The stunts the folks at the Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Press, continue pulling to downplay, minimize, or whitewash bad or embarrassing economic and other news shouldn’t surprise us any more. But they continue to disappoint nonetheless.
Last month, a consumer sentiment index reported by the Conference Board fell by a relatively modest amount. Headlines and descriptions at related AP reports went from “falls” to “dips slightly” to “roughly flat” to a “rosy outlook” in the course of a single day. Today’s AP rewrite only involved one step. At 9:04 a.m., Derek Kravitz’s dispatch on the Census Bureau’s New Home Construction report gave equal play to the seasonally adjusted (and totally unexpected) fall in new housing starts and the also unexpected but more modest rise in building permits:
Here are Kravitz’s first four paragraphs:
U.S. builders started work on fewer homes in March after they sharply cut back on apartment construction. But builders requested the most permits for future projects in 3 1/2 years, suggesting many see the housing market improving over the next year.
The Commerce Department says builders broke ground at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 654,000 homes last month. That’s down 5.8 percent from February. Apartment construction, which can fluctuate sharply from month to month, fell nearly 20 percent. Single-family homebuilding was mostly unchanged.
Building permits, a gauge of future construction, rose 4.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 747,000. That’s the highest level since September 2008.
Even with the gains, the rate of construction and the level of permits requested remain only about half the pace considered healthy. Economists say that construction activity is still depressed and the housing market has a long way to go before it is back to full health.
The AP usually doesn’t report on how results compare to pre-release expectations, which I think is unwise; but at least they’re (usually) consistent about it. Bloomberg had expectations of 705,000 and 710,000, respectively, for starts and permits; actual starts came in almost 8% lower, while permits were over 5% higher.
All in all, with the obvious exception that “housing starts” don’t represent the equivalent of “construction” (an error the AP continually commits and about which it doesn’t seem to care), the verbiage above and the accompanying headline reflect the underlying data and the priority of their importance.
So you almost had to know that it wouldn’t last — and it didn’t.
About 90 minutes later, Kravitz’s headline and content morphed into a POS (Perfectly Outrageous Stinker) which gave top priority to permits (i.e., the good news) and seriously downplayed starts (the bad). Here’s the new headline:
Here are the first five paragraphs of that 10:33 a.m. writeup:
U.S. builders requested the most permits in March for single-family homes and apartments in 3 1/2 years, suggesting that many expect the housing market to improve over the next year.
The Commerce Department said Tuesday that permits, a gauge of future construction, rose 4.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 747,000 in March. That’s the highest level since September 2008.
The rise in permits helped offset a slower month of construction.
Jonathan Basile, director of economics at Credit Suisse, said more permits is a “good sign for broader economic activity” and should lead to increase in construction in the coming months.
Builders broke ground at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 654,000 homes last month. That’s down 5.8 percent from February. Apartment construction, which can fluctuate sharply from month to month, fell nearly 20 percent. Single-family homebuilding was mostly unchanged.
There’s nothing specific about housing starts, arguably the more important number (last time I checked, indicators of real construction activity mean more than how many permission slips builders have), until the fifth paragraph. And as to permits, as I pointed out earlier today (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), “builders may be stockpiling permits in advance of economic improvement they may believe is many months away, for reasons which should be obvious.”
News-altering maneuvers such as these are so brazen and devoid of anything resembling integrity that they leave you scratching your head and wondering if anyone at the self-described “Essential Global News Network” even cares if they are caught and exposed. It would appear that the answer is “No, they don’t.”
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.