Snow Tries to Snow WSJ, Gets Blowback

Perhaps Treasury Secretary John Snow should spend more time reading the Wall Street Journal and less time trying to spin it.

These days, it would appear that most Americans aren’t feeling too chipper about the state of the U.S. economy. “Majorities of Americans rate economic conditions at the moment as ‘only fair’ or ‘poor,’ say economic conditions in the U.S. are getting worse, and perceive that now is a bad time to be looking for a quality job,” Gallup reported last month.

That majority, however, apparently doesn’t include Treasury Secretary John Snow.

In an interview published today in the Wall Street Journal, Snow touted the state of the U.S. economy, which, according to the secretary, is continuing to benefit a broad swath of American workers, despite reports to the contrary.

“Confronting criticism of the Bush administration’s economic record, Treasury Secretary John Snow said the widening gap between high-paid and low-paid Americans reflects a labor market efficiently rewarding more-productive people,” reported the Journal. “But he insisted Americans are still broadly sharing in the economic expansion.”

Snow hasn’t been around Washington for all that long, so he may be forgiven for thinking that if he could snow anyone on the glories of a free market, he could snow a reporter from the Journal. But it doesn’t work that way, as many a Washington official and corporate bigwig has learned to his own chagrin. And if Snow was hoping that the Journal would simply pass along his rosy outlook without critical analysis, we hope he managed to avoid this morning’s paper.

For there, in an article entitled, “Snow Defends President’s Handling of Economy,” reporter Greg Ip presents Snow’s thoughts on the economy — and then follows up with a hefty dose of economic reporting that effectively undermines Snow’s very claims.

“Mr. Snow distributed a fact sheet that showed after-tax income per person, adjusted for inflation, rose 8.2 percent from January 2001, when George W. Bush took office as president, through January 2006,” reported the Journal. “The sheet also showed that per-person net worth — total assets minus debt — rose 24 percent, unadjusted for inflation, from early 2001 to the end of 2005.”

“Mr. Snow’s case relies on averages, which can be skewed by big gains among the wealthiest,” added the Journal. “Other data suggest the typical family has seen little advance in income or net worth since Mr. Bush took office.”

Cue the relative economic data, sans spin.

“Census Bureau data show median family income — half of families have income greater than the median, half have less — fell 3.6 percent from 2000 through 2004,” reported the Journal. “Incomes for the poorest families fell even further. The only group to gain was the family at the 95th percentile — that is, richer than 95 percent of all families.”

“As for net worth,” added the Journal, “a triennial Federal Reserve survey found that the net worth of the median family rose 1.5 percent, after inflation, from 2001 through 2004. That is far less than the 17 percent increase from 1995 to 1998 and the 10 percent increase from 1998 to 2001.”

All of which lends credence to the somewhat disconcerting theory that these days the typical American worker appears to have a better handle on the state of the U.S. economy than the treasury secretary.

Perhaps Snow should spend more time reading the Wall Street Journal and less time trying to spin it.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.