Mickey Mouse is bound to be a victim of the credit crisis, or so says The Wall Street Journal. How does it know for sure?Well, it doesn't. In a WSJ article about Disney ( DIS) today -- " Headwind Threatens Disney Parks: Global Economic Slowdown Promises to Take a Toll on Next Year's Bookings" -- actual proof (such as hard booking information) is absent. Even well-founded intuition, which is far easier to come by, is nonexistent. There is no mention of troubling indicators, such as, say, an increase in promotional activity. And yet there is that dire and scary sub-headline, which has all the subtlety of a finger in the eye. The business media are always stepping over the line -- and usually at just the wrong time -- between too positive and too negative. They give voice to the madness of the panicked or elated crowd, even as they push it further in the direction it was going, and much of what The Business Press Maven has done in the past couple of years has involved waving big red flags about how the business media were too blindly positive. And now? Well, such corrosively negative articles as this one are still infrequent, but the times, they just might be a-changin'. Look at how this article reaches too far and contorts itself too much in order to conjure up doom for Disney. The first half of the lead is fair enough: "Walt Disney Co.'s theme-park and resort unit has coasted through months of mounting U.S. economic woes ..."
After all, Disney has floated above all the trouble, and it's been somewhat remarkable. Even the second half of the lead, were it not followed by elusive proof, would be fine: "... but an expected decline in consumer confidence could hurt even resilient vacation spots like Walt Disney World." Here, though, is what we have for hard proof: "In late July, company officials said September bookings at Disney's U.S. resorts were on par with last year, and that bookings for the holiday season were slightly ahead." On par and slightly ahead? It's interesting, isn't it, that two sentences later we are told this: "But analysts and other industry observers expect the global economic situation to soften demand for rooms at the company's resorts and attendance at its parks in early 2009." Even that would be OK, of course, if it were true and if the article backed it up with "analysts and other industry observers" (notice the use of the plural and connotations of so many), but guess what? Guess how many "analysts and other industry observers" the article offers up? A grand total of one. And, uh, he's by and large positive, if offering some of the same vague, unsubstantiated hand-wringing about attendance numbers: "Analysts and industry observers, meanwhile, say Disney would be better-positioned to withstand a tourist slump now than during previous recessions because the Burbank, Calif., entertainment concern has diversified enough beyond the theme-park business to reduce its exposure. "'Disney looks very different now than it did in 1991 or even after Sept. 11,
2001 because now theme parks are only about 20% of their business, whereas in 1991 it was about 50%,' said Rich Greenfield, an analyst at Pali Capital in New York. 'But the bigger issue of what's going on in international markets certainly continues to raise concerns about sustaining attendance numbers.'"
Please don't ever be fooled by the business media's sleight-of-hand way of pretending to give an article heft by referring to plural sources when they only give you one -- and when even that one doesn't shore up the dire thesis of the article. The larger point is, look, maybe crowds will stop going to Disney parks in such numbers. It's been quite remarkable that they've held up so well. But don't be too quick to believe that the low dollar will stop attracting foreign visitors and influencing Americans to trade down from international travel. Don't rush to assume that in challenging times, the security and familiarity of a Disney park will fall by the wayside, sending Mickey Mouse out to sell apples for pennies on the street. First, look for actual proof, substantiated conjecture or, at the very least, more than one "analyst or industry observer." There is enough to be negative about these days without forcing the issue down poor Mickey's gullet.