That ‘unexpected’ economic news 

Sometimes when I read the news, I chuckle at patterns I see; words or terms that are repeated by news broadcasters or writers. The film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy got a lot of mileage out of mocking these news clichés, such as upon leaping into the Kodiak bear pit at the San Diego Zoo, Burgundy says "I immediately regret this decision," poking fun at the all-too-common interviewer's question "did you regret...?"

Other repeated themes become so patently obvious they become funny. Take the word "unexpected." This is a useful adverb to describe the surprising or unprecedented; it can be a valuable term to inform readers about events.

On the other hand it can become a pathetic cliché or worse.

Unexpected has become over the last 12 months among the favorite term of headline writers. Any economic news that is harmful to the Democrats in office, particularly President Obama seems to be ‘unexpected.’

Here is a brief history of the use of this word, limited to only one example per month, using both ‘expected’ as a negative and ‘unexpected’ specifically. If you can find more feel free to share them with me in the comments section below (be warned I am not sure links are accepted so just give headlines in text):

  • Associated Press, August 20, 2009: "The number of first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly for the second straight week"
  • Lisa Lambert, Reuters News Service October 28, 2009: "Sales of new U.S. homes unexpectedly tumbled in September"
  • Renae Merle, Washington Post, November 18, 2009: "New home construction took an unexpected tumble last month"
  • Associated Press, December 23, 2009: "Sales of new homes plunged unexpectedly last month to the lowest level since April"
  • Reuters News Service January 21, 2010: "The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment insurance unexpectedly rose last week"
  • Daniel Wagner as the Associated Press, February 19, 2010: "The number of newly laid-off workers filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly surged last week after having fallen sharply in the previous week."
  • Reuters News Service, March 4, 2010: "Contracts for pending sales of previously owned homes unexpectedly fell in January"
  • Conor Dougherty, Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2010: "Private payrolls unexpectedly fell in March, according to data released Wednesday."
  • Associated Press, May 19, 2010:"The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week by the largest amount in three months."
  • Associated Press, June 16, 2010: "The Labor Department says initial claims for jobless benefits rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000, the highest level in a month. Economists had expected claims would fall to a seasonally adjusted 450,000, according to Thomson Reuters."
  • Lucia Mukitani, Reuters News Service June 11 2010: "Sales at U.S. retailers unexpectedly fell in May for the first time in eight months"
  • Neil Irwin, Washington Post, July 14, 2010: "Fed leaders: Economic recovery slower than expected"
  • Lucia Mukitani, Reuters News Service August 6, 2010: "Employment fell for a second straight month in July as more temporary census jobs ended while private hiring rose less than expected, pointing to an anemic economic recovery."
  • Associated Press, August 19, 2010: "The Labor Department said claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week and the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia said manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region has dropped during August."

Why so unexpected?

Because that at least they make it seem like there shouldn't have been bad news; it’s an attempt to shape public perception and attitudes about the economy. What they’re trying to lead the reader into thinking: “Wow, it got worse, nobody ever would have expected that!”

It not working on me but they still seem keen on pushing this meme.


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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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