TV reporters usually love to publicize any gaffes made by
presidents or presidential candidates. In Houston on March 11, Vice
President Al Gore incorrectly stated that the Bush-Quayle
administrationís economic record included "the worst depression
since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s," but there hasnít been a
single word of criticism from any of the networks.
First, we must ask, can Goreís assertion possibly be true?
Depressions and recessions are measured by how severely a nationís
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracts. The GDP is the total value
of all of all goods and services produced in a year. During the
Great Depression, our GDP contracted severely, shrinking by 12
percent in 1930, another 16 percent in 1931 and 23 percent in 1932.
Those statistics are the signature of a steep and prolonged
downturn, marked by huge numbers of business failures, unemployment
and economic misery.
about the Bush-Quayle years? The total length of the downturn for
which they were blamed was just nine months, with the worst GDP
performance coming in the fourth quarter of 1990 (October to
December) when GDP shrank by a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of
three percent. Thatís a far cry from the pain of the Great
Itís also hardly the worst performing quarter in recent times. In
fact, according to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Commerce,
it ranks eighth on the list of the ten worst quarters since 1959.
(See chart.) The worst performing quarter belonged to Jimmy Carter,
who presided over an annually-adjusted 7.7 percent contraction in
the spring of 1980 -- a brief but nasty economic downturn that
helped cost him that yearís election.
Perhaps the Vice President was referring to the unemployment
rate. But on this measure, too, the Bush-Quayle recession doesnít
even rate. Even though the downturn officially ended in March, 1991,
unemployment continued to creep up for more than a year before it
finally peaked at 7.8 percent in June, 1992. While thatís certainly
far worse than the current rate of 4.1 percent, it pales in
comparison to the Depression years, when unemployment peaked at 24.9
percent in 1933, or even eight years later when, on the eve of World
War II, unemployment was still stuck at nearly 10 percent, according
to figures provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
During several recessions since "the Dust Bowl days of the
1930s," unemployment has frequently surpassed 7.8 percent. During
all of 1975, for example, the jobless rate was stuck above eight
percent. In November and December of 1982, as young Gore was being
elected to his fourth term in Congress, the unemployment rate
reached 10.8 percent, its post-World War II high, before finally
dropping below eight percent in early 1984.
Presumably, the Vice President knows all of this, yet he
inexplicably chose to link the relatively mild early Ď90s recession
with the worst economy in living memory. That should have made Gore
a target for ridicule, but ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC all ignored the
mistake, as did nearly every newspaper reporter on the campaign
Only one newspaper reporter even mentioned Goreís gaffe: the
New York Timesís Katherine Seelye, and she focused exclusively
on the strategy behind the Veepís decision to target "Bush-Quayle"
instead of "Reagan-Bush" in his rant against GOP economics.
Amazingly, she did not question Goreís questionable economic
assertions, even as she described his strategy of attempting to
undermine Texas Governor George W. Bushís credibility on economic
No editor would have permitted a reporter to make such an easily
disprovable assertion about the economy, but by not correcting
Goreís gaffe, the media are allowing a misperception about the
American economy to take root with the public. Itís time journalists
stepped forward to correct the record.