The Undercover Economist: Shock news? The media didn’t get us into this mess

Did Robert Peston cause the credit crunch? Some people seem to think so: the Daily Mail recently asked if he had too much power; Neal Gandhi, the chief executive officer of an outsourcing company, claimed that “because of his influential position, his predictions come true almost exclusively because he has predicted them”. This seems implausible, and I’m not saying that merely because Peston once worked for the Financial Times. After all, there’s a credit crunch on in New York too, where few have ever heard of the BBC’s inimitable business editor.

It is less absurd to claim that media exaggerations have deepened the recession, perhaps even caused it. Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, a professor of organisational behaviour at the Open University, argues that “media stories on the current turmoil are not just reflecting events, they are also creating them”. The journalist Michael Blastland, an evangelist for responsible use of statistics, argued in a debate at the Frontline Club in November that the media’s gloom about consumer spending had far outpaced any signs of a slump in the data and was contributing to the downturn.

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.