Early last month, a reporter asked Assistant White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto why the White House refuses to use the word “recession.” The reporter quipped, “Is that word radioactive?” Fratto demurred, saying, “we don’t make those determinations.” Watch it:
Fratto’s attempt to pass the buck on the question has become a familiar refrain in White House press briefings over the last year:
— “Recessions are things that are declared by other people — National Bureau of Economic Research.” [Edward Lazear, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, 3/7/08]
— “The classic definition of a recession is not something that we could determine now, or forecast. It’s something that people look back on.” [White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, 10/7/08]
— “[Y]ou’re asking me questions — I’m not an economist. … [I]f you want definitions about what is or isn’t a recession in this day and age…you’re just going to have to go to an economist, not me.” [Perino, 9/17/08]
But on Monday, the White House could no longer pretend to be oblivious to whether or not the U.S. is in a recession. Indeed, the organization that, as Fratto put it, makes “those determinations” — the National Bureau of Economic Research — announced that the U.S. currently in a recession and has been since December 2007.
Amazingly, however, the White House still can’t bring itself to publicly discuss the fact that the U.S. economy is in recession. In fact, as the Associated Press noted, in responding to NBER’s Monday recession announcement, Fratto managed to avoid ever using the word “recession.” Additionally, in the two press briefings since the announcement, the word “recession” was not used a single time — by White House officials or by the press.
Despite the fact that the White House’s rhetoric on the economy over the last twelve months has been exposed as nothing more than economic happy talk, the press corps seems content to keep on listening.