Journalism Goes CrashOctober 2nd, 2008

When did alarmism become acceptable as news reporting? I thought part of the job of a reporter was to stem panic. Lately the mass media have been sowing panic, and people have to wonder about the motives behind such a radical departure from responsible journalism.

The anchors dig relentlessly for bad news. Biggest monthly loss for NASDAQ since September ‘01. Federal funds rate volatile. Employer can’t meet payroll (any day of any week you can find an employer who can’t meet payroll because he’s maxed out). LIBOR at high for year (but less than a percentage point higher than six months ago). Dow hit by biggest point drop ever (neglecting to mention that the market lost nearly half its value over a couple of days in 1929 when it was at 350 and that a 500-point loss on October 19, 1987, came when the Dow was at 2500, not well over 10,000, where it remains today). Compared to past one-day losses, this one would have to be described as a correction. The news media called it a meltdown, and a decline of 200-something is routinely described as a plunge.

Do the media want you to rush to the bank and withdraw your money? Are they trying to convince you to cash out your slightly devalued 401k? Do they think you didn’t know there was risk when you selected the high-growth mutual fund? Are they ignorant of the profits you realized during the months and years of expansion? Why are they so determined to present this as a crisis, a matter of urgency, when everybody knows this slowdown has been going on for a year or more? Is it really so urgent that we can’t talk about an approach other than the blank-check/junk-loan gambit? Couldn’t we consider spending the money on something other than bad debt?

To deflect such questions and maintain their panicky spin on finance, the media have had to resort to a stream of disinformation. The bailout was defeated not because it was a swindle or because the American people opposed it, but because George Bush, pitchman, didn’t sell it properly. The rebound of the stock market in the days following the ’stunning’ upset of the Bush/Paulson/Frank cabal was not attributable to the resiliency of the economy, but to hope among investors that the bailout would prevail eventually. The relative stability of financial market indices was anomalous, and catastrophic events are still looming. We’re in a crisis, say the media, even if the numbers don’t say so.

Give. Me. A. Break. People are not stupid. They don’t panic because talking heads in the media, heeding Henry Paulson and George Bush, think they ought to. They don’t trust liars to tell them the truth, and they’re not sucked in by news-anchors’ hysterical ravings. If the media manage to scare the Congress into passing this irresponsible measure over fierce public opposition, the people should preserve tapes of the news coverage so they can sue the networks for malpractice when the corrupt bankers’ house of cards collapses after the election.