All But Ignoring the Fed’s Call for More Stimulus

Deficit-obsessed newspapers stuff Bernanke's plea for near-term spending or tax cuts

Last week, Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, Republican, Bush appointee, calm technocrat, called for more fiscal stimulus (government spending and/or tax cuts) now to boost a flailing economy.

Big story, huh?

Not in the press, which will write a slew of above-the-fold stories on the Two Old Guys’ Report, but barely takes note when the fusty Federal Reserve chairman says increase the deficit right now and worry about the long run once the economy gets its legs back.

The Washington Post put the news on A18 (the front of its business section nowadays) in a story that leads with this angle:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke is hitting back at the major nations that have assailed the Fed’s latest actions to try to boost growth, offering a blunt argument that the steps were needed to keep the U.S. economy growing - and, by extension, to keep the global recovery on track.

The New York Times puts a story on B1, but doesn’t do well, either. Here’s its lede:

Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, plans to argue Friday that currency undervaluation by China and other emerging markets is at the root of ”persistent imbalances” in trade that ”represent a growing financial and economic risk.”

It stuffs the stimulus news down in the twelfth paragraph in the form of a Bernanke quote:

”In general terms, a fiscal program that combines near-term measures to enhance growth and strong, confidence-inducing steps to reduce longer-term structural deficits would be an important complement to the policies of the Federal Reserve,” Mr. Bernanke will say.

It leads into that by saying Bernanke “gingerly wades into the fiscal policy debate roiling Washington.”

This story shouldn’t be hard at all. The headline is “Fed Chairman Endorses New Round of Stimulus,” it’s a straight news story, and it goes on A1.

I don’t think this Times graph is even correct:

Even so, by defending the Fed’s actions, calling for global rebalancing and hinting that more fiscal stimulus might be needed, Mr. Bernanke’s remarks amount to an endorsement of crucial elements of President Obama’s economic approach.

Have I somehow missed Obama calling for more stimulus?

The Wall Street Journal flat fails to report that Bernanke called for Congress and the president to blow some cash to boost the economy. Its story thinks the big news from Bernanke’s speech on Friday is that the Fed is “firing back” at critics of its monetary policy and that China and the like are causing global trade imbalances by manipulating their currencies. That latter part is news, but it’s not the big news, which is “Spend, government! Bernanke says.”

There’s not much excuse for missing that.

A Fed chairman’s every word is parsed to see if it gives any hint of what the bank is thinking about the economy. And the Fed is supposed to be independent of political goings-on. That’s one reason why it was such a huge story back in 2001 when then-chairman Alan Greenspan essentially endorsed George W. Bush’s multi-trillion-dollar tax cuts.

You remember that, don’t you?

The WaPo gave it two stories on page one. The Journal led its page-one Business & Finance column with it. The Times led page one with the news. It was talked about for months.

It would have been hard to have missed it.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,