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The cheap stimulus option: Stop hyping bad economic news

Is the media reporting the recession – or worsening it?

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The mother of all government stimulus packages is headed for passage – and sporting a 12-figure price tag. Since a recession is supposed to be a time for reining in extravagant habits, I wondered if there were any bargain basement stimulus plans available. I came up with one that would be virtually free.

Congress could pass a law requiring more positive coverage of the economy by the news media.

OK, so that's a tad unconstitutional. But the spirit of that plan does make an important point. Now that inflated asset values have been brought down to earth, many of our remaining problems are tied to a lack of confidence, fueled by what we read or see in the mainstream news.

Scanning the past year's headlines is like watching a bad horror film. The bodies keep piling up, and when you think it might be over, you find out it's only just begun.

Something is wrong with this picture.

While things in the economy truly are bad, this is not simply about reporting the truth; it's about representing that truth in the most responsible way. A media that is too much in love with stories that bleed is capable of making the recession worse than it has to be.

For instance, I recently read a headline announcing that the recession had begun to hurt small-business owners. The underlying article was about, believe it or not, a survey that registered an in the optimism of small-business owners. Deriding that small increase as insignificant, the article went on to tout the many sinister economic beasts awaiting us around every corner.

I saw another headline trumpeting negative job news. Upon reading the underlying article, I learned that initial jobless claims had unexpectedly fallen in the previous week. But this hopeful fact was quickly brushed aside as an aberration, and possibly even a result of layoffs getting an earlier start than in past winters.

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