AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It sounds pretty routine: A Washington official holds a news conference. But when Ben Bernanke decided in 2011 to start meeting with reporters four times a year on national television, it marked a radical departure.
Never had a Federal Reserve chairman held regular news conferences. The Fed, an independent government agency, had long shrouded itself in obscurity, even secrecy.
Bernanke's move was part of his broader drive to make the Fed more transparent and publicly accessible as it tried to help the economy heal from the Great Recession. He has also held town-hall meetings, appeared on "60 Minutes" and publicly released details of Fed officials' policy plans and forecasts.
On Wednesday, Bernanke held his 12th and final news conference as chairman. Here are some highlights from his appearances:
-- Regrets? He's had, well, many (Sept. 18, 2013)
If Bernanke acknowledged any defining mistake as Fed chair, it was downplaying the housing bubble. The 2008 financial meltdown sent the economy into an epic tailspin. Bernanke misquoted the Frank Sinatra classic "My Way" when reflecting on the crisis, which would shape his stewardship of the Fed. Sinatra officially had only a "few" regrets. Bernanke was among the rare Washington leader to acknowledge "many":
"On regrets, as Frank Sinatra says, I have many. I think my -- you know, reasonably, the biggest regret I have is that we didn't forestall the crisis. I think once the crisis got going, it was extremely hard to prevent. You know, I think we did what we could, given the powers that we had."
-- Man of the people (March 20, 2013)
Bernanke, a longtime Princeton University professor, loved to stress his roots in a humble area of South Carolina. He sometimes did so to try to humanize economic pain that is frequently illustrated only through numbers:
"I have a relative that is unemployed. But I come from a small town in South Carolina that has taken a big hit from the recession. Last time I was there, the unemployment rate was about 15 percent. I think it's better now. The home that I was raised in had just been foreclosed upon when I was visiting there."
-- How he thought he helped you (Sept. 13, 2012)
One criticism of the Bernanke Fed's policies was that they've benefited mainly Wall Street and wealthier Americans. The stock market gains accrued to prosperous households that could also refinance their mortgages with low rates the Fed had engineered. But Bernanke suggested that low interest rates also help ordinary people -- and, by extension, the economy:
"If people feel that their financial situation is better because their 401(k) looks better or for whatever reason, their house is worth more, they are more willing to go out and spend, and that's going to provide the demand that firms need in order to be willing to hire and to invest."
-- Congress hurt the recovery (Dec. 18, 2013)
The Fed is an independent agency of government, although Bernanke curiously referred to Congress as the Fed's "boss." He went on to note that budget cuts by federal, state and local governments had subtracted from U.S. economic growth:
"At this stage in the last recession, which was a much milder recession, state, local and federal governments had hired 400,000 additional workers from the trough of the recession. At the same point in this recovery, the change in state, local and federal government workers is minus 600,000. So there's about a million workers' difference in how many people have been employed at all levels of government."
-- Hey, big spender (June 19, 2013)
For the past year, the Fed has been buying $85 billion a month in mortgage and Treasury bonds to try to keep long-term borrowing rates low. At his June news conference, Bernanke indicated that the Fed could end its bond purchases by mid-2014, when he estimated unemployment would be around 7 percent. Separately, the Fed had said it planned to keep its key short-term rate at a record low at least as long as unemployment stays above 6½ percent. Bernanke sought to explain -- with a mixed metaphor -- why the Fed might not stop its purchases or pursue higher interest rates even when unemployment dipped to those levels.
"The economic conditions we have set out as preceding any future rate increase are thresholds, not triggers," he said. "The 7, the 6½ -- these are guideposts that tell you how we're going to be shifting the mix of our tools as we try to land this ship on a, you know, on a -- in a smooth way onto the aircraft carrier."