"Tight Job Market" Update: NEXIS Don't Lie! At the instigation of alert reader D.T., kf has done what it should have done all al -- I mean, kf has gone the extra mile and consulted NEXIS to see how the phrase "tight job market" has been used and misused by the NYT in the past. The evidence confirms kf's crude paranoid view that the Times has only recently switched to the incorrect use of "tight job market" as meaning a market where it's hard to find a job (as opposed to hard to find workers to hire). Specifically, there are 44 uses of the phrase "tight job market" in the Times in the past five years. Before November of 2001, it was used 26 times to indicate a good, hot, easy-to-find-a-job economy, and only five times to indicate the exact opposite. But a November 18, 2001 story marked a sharp break -- since then, the phrase has been correctly used zero times to mean a good, hot economy and 13 times to indicate lousy employment prospects for workers.
Is this because in mid-2001 the economy suddenly turned sour, and the NYT 's editors decided to reverse by 180 degrees the meaning they'd previously given to the term in order to spice up their gloom-'n-doom coverage? Or was it because in late 2001 the Times got a crusading new editor, and somehow standards started to sliip? You get tenure if you can answer that one! ... Tenure bid:WaPo, in comparison, at first seems to show a similar pattern, with the correct usage beating its exact opposite 27-1 before late 2001, and the incorrect usage predominating after late 2001. But as the economy soured the Post, unlike the Times, also, quite properly, stopped using the phrase so much. There are only four incorrect WaPo usages after October, 2001, and one correct usage -- compared to the NYT's string of 13 straight incorrect uses, 14 counting Saturday's headline. ... Caveat: But I was wrong to blame only the NYT's headline writers. It's a deeper NYT problem! The misuses don't just occur in the heds. ... 9:02 P.M.
How bad are NYT headline writers? Times readers are familiar with heds that mischaracterize the stories they're supposed to summarize, almost always by spinning them a couple of degrees to the left. Now Howell's Hed Hacks (sorry) are abusing well-accepted economic terms. The headline on Alex "Bad News" Berenson's Saturday economy piece was
"Tight U.S. Job Market Adds to Jitters Among Consumers"
But of course a "tight" labor market traditionally means a market where labor is in short supply, and jobs are easy to find. Tight labor markets are good. They're what we want. Berenson's piece was trying to make exactly the opposite point, that Americans now think jobs are hard to find. [But the NYT said "job market," not "labor market."--ed. At best, the hed was confusing. Labor is the thing being purchased in this market, not jobs. It's a labor market.] ... P.S.: Berenson also hits the Times' save-get key that calls this "the worst slump in two decades, according to statistics from the Labor Department" -- in theory because the U.S. "has lost more than two million jobs since March 2001." But isn't that highly misleading? In the ultra-hot economy of the late 1990s, after all, all sorts of people were lured into the labor market who hadn't been working before -- e.g. young people, semi-retired people, married and unmarried mothers. Now those extra "gravy" jobs have been lost. That's not good, but it doesn't make the downturn the "worst slump in the last two decades," which is the impression the NYT gives. The unemployment rate in June, 1992, was 7.8 percent, remember. It's now 5.7 percent. Even accounting for discouraged workers, etc., it's very hard to argue that we're now in worse shape than in 1992. .... P.P.S.: I do owe Berenson an apology for something I wrote a couple of years ago, implying (if I remember right) that he was rooting for a recession. He'd written an article, in December, 2000, declaring incoming president Bush "lucky" because "the economy could enter a recession" early in 2001. That seemed silly at the time and looks even sillier today. But I had no evidence Berenson himself was rooting for a recession. In Saturday's story, though, he certainly seems to be striving to paint as grim a picture as possible. ... 12:41 A.M.
Why did we find out about the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed almost immediately after the event? Wouldn't it have been better to keep the arrest secret while the U.S. and its allies rolled up those al Qaeda operatives whose whereabouts could be traced through Mohammeds' cell phone and computer, etc.? Why send out a worldwide alert, through CNN, to his co-conspirators, telling them it was time to scatter? Did the need for good publicity trump sound anti-terror techniques?... 11:11 A.M.
Wolfowitz v. Perle -- Neocon Schism To Come? After an Iraq war, if Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz moves to try to force Israel to curtail its settlements in the occupied territories -- as he's suggested he'll do -- how long do you think it will take his fellow neocon Bush adviser Richard Perle to turn on him? Not very long, I'd guess. ... 2:04 A.M.
The Forward, galvanized by Tim Russert's "startling" questioning of Perle on Meet the Press a week ago,takes a statesmanlike middle ground on the Likudnik issue. ... The Forward's Ami Eden notes Lawrence Kaplan's misleading statement on Crossfire that he "didn't use the word anti-Semitism" in his bullying Washington Post op-ed piece. Kaplan instead used the phrase "socialism of fools," which is the classy way of saying anti-Semitism --it means "anti-Semitism" -- when you want to be able to later say you didn't use the word "anti-Semitism." (Robert Novak was equally disingenuous, of course, in denying he'd ever "talked about dual citizenship." Dual loyalty is the issue he's accused of raising.) ... 1:50 A.M.
Sunday, March 2, 2003