In a "Notebook" entry at her blog on the CBS News Web site Wednesday, "Evening News" anchor Katie Couric boasted of the media's ability to predict a recession.
In spite of the fact that no one knows for sure if the U.S. economy is in a recession, Couric seemed sure the nation is facing economic hard times, and she's proud to say the media called it.
"The economy's going through one of its roughest patches in years," Couric said. "Stocks are plummeting, the Fed is slashing interest rates and the president is looking for ways to fight off a recession. But are we already in a recession?"
The short answer: yes, according to Couric. But according to experts, the answer is no. Two recent polls of economists have predicted slow growth in 2008 and put the chances of a recession at 40- to-42 percent.
Couric cited the "R-word index," a running count of how many times the media mention recession, as evidence of its inevitability. It has spiked lately, although it remains well below levels seen ahead of previous recessions.
When I was a kid, my parents watched the Jeopardy quiz show every night. A participatory youth, I would guess at every turn. My answer was always, "What is robot?" One time I was right.
The media have been saying "recession" for a long time. In fact throughout 2006, the media kept suggesting recession was on the horizon, but 2007 didn't see one. In a cyclical economy recession is a given every now and then, and media predictions will occasionally be right. But that doesn't make those media claims reliable barometers of state of the economy.
Couric also failed to mention the media's role in creating a recession. How does she expect the American public to react when all the media talks about is recession? Practically every night, viewers are bombarded with negative coverage of the economy. Does she expect that will encourage people to spend money?
No, the media's constant doom-and-gloom reporting scares people. If consumers fear an oncoming recession, they'll want to save their money - Couric even suggests in her notebook video that viewers "build a cash cushion and prepare to sit tight."