PBS Screws Up Report on Financial Crisis
Continued from previous page
No current bankers were interviewed; no new conflicts of interest were exposed. There was no reference to the discriminatory and predatory lending practices that fueled the housing bubble. "Inside the Meltdown" should have been retitled "After the Meltdown." It retold several stories -- on Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and the first bailout -- that had already been covered in detail.
There was no mention of the arrests of Bear Stearns execs for insider trading; no reference to the "put options" by unknown investors that helped bring that bank down. There was no discussion of any debate about whether Lehman Brothers should have been allowed to fail -- or what the major consequences would be. Only Paulson’s weird rationalization of "moral hazard" was cited. Where did Geithner and Bernanke stand? They must have known that by punishing Lehman, the global economy would be dealt a punishing blow given all the "counterparties" to their deals. So much for selective morality.
And on the bailout, there was no examination of why no conditions were placed on capital injections into banks, no hearings allowed, not even full disclosure. Frontline skittered over the surface of these stories but did not advance them. Its big "gotcha" seemed to be the irony of Paulson, pictured only as a free-marketer (when he was also an environmental liberal) forced to become an interventionist. If he was so against government, why did he become Treasury secretary? Duh?
Even the Times, which concluded its review with the familiar, "We are all guilty, everybody did it" mantra, noted the thinness of the reporting: "Mr. (Chris) Dodd and Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, are the only members of Congress interviewed in the piece, which is a weakness. Many voters hold Republicans and Democrats equally responsible for oversight failures. Frontline holds these politicians up as reliable, unbiased witnesses, but some viewers may feel they don’t deserve that trust."
Frontline once offered original, investigative reporting as an alternative to superficial mainstream reporting. Now it seems to be reformulating and repackaging that reporting. From the front of the line, it’s gone to the back. All the pretty effects and dire narration cannot conceal that. The best place to view the program is on the Web site because of all the other information there.
Unfortunately, at a time when we need hard-hitting investigations into our financial catastrophe, we are getting warmed-over reprises that seem consistent with the larger media failure that has accompanied the financial failure.
Media writer Howard Kurtz said in the Washington Post, "the press may own a share of the financial mess."
"The shaky house of financial cards that has come tumbling down was erected largely in public view: overextended investment banks, risky practices by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, exotic mortgage instruments that became part of a shadow banking system. But while these were conveyed in incremental stories -- and a few whistle-blowing columns -- the business press never conveyed a real sense of alarm until institutions began to collapse."
And not just the business press!