panic merchants
n. Media, special-interest groups, and businesses that exploit common fears and anxieties for profit, power, or other gains.
Now, some — not all — basement waterproofing companies are bonafide panic merchants who are marketing fear along with fix. Beware of them.
—Jim Rooney, “Monsoon-like rains seep into basement,” The Capital, June 29, 1996
1988 (earliest)
The untrue stories of a disaster that briefly circulated during the hour and a half that ALC's screens were down showed just how jittery the market has become about the threat of more job losses.
—Peter Rodgers, “Panic merchants have got it wrong again,” The Guardian, December 10, 1988