Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Today's New York Times provides what purports to be a fact check of a recent Barack Obama ad in which sunny statements by John McCain about the economy are juxtaposed with more realistic expressions of concern by ordinary Americans:

THE SCRIPT Senator John McCain (Jan. 10, 2008): "I don't believe we're headed into a recession." Ed Rutherford, Morrow, Ohio: "I think we're absolutely in a recession." Lauren Ahlersmeyer, Lafayette, Ind.: "I sometimes struggle just to get essentials, you know, the milk, the bread, the eggs." Mr. McCain (April 17, 2008): "There's been great progress economically." Stuart Morrison, Park Hills, Ky.: "The economy is in a rut." Mr. McCain (Jan. 30, 2008): "We have had a pretty good, prosperous time with low unemployment." Kelly Robertson, Elkhart, Ind.: "The way the economy is, it is the bleakest of times." Chris Fisher, Wilmington, Ohio: "I'm worried, I'm really worried."

So what's factually wrong with the ad?

Well, among other things, according to the Times,

The Obama campaign uses three short quotes by Mr. McCain from several months ago, before the economy greatly soured...

Got that? John McCain said those things on January 10, January 30, and April 17 of this year -- which, according to The New York Times, was "before the economy greatly soured."

Here's a New York Times story from April 17:

A flurry of reports on Wednesday portrayed an American economy limping its way through a broad-based downturn, as consumer demand softens and the labor and housing markets continue to struggle.

... Credit problems remained widespread, according to the report, as mortgage houses tightened their lending standards and banks were less willing to lend to businesses and consumers.

More workers struggled to find jobs, with employment running flat in many regions. Philadelphia, Atlanta and Minneapolis were particularly hard hit: businesses in those cities reported layoffs and hiring freezes.

... Real estate construction also stayed stagnant, businesses said, dovetailing with a dreary report on housing released on Wednesday by the Commerce Department. Groundbreakings for new homes declined 12 percent and permits dropped 6 percent as builders grappled with fewer buyers and bloated inventories. New residential construction has fallen to levels last seen in the housing recession of the early 1990s.

... The declines were hitting every geographic region and affecting single-family homes, apartment buildings and condominiums.

"In short, truly calamitous," Ian C. Shepherdson, an economist based in London for High Frequency Economics, wrote in a research note....

And here's a Times story from January 30:

...Domestic growth, [analysts] said, faces continuing threats from tight credit and mortgage markets that have forced consumers to retrench.

The Conference Board reported Tuesday that consumer confidence fell sharply in January on worries over deteriorating business conditions and a weakening job market.

..."The U.S. economy remains under severe stress," Bernard Baumohl, managing director of the Economic Outlook Group, wrote in a research note, saying "the prospects of a recession are still very real." ...

And a Times editorial on January 10 began:

The American economy is weakening fast, and some prominent economists are saying a recession is already here.

But all that, the Times says today, was "before the economy greatly soured," so it's OK for John McCain not to have seen signs that ordinary people were struggling.

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