Misguided media conventional wisdom can prove decisive in close elections, and we are seeing that again this year as one of the key storylines of the U.S. presidential campaign is that Barack Obama is at fault for the poor jobs numbers. Reporters know better, but they can't break from this "blame Obama" narrative.
So, every time disappointing jobs numbers are released, the media chorus is that Obama will pay a steep price on Election Day 2012. You hear this even from liberal commentators. But it's no secret that the Republicans have done all they can -- since Inauguration Day 2009 -- to obstruct the President's plans to boost hiring.
Journalistically, the truthful way to present this story is to note that the Republicans have obstructed Obama's jobs plans at every turn, and that their strategy to make the U.S. economy "scream" appears to be working.
If unemployment stays high, the GOP trusts that the pain of America's jobless will cost Obama votes and give Mitt Romney the White House. The Republicans not only stand to benefit from high unemployment but they are doing all they can to achieve it.
Reporters are familiar with the evidence. Author Robert Draper reported that leading Republicans, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, began plotting a destroy-Obama strategy just hours after the new President was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009.
Though the United States was facing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression -- with millions of Americans losing their jobs and millions of families facing foreclosures on their homes -- the Republicans were already focused on ensuring that Obama's presidency would fail.
The process began with a few "moderate" Republicans insisting that Obama's $787 billion stimulus package be slimmed down in size and watered down with tax cuts. Then, most Republicans called it a "failure" because, they claimed, it didn't save or create any jobs (despite the Congressional Budget Office's conclusion that the stimulus actually kept some 3 million Americans from being unemployed).
Republican obstructionism increased after the 2010 elections, when the GOP gained control of the House. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that the top Republican priority would be to ensure the defeat of Obama in 2012.
Accordingly, the President's economic proposals were declared dead on arrival on Capitol Hill and -- when hiring began to pick up in 2011 nonetheless -- the Republican Tea Partiers precipitated a crisis over the debt ceiling, injecting more uncertainty into the struggling economy.
Some estimates on the impact of the GOP's obstruction suggest that the U.S. jobless figure could be below 6 percent now, instead of at 8.2 percent, if Obama's major jobs bill had been enacted in 2011 and if severe austerity had not been imposed at state and local levels, often by Republican officials.
But such an improving jobs picture would not be desirable for Mitt Romney's campaign or for Republican congressional prospects. The GOP would be denied its favorite talking point: that venture capitalist Romney knows more about creating jobs than President Obama does.
The national press corps knows the facts about the orchestrated Republican obstructionism, but still can't escape the narrative that Obama is to blame for the sluggish economy.
A similar pattern existed in the bogus storyline of 2000, with journalists portraying Al Gore as a lying braggart and George W. Bush as a regular guy. It didn't matter what the reality actually was. The national press corps just fell in love with the narrative. [For details on that media failure, see Neck Deep.]
Ironically, the truthful narrative for Campaign 2012 would make for a more dramatic storyline than the "blame Obama" one. The real narrative would ask: Will the Republicans' audacious "take-the-economy-hostage" scheme work? Will the American people, in effect, ransom their economy by sacrificing President Obama and surrendering to Mitt Romney?
Yes, the price for surrender would be high -- allowing major new tax breaks for the rich and accepting big cuts in domestic spending that helps the country as a whole -- but by giving in, at least the American voters could end the ugly political stalemate.
That choice would be a story worth covering. But the mainstream media can't get past the "blame Obama" conventional wisdom. It is another way that the U.S. press corps is failing the American people -- and boring them, too.