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May 26, 2010, 3:43 pm

Bad News from Europe

Originally posted on

The European financial headlines have been nothing but bleak: defaults, a $1 trillion bailout, speculation that the euro might disappear, and discontent and strife in countries from Greece to Germany.

The news is definitely not good, but the tone of the media messaging might be making it seem even worse. SmartMoney warned investors that “market watchers say it might be wise to keep an eye on the European exposure of selected stocks in the near term.” That’s sound advice for people who have a financial stake in the stock market, but similar messaging has been reaching people who aren’t nearly as directly affected by the financial health of the Continent.

Just as the Dow’s new permanent residence on cable-news screens has made ordinary Americans, even those with no money in stocks, acutely aware of what the markets are doing, the constant gloomy chorus is reaching people who never thought about the European economy. Some pundits are even arguing that there are parallels between the U.S. and Greece—meaning we could be next. (Though DailyFinance was quick to counter that these fears are overblown, then Paul Krugman weighed in that we aren’t Greece but Japan, possibly looking at a “lost decade” of economic stagnation.)

Right as American consumer confidence was starting to come back, we’re getting hammered with this. No wonder confidence is flagging again. Although there’s no question that we live in a globalized world, and that financial crises won’t be confined to a single region, the communications professional in me can’t help wondering how much the media is contributing. Is it helpful when the AP reports that “many economists are warning that the much-feared ‘double-dip’ recession could be starting in Europe” and when more than 1,100 online news outlets (according to a Google News search) pick up that story? I’m all for transparency and a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints, but 1,100?

Last week, outlets including The Wall Street Journal reported that Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo was planning to tell a Congressional hearing that “[i]n the worst case, such turmoil (in Europe) could lead to a replay of the freezing up of financial markets that we witnessed in 2008.”

They couldn’t even wait until after he’d said it. Then, once he did, there was a new round of articles. The AP headlined its story “Fed official: Europe’s crisis poses risks to US” and waited until the fourth paragraph to mention that Tarullo said it was “unlikely” (but “not out of the question”) that the European debt crisis would reduce global lending and endanger the U.S. recovery.

I wonder: Can American home prices and demand rebound while the European economies continue to founder?

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