Call it Dickinson's First Law of Editorial: A media narrative, set in motion, will persist in the face of clear, even overwhelming, contradictory evidence.
Exhibit A: California "drought" coverage.
Here's the reality. California has had a really dry couple of years and this year's January -- usually a wet and wild month -- was eerily mild and bone dry. This state of affairs triggered the state and the national media to go big with the OMG IT'S a DROUGHT! coverage. And rightly so. The pattern was alarming.
But then Feburary comes along and the rain starts dumping. Pouring. Build and Ark! kinda rains. Rain totals that were at 60% of normal are now up to 85 and 90%. Some places in the Southland are brimming at 120% and 130%.
The crisis is clearly over. But not the media narrative.
The San Francisco Chronicle, to cite but one example, goes front page today with DROUGHT! coverage, continuing to sound the alarm about dangerously low reservoir levels.
But you read along and you come by this bit of information:
San Francisco, for example, draws its water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite. Normally, the reservoir runs at about 70 percent of capacity at this time of year - currently it's 67 percent.
Here's a banner story about the "drought" in San Francisco's paper of record, and the actual news is that the city's water source, Hetch Hetchy, is at 95.7% of normal. WTF?!
Now, alarmism about a drought is easy enough to dismiss. But this First Law of Editorial holds true across other domains -- and I fear that we're going to see this hold true in economic reporting even as the economy shows signs of inching out of its nosedive.
You wouldn't know it from the OMG, IT'S THE NEXT GREAT DEPRESSION coverage, but top economic forecasters are now predicting growth in the 4th quarter of this year. That's right 2009. Money quote from Reuters:
Economic activity is expected to turn up in the second half of the year and 2010 is expected to see modestly above-trend growth of 3.1%.
Given the role consumer confidence is going to play in our ultimate economic recovery, the media's implacable torrent of doom and gloom runs the danger of not only misleading the public, but deepening the nation's economic malaise.
Exhibit B, today's HuffPo front page: