None of this is new. Not even close. You find much of the same confusion and negative reporting throughout the latest bull market – just not as shrill as it is now. “With big business struggling, unsteady interest rates and signs of a recession, the best some forecasters are hoping for in 2006 is an average year,” said reporter Sharyn Alfonsi to kick off the New Year’s stock market predictions on the CBS “Evening News” of Jan. 1, 2006. That year, the big three networks mentioned recession or depression 49 times. The Dow was up more than 16 percent at year’s end. MSN Money called it “a great year for stocks.”
Think gas prices are scary at $3 or even $3.50? When gas was at $2.355, the CBS “Early Show” was discussing how long the economy could stand that high price before a recession. And that is nothing if you recall the outlandish predictions that followed. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita spawned more than 20 mentions of possible $4 or $5 gas in just five days on CNN. “How does $5 a gallon for gasoline sound?” said CNN’s Kelly Wallace on the September 22 “Daybreak.”
In a word, it sounds wrong. Like much of the reporting and many of the predictions. But few media reports get a follow-up story with a big “oops” attached. Instead, we get outlets like The New York Times blaming the president for an economy that has been on track for more than four years. A January 2 editorial said Bush was in “denial” and demanded “an unvarnished appraisal of the nation’s economy – including the politics and ideology that has driven it to this point.”
We do need an “unvarnished appraisal” of the economy that ignores politics and ideology. That needs to come from the press, and they aren’t doing the job.
CBS was more unusual than most in its quest for new year predictions. The network’s “Sunday Morning” show went to the psychics of Cassadaga, Fla., for a Dec. 30, 2007, forecast. Cassadaga is, according to reporter Bill Geist, “the psychic capital of the world.” Rev. Dawn Cassaday, “a clairvoyant and clairaudient,” delivered the “good news.” “I feel that the economy could actually be turning around in a very positive direction.”
The countless predictions leave us wondering what’s up. Maybe we really do need a psychic to find the answer.