Thursday, May 14, 2009


Up on CJR today is a long (7 pp) essay by Dan Starkman which (overly gently, imho) castigates the so-called 'business' or 'financial' press for either missing or ignoring the signs that the situation on their "beat" was dire and worsening.
Power Problem

The business press did everything but take on the institutions that brought down the financial system

These are grim times for the nation’s financial media. Not only must they witness the unraveling of their own business, they must at the same time fend off charges that they failed to cover adequately their central beat—finance—during the years prior to an implosion that is forcing millions of low-income strivers into undeserved poverty and the entire world into an economic winter. The quotes above give a fair summary of the institutional response of the mainstream business press to the charge that it slept on the job while lenders and Wall Street ran amok. And while the record will show this response is not entirely wrong, one can see how casual business-press readers might have a problem with the idea that final responsibility for failing to stop escalating dangers in the financial system has somehow shifted to them.

Dang, Margaret, we blew it again.

It is understandable that the business press would want to defend its record. But it is equally understandable, I hope, that some readers might want to see some support for these claims. You know the old journalism saying, “If your mother says she loves you,” etc.

For if the institutional response is correct, and all was done that could be done, then journalism has even bigger problems than Google and Craigslist. (Emphasis supplied. W.) In the best case, if this response is to be believed, the financial press faces the problem of irrelevance—all that newsprint and coated paper, those millions of words, the bar graphs, stipple portraits, glossy photos of white guys, the printing presses, delivery trucks, and Yale degrees, is worth about as much as a New Century share.

Lippmann (Walter. W), I think, would understand the problem. Without facts, the public is powerless. With them, well, it can lick Countrywide and Goldman Sachs put together. In his book, Liberty and the News, Lippmann wrote: “Everywhere today men are conscious that somehow they must deal with questions more intricate than any church or school had prepared them to understand. Increasingly, they know they cannot understand them if facts are not quickly and steadily available.” Without them, he says, there can be no liberty.

He was talking about a crude and corrupt press that manipulated public opinion around World War I. We’re dealing with a financial press that is neither of those things, but is nonetheless a battered and buffeted institution that in the last decade saw its fortunes and status plummet as the institutions it covered ruled the earth and bent the government. The press, I believe, began to suffer from a form of Stockholm Syndrome. Now, it is in the awkward position of telling its readers they were insufficiently attentive to what it wrote.
The financial press, according to Starkman, want's to blame its readers for being insufficiently attentive. But of course, absent facts, the reader is likely going to be unable to make reasoned judgments, about anything.

It's the cover story of the magazine this week/month, and will bear your close attention. I replied to/summarized it ("Shorter"):
Seems to me that most of the "business press" is/was so much in the "pocket"/thrall of the people and institutions they were supposed to "cover," and that mere stenography and/or "home-town boosterism" had/has become so common-place that the "press" didn't (want to) recognize there was a problem. The 'financial press' regarded itself very much as though they were cheerleaders for the business they were covering (and getting rich off of).

The TV 'journalists' especially, it seems to me, were as/more interested in getting the next hot stock tip from their inside sources than they were in seeing there were dead/rotting 'trees' in that forest they were supposed to be investigating for the benefit /information of their readers/viewers.

I was in the news biz once, and I remember when "covering" a beat meant reporting things that were inconvenient for the people one was covering. It'd be nice if that ethos were somehow to be recovered, but I am not optimistic .
This is especially unlikely since the people whom the 'ethical' financial journalist should be covering and criticizing are employed by the people whom they are alleged to be 'covering.' We then recall Upton Sinclair's distant admonition: "It is difficult for a man to see that which his job depends on his being blind to..."

1 comment:

Democracy Lover said...

It seems to me that this is not a problem limited to the financial press. What is said here could be said for almost all of mainstream media in the United States.