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Media’s Top 10 Most Embarrassing Predictions of 2013

Getting it wrong, news outlets’ erroneous forecasts: Healthcare.gov like online shopping, abundant Atlantic hurricanes, $24 billion government shutdown and more.

Print, broadcast or web, the media sure aren’t Nostradamus. In spite of their best attempts, the news media have gotten it wrong prediction after prediction on a wide range of business and economic issues in 2013.

Just in the past year, reporters warned of “economic doomsday,” thought Healthcare.gov was going to be “easy” just like Amazon.com, and warned of melting polar ice, even as a new record was set for ice mass.

In many cases, the failed predictions were an extension of journalists’ standard talking points – pro-ObamaCare, anti-conservative and sky-is-falling global warming worries. But they should have left the fortune telling to the Psychic Friends Network.

The MRC’s Business and Media Institute analyzed the worst media mistakes of the year to come up with the 10 most ridiculous or wildly inaccurate media predictions. Here is our list:

1. Healthcare.gov Will Be Like ‘Amazon’ or ‘Travelocity’

Or maybe the Edsel? After the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare website, it could have been easy to forget how much the broadcast and cable networks praised it before the launch.

For the program to work, it was necessary that many people buy insurance through the website. Unsurprisingly, the cheerleading hosts and guests at the broadcasts networks promoted the federal exchange website, just as they had supported the law before and after it was passed.

On CBS “This Morning” Sept. 28, Bloomberg’s Peter Gosselin gushed that “it will be a lot like shopping for anything online on – on Amazon.” Gosselin explained that the signup process would be very simple and said, “You'll look at the different health insurance plans that are offered in your area and you will pick the one that works best for you and your family and you will hit ‘buy.’” Unless you can’t get on the site. Or can’t navigate anywhere, or have a cardiac episode when you see the costs of your new “free” health care.

Just a day before the site launched, CBS’s Jill Schlesinger made a similar comparison saying it would be like “going to shop for a flight on Travelocity.” In reality, it was more like winning a “free” getaway in which you just have to sit through 24-48 hrs of pitches for yet-to-be-built time-shares in a war-torn third-world nation.

In fact, the media’s left-wing ideologues were so sure that the website would run smoothly that they viciously attacked Republicans for opposing it. CNN’s “Crossfire” co-host Van Jones said on “New Day” Sept. 30, that Republicans were part of “crazy town.” Previously, Van Jones was an environmental advisor to the Obama administration until he resigned because of evidence that he thought the Bush administration had staged the 9/11 attacks.

MSNBC’s Ed Schultz praised the website design the same day, blaming right-wing “commercials” and “talkers” for spreading confusion. Schultz predicted it would be “easy.” Schultz said, “If you go to this website you will find out how easy it is to read, how easy it is to navigate all the information.” He even called it a “great guide,” before wiping his sweaty brow with a Sham-Wow!

After the Oct. 1 launch of the website, things were so bad that the media couldn’t ignore the failure. The website crashed repeatedly, causing embarrassment for the administration and their infomercial hosts in the media. The president even launched a “tech surge” designed to fix the website by Dec. 1, though it crashed when CNN tried to use it even after that deadline.

2. Well, It Wasn’t for a Lack of Hot Air … We’ll Have a Disastrous Hurricane Season

Climate alarmism is more than 100 years old and still going strong. But in the last few years the networks have used weather events and forecasts to stoke such fears. Whether it’s a freak snowstorm or drought, tornado or sun shower, raining cats and dogs or raining men (Alleluia!), there is no weather phenomenon that the media won’t chalk up to climate change.

This year, they embraced predictions of a record hurricane season, and connected those to global warming and climate change. But when the forecast fell flat, the networks said very little about their earlier claims.

ABC, CBS, and NBC aggressively hyped how “severe” and “powerful” hurricanes would be during the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season.

On May 23, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an “era of high activity for Atlantic hurricanes,” with 7 to 11 hurricanes. The next day, “Good Morning America’s” Ginger Zee, practically rubbing her hands in anticipation, touted the prediction, saying “Federal forecasters using the words ‘extremely active’ to describe what’s gonna happen come summer and fall.”

Just two days later on May 25, NBC reporter John Yang ominously warned of “devastating tornadoes, searing heat waves, withering droughts and related wildfires, and powerful hurricanes.” Similarly, CBS warned that month that 2013 “could be a dangerous year along the East Coast.”

ABC also predicted future “extreme weather” June 24, saying “scientists say human-caused climate change is already helping shift the planet’s natural balance,” after discussing the devastating Hurricane Sandy.

But when it came to Atlantic hurricanes, reality was the opposite of forecasts. Rather than an extreme season, the 2013 hurricane season was the slowest in 30 years in terms of hurricane frequency. Rather than the seven to 11 hurricanes predicted, only two storms reached hurricane status.

As for the claim that hurricane frequency would rise because of climate change, University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologist Dr. John Christy denied any long-term relationship between climate change and hurricane frequency. He said, “We’ve looked at hurricanes starting in the 1850s. There is no trend in hurricanes.”

ABC, far from admitting its mistake, completely ignored the subject on the final day of hurricane season. CBS and NBC did address the end of the season, but only briefly: giving a combined total of 44 seconds to the subject.

NBC’s Lester Holt seemed almost disappointed on Nov. 30’s “Nightly News,” saying “Hurricane season ended with pretty much of a ‘no show.’ This was as bad as it got … And neither of those hurricanes made it to the United States.”

Hey, you’ll get ’em next year, Lester!

3. Government Shutdown Will Wreak Havoc on Our Economy! Or Not

When the federal government is the center of your universe, your protector and provider, redistributive transfer pump, and your final arbiter of justice and bringer of light, it’s not surprising that you expect the world to crash down in its absence.

In addition to blaming conservatives more than three times as often as liberals for the partial government shutdown, both broadcast news and print outlets exaggerated the probable impact on the economy and jobs.

After the shutdown, which began Oct. 1, they promoted the high-end estimates of $24 billion in economic damage and paid little attention when the federal government itself eventually released a much more modest estimate of $2 billion and $6 billion. Hey, let someone take away your blankie and see how you react.

ABC, CBS, and NBC widely reported that the shutdown had cost the economy $24 billion.

They cited this specific number five times between Oct. 17 and 24, immediately following the shutdown. Print and online media, such as The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post, cited the same $24 billion price tag that came from Standard & Poors (S&P). That was 400 percent to 1,200 percent higher than the government’s later estimate. Well, you know, ‘prepare for the worst’ and all that …

Wall Street Journal’s Steven Russolillo called it “one expensive wound” and emphasized that “it’s about $1 billion more than Google founder Larry Page’s personal net worth.” The Huffington Post boosted the S&P estimate calling it “the most detailed insight to date.”

While the S&P number was repeated, the media generally ignored less pessimistic forecasts from economic consultants like Macroeconomic Advisers or IHS Global Insight. The exception was The New York Times which admitted the S&P estimate was “more pessimistic” than other alternatives and contrasted it with Macroeconomic Advisers’ $12 billion estimate. The following day, Oct. 18, the Times also mentioned IHS’s more accurate $3.1 billion price tag.

Furthermore, NBC and CNBC predicted that the shutdown would cost American jobs. CNBC’s Steve Liesman generated controversy Oct. 22, when he called the weak September jobs data the “Senator Ted Cruz jobs report.” That same day NBC “Nightly News” correspondent Ron Mott warned that “the next one could be even worse.”

It turned out that the cost and damage to jobs were both overstated. On Nov. 7, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimated the shutdown cost between $2 billion and $6 billion. Two of the three broadcast networks ignored the news entirely between Nov. 7 and 10. Only CBS mentioned it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in the October jobs report that “there were no discernible impacts of the partial federal government shutdown.”

4. Maybe They Shouldn’t Spread It So Thick When It Comes to Ice Levels

Ice, Ice, baby. The media also use predictions about ice melt and sea ice levels to spread climate fears. The prediction that ice at the North and South poles will melt because of global warming is a classic alarmist prediction, dating at least as far back to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” And let’s face it, everybody hates to run out of ice.

In late 2012 and early 2013, media outlets including NBC and The Independent (UK) hyped predictions of increasing ice melt in both the Arctic and Antarctic. On Dec. 5, 2012, “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams warned of “greater melting of the Greenland ice sheet,” saying “it is, quote, ‘unlikely,’ government scientists say, ‘that conditions can be reversed any time soon.’” The Independent published a similar story on Jan. 7, warning of “catastrophic” melting in both Greenland and Antarctica that would be “more rapid and severe than previously expected.”

Just as many other climate change predictions have failed, these worries of increased melting in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica were overblown, though neither NBC nor The Independent have admitted their mistakes. Even The New York Times was forced to acknowledge the facts on Sept. 20 describing a “sharp recovery” of ice in the Arctic Ocean compared to 2012. In fact, according to the Times, 2013 saw “the largest one-year increase in Arctic ice since satellite tracking began in 1978.”

Antarctica’s sea ice reached record highs this year, surpassing a 2012 record, and it was no small increase. The Washington Post reported Sept. 23 that the ice experienced an “80 percent of the increase in ice volume.”

Still, you never know who’s going to drop by, so a good host always keeps an eye on the ice bucket.

5. ‘You Can Keep Your Plan’*

President Obama famously repeated the promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it” while pushing for ObamaCare’s passage. In fact,  he made that promise 36 times between 2008 and November 2013. ABC openly defended this prediction in 2009, and other broadcast and print outlets “failed to scrutinize” the law to evaluate Obama’s claims.

ABC’s David Wright dismissed skepticism of the president’s promise on Aug. 11, 2009, “World News,” saying “the bill includes tax breaks and mandates designed to prevent a mass exodus from the current employer-based system.” While Wright acknowledged that the promise was only “true for 95 percent of people,” he emphasized that even if some people “end up changing their insurance plans” they wouldn’t need to “[change] their doctors.” He also dismissed conservative “noise” as making fact checking this claim difficult.

Everyone knows now, thanks to NBC investigations’ findings announced Oct. 28, 2013, that the administration has known that the ObamaCare regulations meant this promise would not come to pass. The White House has known since July 2010.

The press corps then sounded something like this: “Dad, remember what you told me about my hamster when he disappeared? Well, he didn’t really go to Rodent Band Camp, did he?”

If more journalists had been digging into the law they might have discovered, as NBC eventually did, that the president was wrong.  Time’s Mark Halperin admitted as much on “O’Reilly Factor” Nov. 21. Halperin said that “the press failed to scrutinize this program,” but blamed “the flaws of the way the media works.” According to Halperin, the news media would only have scrutinized the law if candidates during the election had discussed it, but he ignored the fact that ObamaCare was still a major issue during the 2012 election.

As we now know, if you like your plan, you cannot necessarily keep it. Obama clarified that the plan must not have changed since ObamaCare’s passage. That is quite different from his many earlier statements. Even ABC, while admitting that 9 million might lose insurance, was far from the whopping 78 million that could lose employer-sponsored plans, according to a recent analysis by the Manhattan Institute.

6. Still Waiting for the Sequester Sky to Fall

The networks and other media warned that the sequester, a series of spending cuts that took place on March 1, would devastate the government and reduce essential services. The media predicted increases in violent crime and terrorism, airport delays and meat shortages – dogs and cats living together! Total anarchy!

The networks focused on the disastrous claims from Department of Transportation (DOT), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agency reports. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Feb. 1 that cuts would mean “7,000 FBI employees not working each day,” resulting in increased terrorist attacks, violent crime and human trafficking. The networks mentioned this prediction seven times between Feb. 19 and Feb. 27. On Feb. 26, NBC “Nightly News” even brought on the U.S. Attorney General about the cuts.  Eric Holder, who’s apparently preparing for a second career in professional wrestling, told NBC, “There is going to be pain.”

Between Feb. 22 and March 1, ABC, CBS, and NBC ran a total of 13 stories highlighting possible airport delays including the prediction of “airport hell” on “World News with Diane Sawyer. At least it was “Airport Hell” and not “Airport Hell ’75” or “Airport Hell ’77,” both of which lacked the taut writing and wrenching performances of the original.

The sequester was also supposed to drive up food prices and create meat shortages. Both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture claimed that sequester would result in furloughs, with the USDA predicting “a nationwide shutdown of meat and poultry plants during a furlough of inspection personnel.” Between Feb. 17 and Feb. 27, ABC, CBS, and NBC touted these fears nine times, including the Feb. 25 “Today Show” report that said the sequester would “jack up prices” of meat.

Thankfully, these disasters did not come to pass. Appropriations bills were passed protecting the DOT, while the FBI and FDA managed to cut nonessential expenditures to maintain current personnel and inspection levels.

The news media talked about the dire consequences of cutting $85 billion in federal spending, but according to Veronique de Rugy, in National Review Online, “only $44 billion of the $85 billion sequester will be cuts in actual federal outlays for 2013.” She also pointed out that “that number pales in comparison with the projected level of spending that year, the $845 billion deficit, and the $224 billion on interest payments.”

7. The Networks Go ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Diving

Broadcast networks fear-mongered about the impending “fiscal cliff” throughout 2012.

The fiscal cliff, a series of tax increases and sequester spending cuts, was scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013. Despite constant predictions of rising unemployment and recession, the fiscal cliff did not bring about the forecasted “doomsday” or “economic disaster.”

In 2012, ABC, CBS, and NBC news programs warned of a fiscal cliff-related recession 65 times. They made 30 of these predictions in December 2012 alone. Major Garrett, on CBS’ Dec. 28 broadcast of “This Morning,” informed viewers about “warnings of a recession that have rattled Wall Street and consumer confidence.” The networks were the only media succumbing to hysteria. The Huffington Post compared the fiscal cliff to the Mayan apocalypse Dec. 4. And it was just as credible.

The networks also touted disastrous unemployment predictions. On Aug. 22, the Congressional Budget Office predicted a rise in unemployment from 7.9 percent to 9.1 percent within a year. Over the next four days, ABC, CBS, and NBC repeated it six times. CBS’ “This Morning” on Oct. 26 outdid that with a National Association of Manufacturers report predicting 12 percent unemployment.

The vast majority of fiscal cliff tax increases took effect in January 2013. According to CNN, 77 percent of Americans saw their taxes increase. All in all, taxpayers experienced an average annual increase of $1,257. Tax increases are certainly unpleasant, but they did not have the horrible impact the networks imagined. 

Despite the networks’ predictions, there was no recession or skyrocketing unemployment. Unemployment dropped from 7.8 percent in December 2012 to 7.0 percent in November 2013.The stock market also hit record highs, with the Dow surpassing 15,700.

8. Gas Prices Will ‘Soar’

Fool me once. Shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Time Magazine’s finance reporter Brad Tuttle made two predictions that gas prices would rise significantly in 2013.

In January, when gas prices were around $3.30 a gallon, Tuttle forecast a rise to $4 per gallon, citing an estimate from the website GasBuddy, and said “drivers shouldn’t expect prices to get cheaper.”

His only caveat was that “it’s unwise to wholly trust predictions concerning the price of gas in a given month.” He completely ignored the possibility that prices would actually go down.

He predicted on July 12 that prices would “soar” through the end of the year and a gallon would cost 25 cents to 30 cents more “over the next few weeks.”

Both of these predictions failed, according to historical data by AAA. At the time of Tuttle’s January prediction, gas cost $3.30 per gallon. So far this year, gas prices have not gone higher than $3.79. After Tuttle’s July prediction, gas prices did the opposite sinking to a November low of $3.18. 

While Tuttle was correct that gas price predictions are unreliable, perhaps he should have taken his own advice when it came to year-long forecasts, as well.

9. QE3 Will Sink! Stock Market Stability Scuttled

Since 2008, the Federal Reserve has spent almost $2.3 trillion buying up assets from banks, in a process called quantitative easing. The purpose was to stimulate the economy, although many say it just stimulated Wall Street. Fed policy has received a relative spotlight this year, due to the probable confirmation of the incredibly liberal, stimulus-friendly Janet Yellen.

The Fed’s actions have become so ingrained in the stock market that investment CEO Barry Sternlicht referred to it as a “heroin addiction.” Widespread predictions that the easing will end, made by CNBC and financial print media, have made the markets as jittery as an Italian cruise ship captain. The instability caused uncertainty on Wall Street and traders to sell off stocks in anticipation of the taper.

As early as August 2013, financial news outlets predicted that this policy would end or “taper” as of September 2013. CNBC’s Steve Liesman wrote Aug. 28 that it was “more likely than not.” On Aug. 14, Bloomberg reported that the Fed will “probably reduce” bond purchases, while the Aug. 6 New York Times said “the Fed could start tapering as early as next month.”

The taper did not materialize and the expectations created a dangerous uncertainty. On Nov. 25, USA Today’s Adam Shell said “Taper Terror Stalks [Wall] Street,” explaining how worried the markets were that the Fed would end quantitative easing this December. The problem was that as early as June 20, CNBC’s Jeff Cox reported that “the stock market sold off aggressively” in preparation for a taper, and The Telegraph’s Philip Aldrick said that “traders were dismayed by the Fed’s confusing messaging.”

10. CNN Cries ‘Food Fights!’

CNN Contributor and pseudo-conservative David Frum declared at the end of 2012 that “2013 will be a year of crisis.” Specifically, he predicted a drop in the corn harvest and “higher grain prices,” creating social strife over access to food.

He asked “Will 2013 bring us social turmoil in Brazil, strikes in China or revolution in Pakistan?” Will Daryl survive this season on “The Walking Dead?”

Frum even said that the crisis “has already begun” and “will inescapably confront the next president of the United States.” He blamed “extreme weather” for this coming shortage.

This prediction, like so many others, was wildly off the mark. While food prices increased between 2011 and 2012, they increased less than in previous years according to the Consumer Price Index. According to the CPI on Nov. 27, the 2013 increase was only between 1.5 to 2.5 percent compared with 3.7 percent in 2011 and 2.6 percent in 2012. Grain or cereal prices, like those Frum’s prediction was about, actually decreased by 1 to 2 percent in 2013. So much for rising grain prices leading to crisis.

The implications of his prediction were huge. Frum brought up the widespread European revolutions of 1848, saying they were a result of “years of bad harvests across Europe.” These dire predictions did not materialize, however, despite Frum’s claims that such strife was “inescapable.” And as of the last new “Walking Dead” episode of 2013, Daryl Dixon is still kicking zombie butt.

— Sean Long is Staff Writer at the Media Research Center. Follow Sean Long on Twitter.