Media’s Top 10 Most Embarrassing Predictions of 2013

Print, broadcast or web, the media sure aren’t Nostradamus. In spite of their best attempts, the news media have gotten it wrong prediction after prediction on a wide range of business and economic issues in 2013.

Just in the past year, reporters warned of “economic doomsday,” thought Healthcare.gov was going to be “easy” just like Amazon.com, and warned of melting polar ice, even as a new record was set for ice mass.

In many cases, the failed predictions were an extension of journalists’ standard talking points – pro-ObamaCare, anti-conservative and sky-is-falling global warming worries. But they should have left the fortune telling to the Psychic Friends Network.

The MRC’s Business and Media Institute analyzed the worst media mistakes of the year to come up with the 10 most ridiculous or wildly inaccurate media predictions. Here is our list:

1. Healthcare.gov Will Be Like ‘Amazon’ or ‘Travelocity’

Or maybe the Edsel? After the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare website, it could have been easy to forget how much the broadcast and cable networks praised it before the launch.

For the program to work, it was necessary that many people buy insurance through the website. Unsurprisingly, the cheerleading hosts and guests at the broadcasts networks promoted the federal exchange website, just as they had supported the law before and after it was passed.

On CBS “This Morning” Sept. 28, Bloomberg’s Peter Gosselin gushed that “it will be a lot like shopping for anything online on – on Amazon.” Gosselin explained that the signup process would be very simple and said, “You'll look at the different health insurance plans that are offered in your area and you will pick the one that works best for you and your family and you will hit ‘buy.’” Unless you can’t get on the site. Or can’t navigate anywhere, or have a cardiac episode when you see the costs of your new “free” health care.

Just a day before the site launched, CBS’s Jill Schlesinger made a similar comparison saying it would be like “going to shop for a flight on Travelocity.” In reality, it was more like winning a “free” getaway in which you just have to sit through 24-48 hrs of pitches for yet-to-be-built time-shares in a war-torn third-world nation.

In fact, the media’s left-wing ideologues were so sure that the website would run smoothly that they viciously attacked Republicans for opposing it. CNN’s “Crossfire” co-host Van Jones said on “New Day” Sept. 30, that Republicans were part of “crazy town.” Previously, Van Jones was an environmental advisor to the Obama administration until he resigned because of evidence that he thought the Bush administration had staged the 9/11 attacks.

MSNBC’s Ed Schultz praised the website design the same day, blaming right-wing “commercials” and “talkers” for spreading confusion. Schultz predicted it would be “easy.” Schultz said, “If you go to this website you will find out how easy it is to read, how easy it is to navigate all the information.” He even called it a “great guide,” before wiping his sweaty brow with a Sham-Wow!

After the Oct. 1 launch of the website, things were so bad that the media couldn’t ignore the failure. The website crashed repeatedly, causing embarrassment for the administration and their infomercial hosts in the media. The president even launched a “tech surge” designed to fix the website by Dec. 1, though it crashed when CNN tried to use it even after that deadline.

2. Well, It Wasn’t for a Lack of Hot Air … We’ll Have a Disastrous Hurricane Season

Climate alarmism is more than 100 years old and still going strong. But in the last few years the networks have used weather events and forecasts to stoke such fears. Whether it’s a freak snowstorm or drought, tornado or sun shower, raining cats and dogs or raining men (Alleluia!), there is no weather phenomenon that the media won’t chalk up to climate change.

This year, they embraced predictions of a record hurricane season, and connected those to global warming and climate change. But when the forecast fell flat, the networks said very little about their earlier claims.

ABC, CBS, and NBC aggressively hyped how “severe” and “powerful” hurricanes would be during the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season.

On May 23, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an “era of high activity for Atlantic hurricanes,” with 7 to 11 hurricanes. The next day, “Good Morning America’s” Ginger Zee, practically rubbing her hands in anticipation, touted the prediction, saying “Federal forecasters using the words ‘extremely active’ to describe what’s gonna happen come summer and fall.”

Just two days later on May 25, NBC reporter John Yang ominously warned of “devastating tornadoes, searing heat waves, withering droughts and related wildfires, and powerful hurricanes.” Similarly, CBS warned that month that 2013 “could be a dangerous year along the East Coast.”

ABC also predicted future “extreme weather” June 24, saying “scientists say human-caused climate change is already helping shift the planet’s natural balance,” after discussing the devastating Hurricane Sandy.

But when it came to Atlantic hurricanes, reality was the opposite of forecasts. Rather than an extreme season, the 2013 hurricane season was the slowest in 30 years in terms of hurricane frequency. Rather than the seven to 11 hurricanes predicted, only two storms reached hurricane status.

As for the claim that hurricane frequency would rise because of climate change, University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologist Dr. John Christy denied any long-term relationship between climate change and hurricane frequency. He said, “We’ve looked at hurricanes starting in the 1850s. There is no trend in hurricanes.”

ABC, far from admitting its mistake, completely ignored the subject on the final day of hurricane season. CBS and NBC did address the end of the season, but only briefly: giving a combined total of 44 seconds to the subject.

NBC’s Lester Holt seemed almost disappointed on Nov. 30’s “Nightly News,” saying “Hurricane season ended with pretty much of a ‘no show.’ This was as bad as it got … And neither of those hurricanes made it to the United States.”

Hey, you’ll get ’em next year, Lester!

3. Government Shutdown Will Wreak Havoc on Our Economy! Or Not

When the federal government is the center of your universe, your protector and provider, redistributive transfer pump, and your final arbiter of justice and bringer of light, it’s not surprising that you expect the world to crash down in its absence.

In addition to blaming conservatives more than three times as often as liberals for the partial government shutdown, both broadcast news and print outlets exaggerated the probable impact on the economy and jobs.

After the shutdown, which began Oct. 1, they promoted the high-end estimates of $24 billion in economic damage and paid little attention when the federal government itself eventually released a much more modest estimate of $2 billion and $6 billion. Hey, let someone take away your blankie and see how you react.

ABC, CBS, and NBC widely reported that the shutdown had cost the economy $24 billion.

They cited this specific number five times between Oct. 17 and 24, immediately following the shutdown. Print and online media, such as The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post, cited the same $24 billion price tag that came from Standard & Poors (S&P). That was 400 percent to 1,200 percent higher than the government’s later estimate. Well, you know, ‘prepare for the worst’ and all that …

Wall Street Journal’s Steven Russolillo called it “one expensive wound” and emphasized that “it’s about $1 billion more than Google founder Larry Page’s personal net worth.” The Huffington Post boosted the S&P estimate calling it “the most detailed insight to date.”

While the S&P number was repeated, the media generally ignored less pessimistic forecasts from economic consultants like Macroeconomic Advisers or IHS Global Insight. The exception was The New York Times which admitted the S&P estimate was “more pessimistic” than other alternatives and contrasted it with Macroeconomic Advisers’ $12 billion estimate. The following day, Oct. 18, the Times also mentioned IHS’s more accurate $3.1 billion price tag.

Furthermore, NBC and CNBC predicted that the shutdown would cost American jobs. CNBC’s Steve Liesman generated controversy Oct. 22, when he called the weak September jobs data the “Senator Ted Cruz jobs report.” That same day NBC “Nightly News” correspondent Ron Mott warned that “the next one could be even worse.”

It turned out that the cost and damage to jobs were both overstated. On Nov. 7, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimated the shutdown cost between $2 billion and $6 billion. Two of the three broadcast networks ignored the news entirely between Nov. 7 and 10. Only CBS mentioned it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in the October jobs report that “there were no discernible impacts of the partial federal government shutdown.”

For the other seven embarrassing media predictions, please continue to the Business and Media Institute page.

Sean Long
Sean Long is a former writer for MRC Business.