Hitting full panic mode on Tuesday night, ABC anchor Charles Gibson teased World News: “Markets are gyrating, inflation is rising, banks are closing. Consumer pessimism is at an all-time high.” Actually, only one bank. Gibson explained “we are going to devote a large part of our broadcast tonight to the economy because the news each day seems unrelentingly bad.”
It certainly is on television news where Gibson brought aboard a group of three experts “to help us separate fact from fear,” but they and Gibson spread fear as he put himself in the place of a viewer and wondered: “My house is falling apart, the real estate mortgage companies may be in trouble, and now I hear about possible bank failures. And the stock market is tanking. So how do I be thoughtful about what I do with my money?” An exasperated Gibson soon pleaded:
Tell me where people go now to make sure their money is safe. With stocks down, you think the safest place to do is in the bank, and now we're told that there could be a lot of bank failures. So where do you put your money that you know it's safe? Under the mattress?
After one guest had declared “we've got serious problems,” the second insisted “if things don't turn around, we don't have that many policy arrows left in our quiver” and Mellody Hobson of Aerial Investments maintained “it's very, very hard for individual people to see through this pain right now,” Hobson herself pointed out the obvious which the segment helped fuel:
Pessimism prevails in this market, from the newspapers to the headlines to the television.
That led Gibson to observe “you think a lot of the fundamentals of the economy are sound. So how much of this is fear? And how much of this is fact?” Nonetheless, after that brief sojourn into realizing the media-fed fear, Gibson forwarded his put your money under a mattress suggestion.
The NBC Nightly News was comparatively rational, but CBS's Katie Couric was nearly as panicked as Gibson. With “financial FEARS” on screen, Couric led the July 15 CBS Evening News:
Good evening, everyone. President Bush tried today to reassure the country about the economy. He said it is growing, if slowly. It's a tough sell as the bad economic news just keeps coming. In fact, a CBS News/New York Times poll finds two out of three Americans [67 percent] believe the economy is getting worse. The latest bad news? Inflation, the worst in decades. Retail sales, Americans are cutting way back. And so is General Motors. Then there's that upsetting scene we've been witnessing, Americans lining up to pull their money out of a failed bank.
Yes, one single bank.
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the roundtable on ABC's World News for Tuesday, July 15:
CHARLES GIBSON: Because of all the fear that seems to exist, this afternoon we brought together a group of experts to help us separate fact from fear. Our experts, Anne Mathias. She's a senior vice president at Stanford Group. She's an expert in pension issues. Louis Alexander is the chief economist at CITI, and Mellody Hobson is the President of Aerial Investments. So let me start with a general question. How much trouble are we in? How long are we going to be in trouble? Is it grave? Is it moderate? What? Lou?
LOUIS ALEXANDER, CITI: We've got serious problems, I think, with respect to the financial system. There are ongoing issues that are quite significant. The economy is doing reasonably well, given those headlines, but we're facing big problems.
ANNE MATHIAS, STANFORD GROUP COMPANY: I would agree. I think that we're in a position where monetary policy has been used up. We've cut rates. The Fed has been incredibly creative lately. They've put in place all new different kinds of new structures to lend money, to take new types of collateral. And if things don't turn around, we don't have that many policy arrows left in our quiver, really.
GIBSON: That doesn't sound good. Both those answers sound like it's on the grave side.
MELLODY HOBSON, ARIEL INVESTMENTS: On of top of that, everyday people are hurting. It's very hard to make ends meet in this country right now. People's credit cards are maxed out. Obviously, we know the story with the gas tank and the $4 milk. All of those things have come at, it couldn't have come at a worse time. And I think it's very, very hard for individual people to see through this pain right now.
GIBSON: My house is falling apart, the real estate mortgage companies may be in trouble, and now I hear about possible bank failures. And the stock market is tanking. So how do I be thoughtful about what I do with my money?
HOBSON: Charlie, last week, Sir John Templeton passed away, who was one of the greatest investors of all time. And what he did, which was remarkable, was during World War II, in the midst of the war, he went in and bought every stock on the New York Stock Exchange that was selling for $1 or less. That took enormous courage. This is a time, and he has said this better than anyone else, you buy at the point of maximum pessimism. Pessimism prevails in this market, from the newspapers to the headlines to the television. Wherever you look there's bad news. But if you can understand, you can make a tremendous amount of money. If you have courage to go against the grain in this market, you can do very well over the long-term.
GIBSON: Lou, I'm glad she raised that because when you read this, you think a lot of the fundamentals of the economy are sound. So how much of this is fear? And how much of this is fact?
ALEXANDER: It's definitely a combination. There are some significant challenges. But I think what you're seeing in markets is, in many respects, an overreaction. I think it's clear that housing prices are going to continue to go down, and that's created uncertainty in the financial sector. But I think it's gone beyond that. If you look at sort of where bank stocks are trading at this point. They rely on confidence. And I think that's in short supply now, in large part because there isn't total certainty about where all of this is going.
HOBSON: Most people don't have a lot of courage in this situation. And, you know, quite frankly, when it doesn't work out, they get fired.
GIBSON: Tell me where people go now to make sure their money is safe. With stocks down, you think the safest place to do is put it in the bank. And now we're told that there could be a lot of bank failures. So where do you put your money that you know it's safe? Under the mattress?
MATHIAS: Well, I think my kids would find it under a mattress unfortunately, but there are things you can do. One of our analysts today was talking to me about basically buying CDs that are offered from the brokerage firm. You can open accounts at different banks if you are so inclined, and keep each account under $100,000 in a bank.
GIBSON: And, Lou, when your neighbors say to you, "What in the world do I do?" what do you say to them?
ALEXANDER: I do think it does require that people be careful about what they're doing. But there are lots of low-risk opportunities. In addition to spreading your money around in banks, in the way that it's been described, you've got government bonds. I would argue in many respects, you've seen somewhat higher interest rates recently, somewhat counterintuitively. That actually presents a good opportunity, as well. So there are options for people. But they've got to be aware of what they're doing.