holiday Green

Nationally, retailers will see up to 137 million shoppers during the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. The trade group forecasts holiday season sales to be $457 billion, an increase of 5 percent over last year.

Same good news, very different headline.

Baltimore Sun, 2005:

The Baltimore Sun says, "although retailers face a challenging economy, early reports yesterday indicated a strong first day for the official shopping season."

Baltimore Sun, 2006: Holiday Shopping Starts With a Roar

You might as well put exclamation points on this kind of copy:

The holiday shopping season kicked off in typical frenzied fashion yesterday with pre-dawn bargains, midnight store openings, clogged Internet sites and long lines, fueling a cultural tradition that helps to set the tone for how retailers finish out the year.

Early reports by retail executives predicted strong sales yesterday. And the industry hoped that showing would continue throughout the weekend, when 137 million people are expected to visit stores.

How quickly that "challenging economy" has disappeared since the Democrats took control, huh?

L.A. Times, 2005:

The L.A. Times has more on the "challenging economy":

Broad stock market indexes posted their seventh consecutive daily advance Friday, eking out small gains in a half-day session on Wall Street.

The buying was enough to lift several indexes to multiyear highs, building on November's strong rally in share prices.

I would humbly suggest that several indices being pushed to multiyear highs is perhaps the lede instead of the "small gains" they "eked" out.

L.A. Times, 2006: Getting the Masses in the Mood

This one gets the gush award, for sure.

Thousands of lights were twinkling. No fewer than 178 banners festooned the streets. The 60-foot white fir trucked in from Northern California was anchored fast. Santa was in his log cabin. And before dawn the shoppers began streaming in.

All day Friday they came in throngs to the sprawling Victoria Gardens open-air town center in Rancho Cucamonga. "Thanksgiving is over, cooking is done and now we're on to Christmas," Darla Steffen said.

Shopping with her daughter and granddaughters, Steffen said she loved the outdoor feel and "of course, our California sunshine. Where else could you shop like this at the end of November? Right, girls?"

Preparation paid off here, as it did at practically every mall and Main Street across the country Friday. Merchants across Southern California were generally optimistic about what they were seeing.

The LAT just dispensed with all those dry numbers and went with the unfailingly optimistic local color story.

Associated Press, 2005:

This Associated Press story runs under the headline, "Stocks Get Modest Retail Push":

NEW YORK -- Wall Street finished the week with moderate gains Friday, extending a November rally in light post-Thanksgiving trading amid signs of a strong start to the busy holiday shopping season.

The major indexes closed out their fifth straight winning week and remained at four-year highs. Stocks continued their monthlong advance, fueled by an improving economic backdrop and high hopes for solid retail sales that helped cast aside fears of a downturn.

Are four-year highs really modest? Here's hoping the rest of the Christmas shopping season is marked by such "black clouds," "modest gains," "reluctance," and "challenge."

Associated Press, 2006:

We've got a couple of examples, here, since the AP does a bunch of stories.

Expanded Hours, Discounts Lure Shoppers

It was cold, it was dark and in some places it was foggy. None of that would stop millions of bargain-seekers from climbing into their cars for a pre-dawn raid on their local malls, electronics retailers and discounters for the official start to the holiday season...

The aggressive tactics used to lure shoppers out before sunrise on Black Friday apparently worked.

Black Friday Starts Off Holiday Season With a Bang (this is an AP/Reuters composite)

This year's "Black Friday" could be the strongest opening to the U.S. holiday shopping season in years if the droves of Americans eager to exploit early-bird specials are any guide.

Terry Lundgren, chief executive officer of Federated Department Stores Inc., said he arrived at the company's flagship Macy's store in Manhattan at 5:30 a.m. to find lines wrapped completely around the building, which takes up a whole city block.

 

Black Friday Blooms Per U.S. Tradition

Joe O'Connor's bargain battle plan was set a few days ago, when he scoped out the Macy's in midtown Manhattan for what promised to be excellent prices the day after Thanksgiving.

A couple of shirts here. A pendant for his wife there. A leather jacket elsewhere.

At precisely 6:43 a.m. on Black Friday, yesterday, O'Connor walked out of Macy's with the four items under his arm, all purchased at discount prices. The whole process took 41 minutes, he said.

Gone are the "black clouds," the "challenging economy,"  and "reluctance." Funny, the economy was "challenging" and "cloudy" pre-Nov. 7, according to the press.

I guess it's been a hell of a three weeks. Three cheers for Democrats and their Black-Friday-Fixin', Reluctance-Banishing, Cure-All Economic Elixir!

It does look as though this holiday season may be better than last, according to early numbers, and that's great. But there was much good news to report last year as well, including the fact that 2005's numbers were significantly higher than 2004's. The press persisted in its gloom-and-doom tone.

The bottom line is I don't think there's a whole lot you can know, scientifically, about Black Friday sales until retailers turn in their numbers on Dec. 1, but there's a whole lot you can learn about the press in the way they approach the early reporting.

As a fun little aside, I had a back-and-forth on this subject last year with the LAT's most famous, Pulitzer-Prize-winning, sock-puppeteer, Michael Hiltzik. During the exchange, he called me a "vacuous" "trust fund baby," and offered this sage advice:

In my continuing effort to provide the amateur Mary Katharine Ham with the journalism education she failed to get while working toward her newspaper journalism degree at the University of Georgia, allow me to say: I told you so...

The goal here isn't schadenfreude, but realism.

Since that time, Hiltzik has had his blog pulled from the LAT. He violated the paper's ethical guidelines by leaving comments on blogs all over the Internet, praising himself and bashing his critics while pretending to be someone else.

Luckily, this amateur learned while working toward her newspaper journalism degree at the University of Georgia that it is both dishonest and pathetic to employ sock puppets to prop up her arguments. Good thing I didn't take up Hiltzik on his kind offer of an education. I might not have been here to blog Black Friday this year.

Hey, my goal here isn't schadenfreude, but realism.