26 January 2009

Propagating fear

Here's an article offering some worthwhile historical perspective on the current economic downturn. A couple of excerpts:

Even better, they [in 1893] didn’t have to contend with mass media propagating fear 24/7. True, newspapers frequently sensationalized the bad news, but limited to daily or weekly doses rather than minute-by-minute updates, it was easier to adopt an Indiana Jones-like “never tell me the odds” attitude. When the economy began to recover, those who had been paralyzed by fear and panic looked up and saw that others who’d ignored the doomsayers and gone quietly about their business had made great fortunes or established thriving companies.....

My country, like my company, has weathered the worst of everything and managed to prosper. That’s what we do. We’re Americans, the genetic beneficiaries of adventurers, explorers, optimists. We endure and then we succeed, and the more of us who can maintain our confidence and perspective, the faster this season of misery will pass into prosperity. As I read Edna Parker’s obituary, I imagined a child born this year telling her great-great-grandchildren in 2124 about the Panic of ’08 — an otherwise minor episode in history with which, I predict, few at the time will be familiar.

Read the whole thing (more must-read links here).

Why is it that most of the MSM are so wildly exaggerating the crisis, seemingly determined to incite sky-is-falling panic over what by every objective measure seems to be a fairly ordinary economic fluctuation? My suspicion is that it has to do with last year's election, in which the media took sides with a blatancy seldom seen before.

First, when the crisis suddenly exploded mere weeks before the election, it was immediately clear that its effect would be to harm McCain's chances, even though he was one of the few politicians who had tried to warn the country about looming problems with the housing-loan industry long before. Thus, emphasizing and exaggerating the crisis worked to the advantage of the media's preferred candidate, Obama.

Second, now that Obama has been elected, it's important to those same media to be able to portray him as successful -- certainly to avoid the perception of failure. Painting our current problems as a potential second Great Depression in embryo serves this end. If Obama saves the economy (or if it recovers on its own, as there are plenty of signs that it is already starting to do), he'll look like a giant-killer. If we end up with a prolonged recession, the ground will have been laid to tell us that the onrushing disaster was so overwhelming that no leader could have prevented it.

The fact that exaggerating an economic crisis and frightening people may actually make it worse in reality doesn't seem to concern the MSM. Luckily, most of the public isn't buying their line, or at least not any more. 77% of Americans believe that the media are exaggerating the problems and are doing harm in the process. I certainly haven't noticed stores being any less crowded. Pessimism has never been an easy sell to Americans, and that doesn't appear to have changed.


Blogger Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

I agree. Things are bad, but the media will go overboard for any number of reasons. In addition to the issues you listed, they also like to sell papers, generate web traffic, and pull in tv viewers. Accordingly, they will do their best to make everything dramatic. The same media that capitalized on the war by riding in the tank with Bush abandoned him and became the loudest critics when opposition to the war became more popular. They re shameless.

01 February, 2009 11:50  

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