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‘The worst economic recovery America has ever had’: Scott Pelley’s soon-to-be starring 2012 election role

at 01:38 PM ET, 08/03/2012

Expect to see lots of Scott Pelley on your TV this fall — even if you don’t watch the CBS Evening News.

The CBS anchor’s statement at the top of a broadcast two weeks ago that this is “the worst economic recovery America has ever seen” is kibble for Republican ad-makers.

Already, the clip has been used to punctuate an ad launched this week by Crossroads GPS, the issue advocacy arm of the American Crossroads super PAC. And you can bet the farm that GPS will hardly be the last to use it.

And in fact, it might be the one of the most valuable snippets the GOP has this fall.

For a few reasons:

1. It’s short and clear

Most political ads are only 30 seconds long, so the more compact the sound bite, the better. Pelley’s statement, from start to finish, is just about five seconds.

It’s also totally unambiguous. Moreso than “You didn’t build that” or “The private sector is doing fine,” what Pelley was saying is completely clear to the viewer. There’s really no way to read it wrong.

It’s short, it’s clear, it’s to-the-point, it’s emphatic. It also led off the broadcast (it begins with “Good evening” — which Crossroads left in the ad), and it’s not couched by attribution to any outside source.

In other words, this is the big story, not just a throw-away line over the course of a newscast or political interview.

2. It’s authoritative

No, Pelley is not the first to offer a grim evaluation of the country’s economic recovery. Political commentator John Harwood and other reporters have also been featured in GOP ads talking about the stagnant economy.

Pelley, though, is an anchor for a major broadcast network’s evening news. People know him more than they do Harwood or field reporters, and the chair he’s sitting in carries with it more news-making authority than almost anyone else.

Now, at the same time, Pelley is not Walter Cronkite. Thanks to the proliferation of cable, the evening news is far less a part of American life than it was decades ago. People also have historically little faith in TV news, and Pelley, for what it’s worth, has only been in the anchor’s chair for a little more than a year (after a long stint at the very popular “60 Minutes,” we should note). He’s probably not a household name, even if he’s recognizable to lots of people.

But the clip pretty clearly features a major broadcast news anchor leading off his broadcast with this quote. And that’s a pretty strong picture, even if the days of Cronkite are long gone.

3. It feeds the emerging conventional wisdom

The “slowest recovery” line isn’t yet conventional wisdom, but that appears to be changing — at least somewhat.

Former George W. Bush economic adviser Ed Lazear made a splash in April by arguing that the recovery was the slowest ever in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, but the same paper wrote a story last week on a study saying that the recovery was the second-slowest since World War II.

NBC News said in April that this was the “slowest recovery in memory.” And Mitt Romney said in June that the jobs recovery was the slowest since the Great Depression — a claim that fact checkers found to be false.

If you want backup for what Pelley was saying, just have a look at the above chart from the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, which compares the economic recoveries during several periods since 1960.

As with most things in politics, though, whether what Pelley said is correct or not depends on what numbers you’re looking at. Democrats point to bigger job growth in Obama’s recovery than Bush’s, although Bush’s 2001 recession wasn’t nearly as deep as this one. But so far, most media outlets aren’t describing the recovery as the slowest ever.

In other words, there’s not yet a consensus on this. So what Pelley was saying is news to plenty of people.

Republicans can use Pelley’s words to help change that, and they will likely be a big part of a growing stockpile of dour economic footage in GOP ads this fall.

 
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