Media Coverage Gives Recession 4:1 Odds

In spite of recent polls of economists by leading financial publications predicting a less than 50-percent chance the U.S. economy will enter a recession in 2008, the media's coverage of "recession" since the beginning of the year makes it seem inevitable.

ABC, CBS and NBC reported "more signs of a looming recession," "deepening troubles," "new fuel for recession fears," "rattled consumers," "an economy on edge" and "bracing for recession," or some scary variation a total of 32 times just in the first two weeks of 2008.

The segments predicted a recession or reported fears of a looming recession four times as often as they reported optimism about the New Year, even though recent surveys of economists put the chance of recession at 40 percent to 42 percent.

 "And the major concern heading into 2008 is that big ‘R' word, recession," David Muir ominously reported on January 1. "When does the mortgage mess, the housing market, lead to that?" he asked, assuming that a mortgage "mess" inevitably leads to recession.

ABC reported "growing concerns the economy may be heading toward recession." CBS mentioned that "when companies stop hiring, it's often a sign we're slipping into a recession." NBC noticed that in a speech about the economy, President Bush "stopped short of warning that America may be sliding into a recession."

A survey of 62 economists conducted by Bloomberg News and released January 9 showed those economists putting the chance of a recession at 40 percent. A similar survey by The Wall Street Journal found comparable results with economists putting the chance of recession at 42 percent.

Did the media focus on these polls? Of course not.

"Right now most economists are saying you've got to worry about growth first and foremost," Erin Burnett reported on the "Today" show January 10.

Maria Bartiromo's "Nightly News" report on January 11 featured interviews with three people predicting a recession. She didn't bother to find anyone to add optimism to the discussion.

 The Bloomberg News article reporting the survey's findings cited a few economists the media could have gone to for positive opinions about the economy. "It's soft economic activity that feels like a recession, but we probably won't have one," Mickey Levy, chief economist at Bank of America Corp. told Bloomberg. "The state of the consumer is clearly softening, but spending is not declining. That's very important."

Jay Bryson, a global economist at Wachovia Corp., said, "We're skating on the thin edge of recession, but we'll narrowly miss one" because "the consumer ... has remained relatively resilient."

Only one broadcast reported the Bloomberg poll. Deirdre Bolton, a Bloomberg TV anchor, mentioned the poll on the January 9 CBS "The Early Show." She didn't mention the prediction for growth, but did note the poll's finding that the economists predicted a 40-percent chance of recession.

In one other case, Katie Couric spun the results of the Wall Street Journal poll, which put the likelihood of recession at 42 percent. But Couric didn't emphasize the fact that economist still put the likelihood of recession below 50 percent. Instead, she focused on the fact that the number predicting a recession was up over six months ago, when economists put the change of a recession at 23 percent.