"You're always defending the president," the cabbie said, "but I guess you'll change your act now that he's socking it to the folks in your business."
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"It's right here in the paper," he said. "Reagan says you guys are delaying the country's economic recovery by creating a 'downbeat' psychology. Here, let me read what he said: 'You can't turn on the evening news without seeing that they're going to interview someone else who has lost his job, or they're outside the factory that has laid off workers or so forth--the constant downbeat--that can lead to slowing down a new recovery that is in the offing,' Stuck it to you guys pretty good, didn't he?"
"He's not talking about newspaper reporters," I told the cabbie. "He's talking about the network TV news, and, I might add, he's right."
"I suppose you intend to explain that," the cabbie said.
I told him that if he would do a little less talking and a little more thinking, he wouldn't have any problem understanding it. Just suppose you heard on television that there was a run on the banks. Wouldn't you run down to the bank and get your money out? And wouldn't the same thing be true of other savers who saw the same news report? Any fool could see that in no time at all the banks would collapse.
"There's a run on the banks?" he said, slamming on the brakes.
"Would you kindly get this cab moving," I said. "No, there's no run on the banks. I'm just explaining how the psychology of the thing works."
"I see," he said. "You see a story about a plant closing, so you quit your job. That it?"
"Well, not exactly."
"Okay, your boss sees the story about the plant closing and he closes down his own plant?"
"Well, not that either."
"Let me guess. The TV reporter says housing costs are up so you abandon your house? Your aunt sees a report that welfare benefits are being cut, so she quits welfare? A businessman hears on television that interest rates are up, so he cancels his plans to borrow money for expansion?"
I told him that his last guess was getting pretty warm.
"I still don't get it," he said. "Looks to me like the rising interest rates would force the businessman to cancel his loan plans, whether it was reported on TV or not. What's the network news got to do with it?"
"We are talking about psychology," I said. "If you had read the whole story, you would see what he was talking about. He commented specifically on a TV report about a disabled guy who had been dropped from Social Security coverage. It turned out, he said, that the guy was taken off the benefits in 1980--under the Carter administration --because he had been working full- time for three years while drawing disability payments."
"And if you had read the whole story, you would see that the president's version wasn't true. The Reagan people cut him off and only reinstated him a few days ago, and he hadn't worked since 1975. But even if Reagan's version was true, how does that slow down the economic recovery?"
"Don't be so stupid," I explained. "TV news is full of stories like that. People's benefits being cut off; job training programs being eliminated while unemployment rates are climbing; military weapons that don't work the way they're supposed to; interest rates climbing; tax breaks going to the rich while the poor get the shaft. You see enough of these reports and you start to conclude that the president doesn't know what he's doing. If most people start to believe that, it will start to erode public confidence in the president's economic policies, and any fool can see how such a loss of confidence would stall the recovery."
"I see," the cabbie said. "If television tells people what's going on, they will lose confidence in the president's program."
"Well, if you want to put it that way . . ."
"And if TV doesn't tell people the truth, interest rates and unemployment will come down, the housing industry will take off again, Detroit will sell more cars, and we'll have a wonderful economic recovery."
"That's not what I said. I'm saying that the emphasis on negative economic news leads to a negative psychology that makes recovery more difficult. The preisdent was only calling for more balanced reporting, and I agree with him."
"Then it's okay to broadcast the bad news if they also braodcast the good?"he said.
"And what exactly is the good economic news that TV has been ignoring?"
"Well, for one thing the president says his economic poilicies will work. But do the TV reporters focus on that? No. They keep talking about record losses at Ford and GM, economic disaster in Pittsburgh, $100 billion deficits and the growing doubts among members of the president's own party."
"With all that negative reporting, no wonder the economy is in such bad shape."