Conservatives Turn to CNBC and the WSJ for Stimulating Propaganda

Last week the new jobs report showed that the unemployment rate had fallen by 0.2 percent in the month of November. The number remained in double-digits, but CNBC’s Trish Regan was particularly excited. It prompted her question: “Do we really need more stimulus given that we seem to be very much on the road to recovery? Why spend any more money? We haven’t spent all the stimulus money thus far, why not maybe hang on to that?”

It was a question on the minds of many conservatives. On Monday, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued against reallocation of TARP funds for further stimulus. The editors declared the stimulus a failure, advising, “The best stimulus now would be for Congress to stop scaring private-sector job creators away by promising to help them. Just do nothing at all.”

Hosts at CNBC and the editorial pages of WSJ have been on the same page, metaphorically speaking, in their unwavering criticism of February’s stimulus spending. This despite the fact that the reporting in that respected newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, has more than once demonstrated the contrary.

The editorial asserted this even as the reporting from the front section of that paper has said otherwise for months. Way back in September, in an article entitled “U.S. Economy Gets Lift from Stimulus,” Deborah Solomon reported that “Government efforts to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy appear to be helping the U.S. climb out of the worst recession in decades.” Apparently this piece escaped the editors’ attention.

And as a recent report by the Congressional Oversight Panel observed, “There is broad consensus that the TARP was an important part of a broader government strategy that stabilized the U.S. financial system by renewing the flow of credit and averting a more acute crisis. Although the government’s response to the crisis was at first haphazard and uncertain, it eventually proved decisive enough to stop the panic and restore market confidence.”

Thursday morning the Journal reported that “The U.S. trade deficit narrowed unexpectedly in October, falling to $32.94 billion as the rise in exports from September of goods such as cars was slightly higher than the increase in imports. The figure—representing the U.S. deficit in international trade of goods and services—is 7.6 percent lower than the downwardly revised $35.65 billion trade gap the United States ran in September. Separately, the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose more than economists expected last week. Total claims lasting more than one week, meanwhile, fell.”

Though to be fair, while Wall Street’s recovery has been impressive since the spending began and the economy has stabilized in almost every respect, clearly averting the doomsday scenarios that were clearly on the table when the spending was undertaken, it’s fair to note as another sensible Journal news piece did that “As Unemployment Rises, Debate Intensifies Over the $787 Billion Program; Economic Impact Might Not Be Known for Years.”

And yet someone’s still not listening. On November 19 the Journal editors attacked “The Phantom Jobs Stimulus” and argued “No matter how hard or imaginatively the administration spins, the reality is that the stimulus has been the economic bust that critics predicted it would be.” In a December 3 editorial, readers were instructed that jobs would soon return to the economy, “but that won’t have much to do with the stimulus.”

Meanwhile, over at CNBC, on the October 29 edition of “Street Signs,” the network ran an extended segment using a list of stimulus projects taken entirely from the Senate Republicans communications website. Coincidentally, the same tactic turned up in the Journal.

CNBC’s Larry Kudlow has proven a tireless opponent of the stimulus. In June, in an article on CNBC.com, Kudlow took a totally partisan stand: “Republicans, are you listening? Roll back the unnecessary stimulus and restore the Fed’s independence.” The station’s infamous Wall Street analyst Jim Cramer, called the stimulus plan a “disaster for America” after it was passed in February. (And who could forget CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s rant, which in many respects gave rise to the entire phenomenon of “tea parties?”)

The two outlets achieved a kind of corporate and ideological synergy in June, when William McGurn, vice-president of News Corp. and former Bush speech writer, wrote an op-ed for the Journal pointing readers to a blog post at CNBC.com by former Bush communications aide Tony Fratto. Both McGurn and Fratto complained that the Bush administration never attempted to take credit for “jobs saved and created” and that the press never would have allowed them to make a claim that was “pure fiction” and impossible to prove. Alas, the Bush administration had used the phrase several times to tout an agricultural loan program in 2005.

And as early as January 2009, economics expert Rush Limbaugh penned an editorial in the Journal entitled “My Bipartisan Stimulus.” No surprise, his ideas had little to do with stimulating the economy to avoid a possible second depression and a great deal to do with unchanging conservative boilerplate: “ I say, cut the U.S. corporate tax rate—at 35 percent, among the highest of all industrialized nations—in half. Suspend the capital gains tax for a year to incentivize new investment, after which it would be reimposed at 10 percent. Then get out of the way! Once Wall Street starts ticking up 500 points a day, the rest of the private sector will follow.”

Meanwhile, that same morning, “El Rushbo” appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” with Erin Burnett, who not only threw the man who declared he wanted Obama to “fail” softball after softball, but appeared on the network later in the day touting Limbaugh as having “serious things to say in his article.”

“Serious,” indeed. As Sam Tanenhaus recognized in a recent New Yorker essay on Sarah Palin, conservatives of late have begun to “commit casual ideological libel against Obama, as Palin does when she intimates that his ‘past comments and associations with anticapitalist radicals would influence his economic policy,’ thus implying that the true authors of the stimulus were Saul Alinsky and Bill Ayers, rather than the Wall Street-friendly economists Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner.”

One would think that news organizations ostensibly devoted to understanding and explaining Wall Street would know better. Either way, the dishonest propaganda push undertaken by CNBC and the Wall Street Journal editorial is politically disconcerting from the standpoint of a functioning, well-informed democracy. From the standpoint of moral and intellectual honesty, it is downright criminal.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His seventh book, Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America’s Most Important Ideals, was recently published in paperback. He occasionally blogs at http://www.thenation.com/blogs/altercation and is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast.

Mickey Ehrlich is a freelance writer in New York.