From the Columbia Journalism Review:
Social Security I—Missing in Action: It’s reasonable for people to debate the merits of ways to slice the deficit or to fix Social Security’s shortfall, but it is not reasonable for the press to serve up one-sided, shallow reporting about Social Security “reform,” which has been the norm from too many news outlets. Trudy Lieberman says the press is missing something significant, perhaps until quite recently.
Social Security II—”A Scandal” Over the year the country’s elite news outlets and bloggers have carried on quite a conversation about the proposed changes to Social Security—but how these proposals affect ordinary people has been largely absent from the discussion. Trudy Lieberman sat down with longtime political reporter William Greider to talk about why that is so.
Obama Rising?: As the surprisingly active lame duck session draws to a close and the president’s third year in office approaches, a handful of pundits are filling out their presidential report cards. Once again, the Beltway consensus seems to have turned, and the president has bounced up from the deathbed in which we were told he had recently settled. Joel Meares reports.
Grim Sleeper II: The Darts & Laurels feature in our November/December issue recognized the excellent work that L.A. Weekly staff writer Christine Pelisek did in bringing a serial killer’s case to light, and maintaining public attention on the legislation that was necessary to bring “The Grim Sleeper” to justice. Now comes a creepy follow-up, as the police release hundreds of photos seized from the alleged killer’s home, in an effort to see if some of them are also victims. Lauren Kirchner reports.
This Could Make You Cry: Joel Meares hurls a pointy, oversized CJR dart at Politics Daily columnist Matt Lewis’s head-scratchingly bad piece, “John Boehner’s Crying: Is He Drinking Too Much?” The premise of the column is that there must be something deeper at the heart of John Boehner’s propensity to cry. And—leaping off of a comment from that sober voice of reason, MSNBC’s Ed Schultz—that the something deeper might be his drinking. The fact that Lewis has zero evidence for this, something he acknowledges repeatedly, doesn’t stop him from lining up the experts and shaping a 1,200-plus word nick-of-time entry into the competition for worst column of 2010.
Now They Tell us. This week’s coverage of the Virginia court decision declaring health reform’s individual mandate unconstitutional was surprisingly thorough and contextual, Trudy Lieberman writes. But what a pity the points made in the last few days were not presented during the fifteen months the law wound its way through Congress.
No Regrets: Craig Silverman pored over a year’s worth of his Regret the Error columns and gathered a collection of comments that speak to the problems and positive developments that marked the year in accuracy, errors and verification.
What to Read: This holiday season, there’s nothing better you can give your favorite overworked journalist than a good book. Our readers’ list of suggestions for books for journalists is already a good one; please jump in and add your own suggestion.
From the Columbia Journalism Review:
Skeptical To a Fault: CJR’s Peterson Fellow, Felix Salmon, says Sharon Terlep’s story in the WSJ on GM trying to pay down its debt is a great indicator of how the leverage-is-good meme simply refuses to die, even after the financial crisis. The main reason for GM to carry debt is the tax advantages it gets, but the carmaker already has all the tax advantages it will be able to use for the foreseeable future, thanks to all the losses it made in previous years. Meanwhile, as GM vividly remembers, carrying a large debt load can be devastating in a cyclical downturn. But Terlep just can’t seem to believe it’s as simple as that.
Googlopoly?: Audit Deputy Chief Ryan Chittum lauds The Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein for an excellent column taking up the Google monopoly case. If you want to know why there’s a problem with what Google’s doing, this is about the best place to start.
Flyover News: Iowa’s credible attorney general, Tom Miller, recently said he will bring criminal charges over the foreclosure scandal. But, as Chittum points out, most of the press didn’t have that significant news. Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism picked up on this story, as did The Huffington Post and HousingWire. But the only mainstream media coverage it got was in the Des Moines Register and Reuters.
More, Please: In Audit Notes, Chittum says The New York Times reported that The Atlantic magazine, a longtime money loser, is in the black. The Times credits the mag’s focus on the Web, but in fact most of the magazine’s revenue gains game from elsewhere. We’d like to know more.
Meme Watch (cont’d.): Chittum says the Journal went page one this week with a story on our mangled tax code, which is oviously inefficient and causes uncertainty for businesses and individuals. But it seems to him that the Journal overplays the case somewhat that such “uncertainty” is what’s keeping businesses from hiring. And, in doing so, the paper channels the business lobby’s political agenda.
From the Columbia Journalism Review:
Director’s Cut: Last Thursday, Judith Miller penned a column for The Wall Street Journal in which she accused the new film Fair Game of pushing “untruths” in its telling of the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. CJR approached Fair Game director Doug Liman (Swingers, Mr and Mrs Smith, The Bourne Identity) for comment. He wrote back with this response to Miller’s piece. It starts this way: “Judith Miller demonstrated in her recent WSJ story about my film, Fair Game, the same cavalier attitude towards the facts that led to her departure from The New York Times in….”
Cancun Confidential: Joydeep Gupta wants to know where the money is. He is reporting for the Indo-Asian News Service, Gupta is in Cancún on the sixteenth annual Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP 16. At last year’s conference in Copenhagen, developed countries promised to spend $30 billion over the course of three years in developing countries where the impacts of climate change are already occurring. Gupta is trying to track that money down, and is profiled for CJR by Laura Paskus, from Cancun.
In the Air: In the latest of CJR’s Launch Pad series, in which founders of news startups discuss the challenges of their particular launch, Michael Andersen, founder of Portland Afoot, and Barry Johnson, who is at work on an arts journalism project, wrap up their series of conversations with a discussion about community building.
Digital Deja Vu: Google has a near-monopoly on search in the U.S. It uses that dominant position to boost its other businesses at the expense of competitors. As The Audit’s Deputy Chief, Ryan Chittum, notes: We’ve got a problem here. The Wall Street Journal took a look, pointing out how the search giant is able to dominate—or at least gain a significant position in—other aspects of the Web by using search results to point to its own services. But the obvious analogy, which the Journal doesn’t make, is to the emblematic tech company of the 1990s: Microsoft.
NYT v. the Derivatives Cartel: Back in September, the Chicago Fed hosted a symposium on OTC derivatives clearing (bear with us; don’t fall asleep just yet). The luncheon keynote was given by Ken Griffin, and summarized by the professor/blogger Craig Pirrong, who was there. CJR’s Peterson Fellow, Felix Salmon, notes that recently, the New York Times‘s Louise Story took Griffin’s complaint and elevated it to the status of the main front-page story of the Sunday paper. It’s a long and powerful piece, Felix says, but also quite one-sided.
A Stunning Poll: Chittum says Bloomberg News got some stunning numbers polling Americans on whether big bonuses should be banned at Wall Street?s bailout recipients, which essentially means all of the Wall Street banks. Wait until you see them.
A Rehash from BusinessWeek: Felix says he was eager to read the new Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Larry Fink to learn something new, especially about the famously tense relationship between Fink and Goldman Sachs. But weirdly, the authors seem to go out of their way not to delve. Says Felix: If you only read one profile of Fink, the best one remains last April’s piece by Suzanna Andrews in Vanity Fair.
Herald-Trib BlockBuster: Down in Florida, State Farm noisily said it was exiting its coastal hurricane-insurance business, asserting that it couldn’t afford it anymore. But, Chittum points out in Audit Notes, thanks to an investigation by Paige St. John and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, we now know that State Farm is still actually in the hurricane-insurance business in Florida and its machinations are making it lots of money:
Short-Arming a Goldman Story: Chittum notes that when Senator Carl Levin released e-mails yesterday showing a Goldman Sachs executive exhorting his traders to engineer a short-squeeze, The Wall Street Journal buried it on C3 and gave it a loopy headline: “Goldman Trader Used Rough Language.” Heavens! The Financial Times was quite a bit better.
NYT Shines on Mortgages: Felix says the paper’s David Bornstein had a great post about ESOP, an Ohio non-profit which acts as a middleman between homeowners and lenders, and which does a much better job of getting modifications done than banks and borrowers are if left to their own devices.
NYT’s Anti-Bond Market Piece: Did you know there’s a fight to the death going on in Europe? The Times covered it this week under the headline “Central Bank and Financiers Fight Over Fate of the Euro,” and that’s the clear theme. But CJR‘s Peterson Fellow, Felix Salmon, says that blaming speculators for anything going on in Europe is lazy and unproven.
Rattner Ratted Out: Audit Deputy Chief Ryan Chittum says The New York Times fronted an excellent story on the Steven Rattner scandal. If you wondered why Andrew Cuomo, New York’s attorney general and governor-elect, is pursuing Rattner so fervently, now you know, thanks to Louise Story and Michael Barbaro.
Unconvincing Outlier: Salmon says much of the commentary on extending unemployment insurance adds up to something reasonably clear: unemployment insurance isn’t just about fairness, it’s also extremely effective as stimulus. Any side effect that encourages people to stay unemployed is, in comparison, modest. Which is why it’s very odd to find Kelly Evans, in The Wall Street Journal, writing the exact opposite.
Sorkin Comes Around: Chittum says there was a tough column in The New York Times early this week on how the feds’ are going after the minnows and avoiding the sharks over the financial crisis. That the piece comes from Andrew Ross Sorkin, who’s about as inside as they come on Wall Street (for better or for worse), is significant.
DealBook Drumbeat: And Chittum asks: Is that the sound of a drumbeat coming out of Sorkin’s DealBook? On the heels of Sorkin’s column, a new DealBook columnist, ProPublica’s excellent Jesse Eisinger, asks where the prosecutions are.
What Crackdown?: Boy, the Obama administration’s slapdash PR effort to show it’s cracking down on financial fraud sure looks to be failing—and getting some serious blowback. Chittum says it gets even better (and by better, he means worse): Bloomberg’s Jonathan Weil comes along this week with an outstanding column further showing that the feds “crackdown” on fraud is itself bogus.
Out of Turn: In Audit Notes, Chittum points out that New York’s Lieutenant Governor, Richard Ravitch, went off the reservation in a speech, reported by Bloomberg, criticizing the state’s cash cow, Wall Street.
From the Columbia Journalism Review:
Fox reports, Fox decides: An internal Fox News memo leaked to Media Matters shows the conservative news network reminding employees to shape their language in ways that would undermine the Democratic argument for health reform. Joel Meares reports.
Crowd power in Minnesota: Lauren Kirchner reports on how Jeff Severns Guntzel, proprietor of MinnPost’s The Intelligencer blog, employs his readers to help locate stories hidden in vast reams of data and information.
Off the Hamster Wheel: Two years after the site’s launch, Global Post is changing the way it does business in order to produce fewer stories, but stories with more impact. A nonprofit arm to fund special projects is part of the plan. Lauren Kirchner interviews Executive Editor Charles Sennott.
Social Security, Real People: In the seventh of her series, Social Security in the Heartland—an effort to see how changes and reforms in the system might affect ordinary Americans, and to try to get the press to do more of that too—Trudy Lieberman interviews Judy Love of Champagne-Urbana, who has thoughts about what raising the retirement would do to women like her.
From the Columbia Journalism Review:
RS Strikes Again: CJR’s Peterson Fellow, Felix Salmon, asks: Can Rolling Stone claim another scalp? Could be. Six months after ending the career of Stanley McChrystal, Rolling Stone published Jeff Goodell’s blistering, 7,600-word profile of Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy. Entitled “The Dark Lord of Coal Country,” it’s powerful stuff.
Crains v. BONY: With Peter Eavis having left the WSJ, Salmon wonders: Who will join Jonathan Weil and David Reilly in taking on the job of poring over banks’ balance sheets to expose their crazy accounting? Crain’s New York Business’s Aaron Elstein, that’s who! He pulls no punches in a recent story on Bank of New York.
Kinsley v. Chittum: Michael Kinsley writes to say that Audit Deputy Chief Ryan Chittum missed the point of his column asking “Are we poorer than we used to be?” Ryan replies and, at the end of an interesting exchange, they’ll have to agree to disagree.
Weak on Dimon (Part II): Salmon already dissected Roger Lowenstein’s “credulous” New York Times Mag profile of press favorite Jamie Dimon. But Chittum says a couple of other problems stuck out for him that also need addressing, including that Dimon is scarcely challenged on the crucial issue of “too big to fail.”
Amazon’s Unfair Edge: Slate’s Farhad Manjoo wrote about how online retailers like Amazon get a huge unfair advantage over their bricks and mortar counterparts. Chittum walks through this good piece on an important subject. http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/slate_takes_on_amazons_unfair.php
$100 Hamster Wheel: Back on October 1, Salmon says, the Fed put out a short, bland press release announcing “a delay in the issue date of the redesigned $100 note.” Sometimes, there’s a great little story hidden behind such news, and in this case it was CNBC’s Eamon Javers who found it. Javers had time to put together his story, and it shows. But according to some weird rule of journalism, the minute that CNBC ran the story, a full nine weeks after the original press release came out, everybody else felt that they had to have it too, and immediately. Thus it became another example of “hamster wheel” journalism.