In early March, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank to about 6,500, CNBC stock analyst Jim Cramer blamed Barack Obama for "the greatest wealth destruction" ever, citing declines in "all indices, since the inauguration of the President," an attack theme that resonated across the right-wing and much of the mainstream U.S. news media.
The numbers were hard to refute. When Obama became President a little over one month earlier, the Dow was at about 8,000, meaning Obama had presided over a decline of nearly 20 percent. But Cramer's analysis was unfair and from the perspective of only four months later clearly wrong.
Indeed, if one wanted to label Obama a "great wealth destroyer" for the stock market slide early in his presidency, it would only seem fair to call him now a "great wealth creator," because the Dow passed the 9,000 mark last week, representing almost a 40 percent rise from the March lows.
But don't be surprised that Cramer, his CNBC buddies and the rest of the U.S. media aren't rushing to give the President any credit for the turnaround. This blame game only goes one way.
Cramer's analysis in March said Obama's budget sowed "massive fear and indecision" with proposals to raise taxes on the rich, reform health care and press for a cap-and-trade policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"Obama has undeniably made things worse by creating an atmosphere of fear and panic rather than an atmosphere of calm and hope," wrote Cramer. "He's done it by pushing a huge amount of change at a very perilous moment. ...
"We had a banking crisis coming into this regime, but now every area is in crisis. Each day is worse than the previous one for this miserable economy."
Well, it's turned out that not every day has been worse than the previous one, at least not for the stock markets. Despite continued problems, especially the unemployment rate rising to 9.5 percent, the economy began to show signs that the recession was ending and the bulls returned to the markets.
Blaming Obama for the stock slide at the start of his presidency was unfair for another reason. The markets had been falling since October 2007 when the Dow was over 14,000 and the mortgage crisis began.
The resulting fallout from toxic assets based on risky mortgages brought down Wall Street banks like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. Panicked investors watched as trillions of dollars of wealth disappeared and by September 2008 Bush administration officials were warning of a cataclysm that could be worse than the Great Depression.
There were plenty of causes for the catastrophe. President George W. Bush with his rhetorical commitment to "free-market" principles was slow to react, and lax regulation by his administration and its Clinton predecessors contributed to the mess, as did Wall Street's addiction to obscene levels of compensation when bankers took risky bets.
But the U.S. news media always shied away from demanding much accountability of Bush. Mainstream journalists have long understood that their careers could be put in jeopardy if they are deemed to show any "liberal bias." So with a few exceptions careerist journalists tilt to the Right, taking a tougher line on Democrats than on Republicans.
Same Old Patterns
This pattern has continued into the Obama administration, with the powerful right-wing media baiting mainstream reporters for supposedly being "in the tank for Obama." The predictable reaction has been for mainstream journalists to consistently create negative news frames around Obama and his policies.
So, when Obama pushed for a $787 billion stimulus plan, it was treated as too big and too bloated at least until the discouraging GDP numbers rolled in for late last year and suddenly the package was too small and too modest.
When the New York Times and the Washington Post wrote about the stunning 6.2 percent decline in the gross domestic product for the fourth quarter of 2008, their stories focused on Obama's inadequate policies, without mentioning that Bush was President for the entire fourth quarter.