INAUGURAL COSTS…. This week, inaugural festivities are a pretty big deal — in D.C., throughout the country, and even around the world — but it appears some news outlets have found a way to find fault with the celebration.

The AP, for example, reported, “Unemployment is up. The stock market is down. Let’s party. The price tag for President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration gala is expected to break records, with some estimates reaching as high as $150 million.”

Indeed, the costs associated with the multi-day event are apparently of considerable interest. In addition to the AP, Yahoo News reported, “As the recession continues to wreak havoc on the U.S. economy and inauguration celebrations ramp up, a lot of people are asking: ‘How much will this shindig cost?’” It didn’t say who the “people” are who are asking, but it went on to say Obama’s inauguration is “the most expensive ever,” and costs more than triple Bush’s 2005 inauguration. MSNBC’s Tamron Hall followed suit, telling viewers that Obama’s inauguration festivities are “estimated to reach as high as $150 million,” while “[i]n 2004, to note, the inauguration of George W. Bush cost roughly $40 million.”

Eric Boehlert set the record straight, explaining, “[T]he Obama figure of $160 million that got repeated in the press included security costs associated with the massive event. But the Bush tab of $42 million left out those enormous costs. Talk about stacking the deck.”

…For years, the press routinely referred to the cost of presidential inaugurations by calculating how much money was spent on the swearing-in and the social activities surrounding that. The cost of the inauguration’s security was virtually never factored into the final tab, as reported by the press. […]

For decades, that represented the norm in terms of calculating inauguration costs: Federal dollars spent on security were not part of the commonly referred-to cost. (The cost of Obama’s inauguration, minus the security costs? Approximately $45 million.) What’s happening this year: The cost of the Obama inauguration and the cost of the security are being combined by some in order to come up with the much larger tab. Then, that number is being compared with the cost of the Bush inauguration in 2005, minus the money spent on security.

In other words, it’s the unsubstantiated Obama cost of $160 million (inauguration + security) compared with the Bush cost of 42 million (inauguration, excluding security). Those are two completely different calculations being compared side-by-side, by Fox & Friends, among others, to support the phony claim that Obama’s inauguration is $100 million more expensive than Bush’s.

So, how much did Bush’s 2005 inauguration actually cost, using the standard the media is applying to Obama? Boehlert crunched the numbers and came up with a total of $157 million.

Now, truth be told, I don’t much care which president’s inauguration came with a bigger price tag. The evidence suggests Bush’s and Obama’s will end up costing about the same.

What I do care about is a misleading drive on the part of a lot of news outlets to characterize Obama as some kind of extravagant spendthrift, insensitive to the plight of struggling American families. It’s total nonsense.

Something to keep in mind as this story makes the rounds.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.