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Head to Head: Media Turn to Greenspan When Bernanke Says No Recession

     Apparently disappointed by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s refusal to predict a recession for the U.S. economy, newspapers instead turned to Bernanke’s predecessor Alan Greenspan, who was more than happy to offer some pessimism.


     “Growth looks to be weak but still positive,” Bernanke said in Congressional testimony February 14. “My baseline outlook involves a period of sluggish growth, followed by a somewhat stronger pace of growth starting later this year.”


     The New York Times buried Bernanke’s prediction for growth – albeit sluggish – in the ninth paragraph of the story headlined: “Top Officials See Bleaker Outlook for the Economy.” Reporter Edmund Andrews emphasized “deteriorating” credit markets and said the nation’s top two economic policy advisors “acknowledged … that the outlook for the economy had worsened.”


     Andrews characterized Bernanke’s testimony and the testimony of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, as “sobering.” He accused the men of “continu[ing] to avoid predicting a recession.”


     Bloomberg News reported Bernanke’s testimony indicated “the economy continues to deteriorate” because he hinted the Federal Reserve might once again lower interest rates. The article mentioned Bernanke had lowered growth expectations, but didn’t report that he still does not predict a recession.


     Discontented with Bernanke’s still-positive outlook – after all, it doesn’t mesh well with the media theme of looming recession and economic turmoil – other media turned to the former Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, who always seems happy to offer some pessimistic predictions.


     The U.S. economy is “clearly on the edge” of recession, Greenspan said the same day as Bernanke’s testimony. And the media jumped to report the words of a man who hasn’t been Fed Chairman in more than two years.


     The Washington Post and New York Times Web sites ran the same Associated Press story out of Houston, where Greenspan said the odds of a recession are “50 percent or better.”


     As of this writing, USA TODAY’s Web site leads with the same story. Bloomberg’s site features its own report from the Houston dinner where Greenspan predicted recession.


     The Washington Post cut to the point of Bernanke’s testimony, however, announcing in its headline that “Bernanke Foresees Growth.” Reporter Neil Irwin said Bernanke “was trying to strike a tricky balance” acknowledging risks to the economy without indicating “a sense of panic.”


     Unlike The New York Times and Bloomberg, The Washington Post emphasized Bernanke’s positive points as well, first noting he said “the economy is likely to improve in the second half of the year after a slow start.”


     USA Today declared “No recession, Bernanke says” in the headline over its print story, which also emphasized that “Bernanke said … the USA will avoid a recession, but that the outlook has deteriorated.”