February 1st, 2010
On Saturday’s Newsroom, CNN’s Don Lemon deferentially took President Obama’s advice and interviewed a stimulus “skeptic” turned “believer,” whom the Democrat cited as an example of the success of the stimulus during his recent State of the Union address. Lemon talked up the stimulus and the Obama administration’s energy efficiency tax credit with his guest Alan Levin, whose company produces windows.
Before playing his taped interview with guest Alan Levin, CEO of Northeast Building Products, the CNN anchor played the relevant clip from the President Obama’s address: “Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia, who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created.” After asking Mr. Levin if he was excited by this mention by the President, Lemon inquired about this previous skepticism: “You know what, here’s the interesting thing. You were skeptical about this process- about the stimulus. You weren’t exactly sure that it was going to get you the right people and help at all. And now?”
Levin replied, “I’m a believer. We were very skeptical that we were mortgaging the future. But we’ve seen the benefits by the job hirings, and we see the people- the families that we’re feeding.”
After getting the CEO to cite statistics about how the stimulus, as well as the energy efficiency tax credits, helped his sales and allowed him to hire more employees, the anchor propped him up as someone who, with the government’s assistance, had achieved the “American dream.” Near the end of the interview, Lemon even referenced the name of a federal agency- the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
LEMON: Ah, that’s really good. So, listen, you have a 15-year-old daughter- name is Sydney; a 13-year-old son, Austin; your wife, Fran, your high school sweetheart. You met at 15 years old. She helps in the business as well. You know, you were really sort of-you epitomize America, right, with owning your own business- the American dream. So if you can explain to our viewers, in a way that they can relate, if you’re a business out there struggling- about the stimulus money, I would imagine your message would be, there’s hope? I’m not sure. I don’t want to put words into your mouth.
LEVIN: No, absolutely. I mean, it’s truly the American dream. A business that my father, Earl Levin, started back in 1975 and, with perseverance, quality products, and service, if you keep fighting- you know, it does pay off.
LEMON: Yeah. Anything else you want to say to the people of America, who may be watching; your family members, who’ve helped you throughout all of this; and maybe even the President for mentioning you in his speech.
LEVIN: Keep buying energy-efficient products and lower your energy costs.
LEMON: Right. So listen, not only is it, we’re only talking about- you know, housing and urban development, but it’s also about clean energy- green energy, saving energy and money. So, you know, you got- you’re hitting a whole lot of points here.
Alan, we really appreciate it. Best of luck to you, okay?
LEVIN: Thank you, Don.
LEMON (live): Nice guy.
This isn’t the first time a mainstream news outlet has used Levin’s story as an example of the supposed success of the stimulus. Over a month and a half earlier, on the December 3, 2009 edition of ABC’s World News, correspondent Chris Bury traveled to Philadelphia and interviewed the CEO at his business. During his sound bites, Levin used nearly identical talking points. Overall, Bury’s report also tried to sell the success of the stimulus.
CHARLES GIBSON: The White House has been under considerable scrutiny regarding the number of jobs created by the $727 billion economic stimulus program. Reports from the administration and Congress have provided only rough estimates. So, we asked Chris Bury to see whether he could find evidence as to whether the program had paid off.
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE INSTRUCTOR: Class, attention!
CHRIS BURY: (voice-over) For these police cadets in Missouri, teachers in Virginia and construction workers in Pennsylvania, the stimulus means paychecks.
BURY (on-camera) What were you doing before this?
JOHN BARRETT, CONSTRUCTION WORKER: I was laid off, collecting unemployment, trying to survive.
BURY (voice-over): After eight months of scraping by, John Barrett is among the painters, carpenters, and other tradesmen newly hired to fix up broken down public housing in Philadelphia.
BARRETT: It means a lot. It means that we can start living like we used to live.
BURY: The jobs came only after the Philadelphia Housing Authority got a nice slice of that stimulus, $127 million.
BURY (off-camera): Would you have these jobs without the stimulus money?
CARL GREENE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PHILA. HOUSING AUTHORITY: Without the stimulus money, 3,000 less people would have the opportunity to work.
BURY (on-camera): On projects like this, the stimulus means more than construction jobs. Tens of millions of dollars in new federal spending are rippling across the region.
BURY (voice-over) At first, the owner of this Pennsylvania window company had big doubts about the President’s plan.
ALAN LEVIN, CEO, NORTHEAST BUILDING PRODUCTS:I was definitely skeptical, wondering if we’re mortgaging our future.
BURY: Now, his firm is building the windows for that public housing and hiring another 100 workers.
BURY: And now?
LEVIN: I’m a believer. I think everyone in this factory is a believer.
BURY (voice-over): So is the St Louis police force- after budget cuts canceled this entire cadet class, stimulus money revived it- $8.7 million to pay 50 salaries for three years.
CHIEF DAN ISOM, ST. LOUIS METROPOLITAN POLICE: This is the time to invest in police officers, not to disinvest in them.
BURY: Unlike those police officers, 275 teachers in Chesterfield, Virginia are gifting only one year's salary, after $20 million in stimulus spending here.
SHAWN SMITH, CHESTERFIELD COUNTY SCHOOLS: I mean, we're going to save jobs, but we know at the time it's a one-time fix.
BURY: But any jobs are better than none, say the stimulus believers, and they see the benefits spreading beyond mere paychecks- to safer streets, stronger schools, and better housing. Chris Bury, ABC News, Philadelphia.