“Bad News” Media Strike Again

We don’t know what “media” Neil Cavuto was consuming, but we couldn’t escape the Black Friday excitement in the press -- in outlets from sea to shining sea.

Chris Matthews’ end-of-program, seated-upon-a-stool Sunday musings on NBC’s The Chris Matthews Show (recent quote: “Celebrity, celebrity, it’s crawling all over me … I don’t care. I do not care that Tom Cruise jumps up and down on Oprah’s couch”). Andy Rooney’s show-closing ruminations on CBS’ 60 Minutes (insights from this past Sunday: “I say ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ occasionally, but nothing vulgar. No body function words”). Such television moments present as good a chance to hit the loo as any Lipitor commercial.

Neil Cavuto’s commentary bit on Fox News — the piece dubbed “Common Sense” on Your World With Neil Cavuto — is no exception.

Yesterday, Cavuto used this first-person platform to perpetuate a complaint against “The Media” so common that it may have passed unnoticed (and, needless to say, unchallenged) by many in Cavuto’s audience: “The Media” focuses on “bad news.” Fixates on the negative. Ignores the positive. Phrase it how you like.

These days, one is, of course, most likely to encounter this assertion in discussions of how the press covers Iraq. Cavuto, however, cleverly applied it to something seasonal: how the press covered “Black Friday,” the annual day-after-turkey-binge-mall-binge that so many Americans embrace and that, retailers hope, sets the tone for a profitable holiday shopping season.

Apparently, Black Friday 2006 was a generally good day for the malls of America. According to the National Retail Federation, individual shoppers spent an average of 19 percent more over this Thanksgiving weekend than they did one year ago. “[19 percent] is a big number,” observed Cavuto. “And if something’s going up that much, there’s really not much other way to spin it.”

Alas, by Cavuto’s calculation, “The Media” did manage to find another way to “spin it” — by ignoring it. “Apparently to much of the media, it’s not a big deal,” Cavuto concluded, adding that “most who report on this stuff were busier reporting what stinks, not what soars,” and that there was “more talk about how Wal-Mart disappointed. Not much talk about how almost everyone else did not.”

Cavuto titled this bit of “Common Sense”: “Retailers are Happy, But I Suspect Media is Not.” There they go again, rooting against America. Or so Cavuto “suspects.”

Here is a sampling of how newspapers — such Debbie Downers — “spun” Black Friday this year, working our way eastward across the nation.

“’Black Friday’ shopping goes up; Post-Thanksgiving numbers grow 19%,” Rocky Mountain News, November 27

“Early-opening bargains draw shoppers: At many stores here, the day after Thanksgiving lived up to its reputation as a mad rush for the pot of gold at the end of the retail rainbow,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 25

“All’s rosy on Black Friday; Shoppers come out in droves for holiday shopping season kickoff,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 25

“They came and they shopped; Retailers revel as gift items fly from stores on a big kickoff to the holiday season,” Buffalo News, November 25

“Black Friday Turned Green At Malls Before Dawn,” New York Times’ Business section, November 27

“Nonstop shoppin’: Hordes storm N.Y.C. stores all over again,” New York Daily News, November 26

“Black Friday Is Golden for Retailers,” Associated Press Online, dateline New York, November 26


And, on television, there were “bad news” segments such as:

“Holiday shoppers out in force this weekend,” CBS Evening News, November 26 (anchor Russ Mitchell dutifully reported the “19 percent” increase in spending over last year before throwing it to his colleague reporting live from a New York mall on “shopper madness”).

“Holiday Shopping Frenzy; Strong holiday spending forecast,” ABC’s Good Morning America, November 25 (reporter Barbara Pinto reported on the “frenzy” from a mall in Chicago).

Here was CNN’s Carol Costello on CNN Newsroom November 26: “Retailers actually are smiling today as the first Black Friday sales figures come in, hinting at a robust holiday sales season. More than 140 million shoppers hit the stores on Black Friday weekend. They spent an average of $360.15. That is up 18.9 percent from last year according to an industry sales group.”

Costello’s colleague Carol Lin reminded viewers of these “pretty impressive numbers” and the likely “robust holiday sales season” later that day.

And yesterday, on American Morning, CNN’s Ali Velshi reported: “… Black Friday apparently quite successful. According to the National Retail Federation, about 18 percent higher than last year over the course of this entire weekend … $360 was the average spent this weekend …”

In sum, we don’t know what “media” Cavuto was consuming, but we couldn’t escape the Black Friday excitement in the press — in outlets from sea to shining sea.

Sure, some reports mentioned Wal-Mart’s announcement that it expects to report a 0.1 percent decline in November same-store sales over last year — below its projections for flat sales. But that’s because that is news coming from “the world’s largest retailer” — and in this case it is news that did not come at the expense of the “good news.”

So, who in “The Media” is “unhappy” when retailers are happy?

Maybe Cavuto was referring to CNN’s Glenn Beck, who gave airtime last night to one Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping and his effort to undermine retailers by preaching about the “Shopocalypse?” Have a look:

BECK: Billy, you call it the Shopocalypse.

REV. BILLY, CHURCH OF STOP SHOPPING: Yes, Brother Glenn, we’ve got to try to save ourselves from the Shopocalypse, amen. Slow down our consumption this Christmas. Amen!

BECK: Right. Now, see, you — you strike me as someone who’s not entirely serious.

REV. BILLY: We have to be serious enough that if there’s an American consumer listening to us right at this moment, and we believe there are many of them, and they’re tempted at this moment to get in their SUV and go out onto the highway and go to a big box store somewhere, that person might reconsider, hearing us here talking about the Shopocalypse … Stop shopping, children!

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.