August 22, 2007

A Related Point from Yesterday’s Timesfest; The Paper’s Six-Month Uncorrected ‘Manufacturing Recession’ Claim

Last night, it occurred to me, as I was preparing an e-mail to notify New York Times business columnist David Cay Johnston about updates to yesterday’s original post and the new source data update post, that I should bring a Times-related business reporting matter to his attention.

So I did (links to previous BizzyBlog and other posts not in the e-mail have been added by me; Mr. Johnston was advised that this portion of the e-mail would be posted):

David,

….. Until earlier this year, I really didn’t have too adverse of an opinion on the hard business reporting at the Times (outside of Paul Krugman, but he’s a commentator). I’ve usually seen AP as consistently worse on hard biz-econ news.

Then, in February, Times reporter David Leonhardt told readers that manufacturing was in a recession. Not heading towards one. Not on the verge of one. Nope — IN one.

Leaving aside the impropriety of characterizing only one sector of an economy as being in a recession (a macro term), manufacturing has not been in anything resembling dire straits for over four years. It barely went into contraction in November 2006 and January 2007 (second item at link); it has expanded in 48 of the past 50 months.

Leonhardt himself has never retracted his “recession” call. It remains in its own way one of the most bogus pieces of reporting I have seen in any section of the news.

David, if calling a manufacturing “recession” and then not retracting it after six consecutive months of reported expansion immediately after his call is not agenda-driven, I don’t know what is. It never had any foundation, and it should be an embarrassment to the Times each day it stays uncorrected.

Yet I notice, contrary to your apparent expectations in such a situation, at least per your comment yesterday (second paragraph — “The idea that in the most scrutinized news report in the world I could twist facts for some venal purpose is laughable. We fire reporters who do that and we should.”), that Mr. Leonhardt is still working at the Times. How can that be?

Regards,
Tom Blumer

UPDATE: Leonhardt’s manufacturing recession call, and the nearly six months it has stood uncorrected, is all the more absurd when you see the comparison originally made at this post on March 1:

According to the Times, the most recent four-month period, boxed in red below, represents a “manufacturing recession”; The Times has already declared it (“For Manufacturing, a Recession Has Arrived”):

ISMpmi2006to2007

But the following periods boxed in orange from 1995-2000 did not:

ISMpmi1995to2000.jpg

(Source and Explanation: Historical Table of the Institute for Supply Management’s Monthly PMI Manufacturing Index. Readings above 50 represent expansion. Those below 50 represent contraction. According to ISM (scroll down at link), “A PMI in excess of 41.9 percent, over a period of time, generally indicates an expansion of the overall economy.”)

….. In a Proquest Library search of the Times for articles containing both “manufacturing” and “recession” from 1/1/1995 to 1/1/2001, I found no declarations that the manufacturing sector was actually in a recession — only a few saying that it might get to that point.

The ISM Historical Table shows that since Leonhardt’s “manufacturing recession” call, the ISM manufacturing readings for February through July have been 52.3, 50.9, 54.7, 55.0, 56.0, and 53.8. The February report was released on March 1, the very first day after Leonhardt’s “recession” article.

Recession, reschmession.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

UPDATE: I get it now, thanks to this NewsBusters comment — Leonhardt was “manufacturing a recession.”

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