Archive for the 'Poor Journalism' Category

Sarah Palin on Oprah

December 23, 2009

I finally got to see Sarah Palin on Oprah.  Decent stuff.  I noticed the same thing that several conservative talk show hosts noticed as well, there was no shots of the audience.  The way it was edited, it seemed like there was no audience at all.  I’d be interested to know the real story on that.  Conservative talkers seemed to think Oprah didn’t want to show an audience full of people nodding in agreement with Sarah.

Here are a few observations I have.

1.  People need to wake up to the heavily clouded media lens. If you haven’t seen this Oprah, watch it and listen closely to Sarah’s side of story about the Katie Couric interview.  The journalistic standards in the country are very low.  I’m not saying that Couric should have taken it any easier on Palin.  But, an honest viewer has to see that the media did take it much, much easier on Obama and Biden to the point of propaganda.  I think only now, a year later, the media is starting to fidget with the idea of asking Obama some tough questions.  All you need to do is simply imagine if Palin or Bush would have been remotely tied to an organization like ACORN.  We would have heard the end of it.

2. Would-have, could-haves. When Palin explained her side of the story about her response to Couric’s question about what specific magazines and newspaper Palin read, I believe her.  She said she was frustrated.  She thought it wasn’t a question that would have been asked any other candidate and felt it was an insult to her and Alaskans.  Oprah did us a service in showing that footage from the Couric interview and Palin’s story fits with the reaction and body language I saw.  If I could do it over again for Palin, I’d just simply have turned the question around on Couric.  What magazines and newspapers do you read?

3.  Recommendation for Palin. Figure out how to clearly communicate why you stepped down as Governor.  Whatever it is that she’s saying doesn’t come through well.  I can’t tell if it’s because the attention that followed her from the campaign was hindering her ability to lead Alaska’s government or if she felt she could have a bigger impact in the U.S. in a private role.  Whatever the reason, it still isn’t coming through in a compelling fashion.

4.  Oprah? Oprah was harping hard on the degree to which Palin said she was handled during the campaign, like how she was scripted and clothes picked out and provided for her.  Oprah.  Wake up.  Your guy is handled as well.   He doesn’t pick out or pay for his suits.  Michelle doesn’t either.  He has a team of speechwriters, consultants, stylists and advisers to make him and her appear as they do.  Oprah, look at yourself, you don’t do all the work to make you look good all by yourself.  You have a rather large team to make it all happen.

But on the other, I think the handling is telling of our society.  Politicians are products.  They are made up by polls and focus groups. They are, generally, who we want them to be (or who their consultants think we want them to be).  They’re phony.  It would be refreshing to see a real person running for office.  I would love to hear a politicians say, “This is what I believe in, this is what I’m going to do, this is what you’ll get if you vote for me.  If you don’t want those things, vote for the other candidate.”

Excellent Video Series on Keynes and Hayek

December 20, 2009

This makes the second link I’ve made to PBS Newshour in the past week.  The link will take you to a series of five video segments with economists Lord Skidelsky and Russ Roberts hosted by the Lehrer.  They discuss Keynes, markets, the financial crisis and a host of other topics and, as my previous link to an interview with George Shultz, is hosted by Paul Solman.

In one of the videos, Solman describes himself as a “dispassionate reporter.”  From what I’ve seen of his work so far, I agree.  Journalism needs more like him.  After watching over an hour of his interviews now, I can’t tell if his personal beliefs lean one way or the other.  What’s more, he seems to understand the subject and is interested in getting the real story out, rather than a stylized version of the story meant to fit a predetermined narrative.  Nor does he practice “gotcha” journalism.

One quote from Russ Roberts that I will take with me is, “Capitalism is a profit and loss system.  The profits encourage risk taking.  The losses encourage prudence.”

I highly recommend watching the video series if you are the least bit interested in economics or gaining a better understanding of the the true causes of the financial crisis.

“Seven Presidents Have Failed…”

December 14, 2009

On 60 Minutes last night, Barack Obama claimed that seven presidents have tried and failed to reform health care.  Follow-up questions I would have asked:

1.  Didn’t President Bush sign the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act in 2003?

2. Wasn’t part of that act a provision to add pretax health savings accounts for working people so that people can control more of their health expenditures?

3. If you were to analyze this major health legislation, what parts would you say are having a positive impact and which negative?

4. Do you think the parts that expanded government’s role in health care are positive or negative and why?

5.  Do you think the HSA’s are having a positive or negative impact and why?

6.  If I were Steve Kroft and I had just implied that the 2,000 page health care reform bill was a monstrosity and the President changed the subject by essentially saying, “seven Presidents have failed, but we’re close,” I might have asked, “Is this monstrosity better than failing to pass something?”

I understand there are a couple of dynamics at play.  You can’t upset the President too much or he won’t come on your show and you won’t get ratings.  Also, there is still a halo of infallibility with this guy, so journalists are having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that he is a human after all, and maybe, just maybe, it’s a bit much to expect someone to go from junior senator to legendary world leader in a year’s time.

Tick, tick, tick

December 14, 2009

In an interview on 60 Minutes this evening, Obama blamed Wall Street bankers for the nation’s financial troubles.  If I remember correctly, the question was asked if banks are repaying TARP funds so they could pay their CEOs big bonuses.  To that, Obama said that he thinks that’s a motivation and that Wall Street still doesn’t get it that everyone is mad at them for causing the financial mess (paraphrased from memory).

What’s sad is that many American accept this explanation and we never hold government accountable for their role in the mess.

A true leader would own up to it.  Wall Street certainly played a role in the financial crisis, but they by no means acted alone.  This is where journalism needs to DO IT’S JOB!

Here are some great questions I would have loved to ask President Obama at that point:

1.  Do you think the government or government agencies had any role in the financial crisis or did Wall Street act alone?

2. Do you believe the Federal Reserve should have acted quicker to remove excess money supply after it seemed that the economy got back on track after 9/11?

3. You don’t believe that government put pressure on banks to make credit easier (i.e. lend to people they would normally consider high credit risks) in order to push this idea of expanding home ownership?

4. Didn’t the government provide implicit guarantees to subprime lending, again to expand home ownership, through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

5. Wasn’t Fannie and Freddie one of the largest, if not largest, provider of these bad loans?  And weren’t they acting under direction from Congress?

6.  Weren’t regulations proposed in 2004 that would have reduced the risk of the housing crisis by making it tougher to get loans, but those regulations were rejected by Congress because they would have interfered with the goal of expanding home ownership?

6.  In order for us to better trust your leadership, shouldn’t we expect you to be honest about government’s role in the financial mess?  Rather, you seem to pretend that government has not blame and we should continue to blindly trust the government as you want to expand regulatory power even further.

7. Please tell me, how are the new financial regulatory powers that your administration is proposing different from those in 2004?  Why didn’t the current regulations not work to prevent the crisis?  Did anyone in government not even recognize that a crisis was about to happen?  If not, how can we trust those in government to recognize the next crisis?

8. What do you think about the people who borrowed well beyond their means?  Shouldn’t they have acted more prudently?  Shouldn’t we expect our citizens, who are provided thirteen years of education with a total valued at $150,000, to make responsible financial choices?  Shouldn’t we expect them to be able to read and understand a loan document and do their homework about the realities and responsibilities that come with home ownership?

9. What personal finance advice would you give Americans?

10.  Some say that people were motivated to borrow beyond their means because they felt that home prices were appreciating so rapidly that they could always sell the house and make a nice profit.  In other words, they were borrowing on future hopes rather than their realistic income.  Don’t you think that the government’s finances are reflecting that same behavior?  We are borrowing beyond our means with the hope that the economy will grow strong and pay for it.  Haven’t we learned our lesson here?  Don’t we know how this story is likely to end?

Tick-tick-tick…

November 30, 2009

I saw a piece on 60 Minutes last night about the blood tainted gold from the Congo that reminded me of why I have such little regard for journalism.

The story: There’s gold and political instability in the Congo, which lead to heinous power struggles and gangster violence, rapes and other human rights violations.  The culprits?  It must be those darned gold dealers.  Walmart and such.  They don’t track the gold back to the source, so they buy (by some “best estimates” provided in the story, 1%) of their gold from Congo sources which fuels the bloody power struggles.

Typical journalism.  Blame the end user.  Here are some questions or data I would have provided  if I were the reporter on this story:

1) What is the form of government in this country that allows such human rights abuses (that would be the killing and rapes) and power struggles for mineral rights to take place?

2) What is ineffective about Congo’s government compared with the governments of countries that apparently supply the other 99% of the world’s gold that doesn’t appear to be subject to such chaos?

3) Why do people stay in the Congo if it’s so bad?  Why don’t they leave for a better a life?

4) How would a gold dealer be able to tell if gold came from the Congo or not?  Do they simply take the gold seller’s word for it?  Do you honestly think that would be an effective way to end the violence in the Congo?  Even if gold could be traced to the source, you don’t think a black market would keep that gold flowing?