December 4th, 2008 — Wordman
If you’ve read my earlier posts, it will probably come as no surprise that I don’t consume much mainstream news, particularly the televised variety. Having dinner with my CNN-addicted in-laws a few days ago exposed me to an episode of Campbell Brown: No Bias. No Bull.
The particular segment to which I paid attention focussed on the U.S. government’s impending interventions into the auto industry. To the show’s credit, they did seem to give more air time than the average show to a single topic. Unfortunately, they didn’t fill it with much other than prattle. There were some words you heard repeated over and over, such as “bailout” and “billions”. One word that I didn’t hear at all, however, was “loan”. (I looked for transcripts of this show to verify this, but couldn’t find any. Leave a link in a comment below if you know where they are kept.) You couldn’t be blamed for concluding from the coverage that the government was contemplating giving free money to GM, rather than providing them the federal loans that they are actually requesting. You know, loans that would mean we’d be getting the cash back, with interest. Now, while giving loans to GM is stupid enough on its own, it doesn’t need any media trickery that makes it sound like something stupider, like just giving them free money.
Given that the auto-industry is a powerful lobby, it may turn out that they can weasel out of these loans at some point in the future, so maybe no one actually believes the idea that these would be loans. But if so that is the story, and you’d expect at least a passing comment on it.
While the difference between a loan and gift seems rather fundamental to me, mainstream media seems to either not understand the difference, not care, and/or assume that their audience doesn’t know or care either. They (and this particular CNN show is far from alone here) appear to be happy essentially screaming “billions of your money! billions of your money! billions of your money!” over and over for a bit, then cutting to a talking head who screams “billions of your money! billions of your money! billions of your money!” a bit more. When covering the “$700 billion bailout” the government is engaged in now, nearly every media source I watched or read seemed to go out of their way to give the impression that this money was just being pissed away. Some of it surely will be, but mostly the idea is to buy things. While the government will probably overpay for these assets—hard to tell for sure, because the main problem is no one really knows what they are worth—but they are certainly worth more than zero. Most of the money buys instruments that are ultimately backed by houses. This might force the government to be something like a landlord to get value out of these assets, which, gee, seems like a fairly important story for journalists to cover to me. Or, how about the story that, while the plan calls for buying things (and thus, the possibility of recovering losses), the lawmakers that did as much as anyone to cause this mess in the first place are now screaming that this money shouldn’t be used to buy things, but rather to just give money to citizens who can’t add in order to allow them to shirk their obligations. That seems like a good story, too.
Or, how about a story detailing people that saw this collapse coming and how Wall Street will never look the same again. That would be interesting.
Or even just pieces that help inform the viewer, such as a metaphor for what’s causing the credit crisis or what the hell these freaky instruments are that caused all the trouble. Those would be welcome stories as well.
Fortunately, such stories exist. You just won’t find them on television.