In a recent story, CNN worried about the sharply lower debt loads of U.S. adults under 35 years old. It is bad news for the economy, the headline said. Before people rush to dismiss this analysis, it is worth pausing to consider that the new aversion to debt is bad news for many many businesses, CNN included. CNN’s fortunes are tied to those of cable television, so CNN has reason to track household attitudes about credit card debt. Cable has become so expensive it is impossible for most households under 50 years old to buy into cable without going into debt. If there is a new aversion to debt, it translates to a new skepticism about cable for most of CNN’s potential new viewers.
All mass-media economic analysis is skewed this way. It cannot go directly against the interests of its sponsor. Fewer cable viewers is bad news, an unpleasant obstacle at the least, for CNN, so it is bad news in CNN’s headlines. But what is good and bad in the broader economy is not nearly so simple.