Thursday, March 26, 2009

Herd Mentality News

In today's New York Times, Gail Collins nails the herd mentality that drives the vast majority pf news coverage in this country:

Tim Geithner — Really cool guy. Super job on that bank bailout thing. Look at the way the stock market jumped. Way better Treasury secretary than last week’s Tim Geithner, who seemed a lot ... shorter.

Barack Obama — Kinda boring. Did you see the news conference? Same thing over and over again. Not that we mind. In these troubled times, we like stability. Thank God we didn’t elect somebody who was all charisma and exciting speeches.
One of the things that really bothers me about the news networks is how much like over-fed house cats they are. Dangle a shiny object before them and it commands their entire attention, distracting them from whatever shiny object they were chasing a few minutes before. This is what happened with the whole AIG bonus non-story. Did $160,000,000 in bonuses really deserve all that coverage with the entire US economy teetering on the edge of mayhem? Couldn't the networks have spent that time better educating the public on the nature of our economic crisis and the potential solutions to it? I realize this is boring stuff, but does anyone seriously believe that the news networks have done a creditable job explaining what credit-default swaps are? What mark to market accounting is? What securitization is? The extent to which Fed monetary policy may or may not have influenced the current crisis? What Keynsianism is? Absolutely not. What we get instead are duelling politicians from either end of a very narrow spectrum of parties and ideologies invited to shower viewers with five minute, disingenuous partisan sound-bites that have very little connection with actual, epirical reality. What can't we have more academic economists on TV describing the true issues at hand?

None of what Collins described would be a problem if we had a new media with actual substance, but we don't. We have a celebrity driven culture of news celebrities. It's a fashion show for these people, and one week crew necks are in and next week they're out. One week Geitner is dawdling (can't he fix the economy already?!) and the next week he's a competent treasury secretary with a workable plan.

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