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Saturday, February 5, 2011

How Journalists Are Lazy Like Everyone Else

My 2-cents on this bit about how the press might have been complicit in the financial crisis?

This is a high-level analysis and it is fine. Following the path of least resistance makes it easy to hit your deadline by just parroting information from professional, "PR" sources.

It's hard to "make it" professionally (or economically?) if you focus on risks and worries and generally play skeptical/investigative and contrarian, unless you are in an organization that prizes those things.

But this approach to the general issue might be more illustrative: what do we know now that we should have known before?

On deck (off the top of the head):
  • -The details of the wheeling-and-dealing of Daniel Mudd, CEO of Fannie, and his firm's dealings with Countrywide's Mozillo
  • -A lot more on the originate-to-sell model, investigative reports of "liar-loans" in the system, investigative reports of predatory lending
  • -Government regulatory reports, compelled by subpeona power if necessary, on the rapid growth of the sub-prime/alt-a market
  • -Details on the risk-management practices -NOT theory- for credit derivatives (these would have easily exposed the over-reliance on the ratings agencies in reaching conclusions).
  • -Simple language disclosure of deals that ended up having systemic impact (CDOs)
  • -Reporting on the ignorance of regulators who estimated the size of the sub-prime problem at $200 billion, rather than the much larger multiples that were achieved through swapping credit
  • -Details on the size and scope and systematic risks of off-balance sheet vehicles, funded with short-term money
  • -Accounting practices that allowed Lehman to "look good" each quarter
  • -Headline reporting of SEC waivers of capital requirements during good times
  • -Notice how large banks had become horribly under-reserved in their retail business

Once you start breaking it down, you can see what information was shaded; what information was deliberately "privatized" in the pursuit of illicit profit; what information was simply ignored because it didn't go "with the dominant narrative"; and, yes, what information investigative journalists should have ferreted out and didn't.