Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Ben Bernanke

In a coincidence of events today, I came across the issue of "Quantitative Easing." This fancy term was a hot topic for awhile, but now apparently plays second fiddle to the chaos in Egypt. Is anyone following what is going on in Egypt? I personally find it rather uninteresting, and as the name of this blog references two fine cities in the great Midwest, I find it more interesting to talk about stuff that affects us more directly.

The mainstream media is a constant dismay for me. I know, I know, that's now an overused and cliched term, but upon finding this article on the NYT website, not only was I saddened by the level of reporting on a really important topic, I was further dismayed to view the home page and find it listed in the second row, behind Egyptanistan. I revisited the NYT Home page just moments ago to reference it, however it is not a static link. Now the reference to Bernanke is totally gone (as is the Egypt story) and there's just a picture of a shirtless doofus politician from NY.

A good friend of mine is a highly accomplished and respected journalist, and he has mentioned to me in conversation how he is not happy with the attacks on "mainstream media" and that bloggers are not professional journalists. This is true, and the attacks are indeed sad. But when videos like the one below contain more information (and are more entertaining) than a NYT reporter can scrap together, I am not surprised to see the Super Bowl ad for, the first tablet-oriented, virtual news"paper" I know of. Happy viewing, dear Reader.


Roller said...

Nice. Here's the sequel to that video.

A few questions/comments:

When you are saddened by the level of reporting in the Times article, are you saying you thought the reporters/editors did a poor job, or are you saying you thought the story/topic wasn't promoted as well as it should have, or both?

I think there's some similarities between your final point and the events in Egypt. Perhaps your main point was the lack of real news in the mainstream media, but a side point was that the internet has made it possible to consume alternative viewpoints that may be uninhibited by corporate or political alliances (or in some cases, journalistic ethics).

What I have found to be the most interesting aspect of the Egyptian news is, like the uprising in Iran last year, the power of the internet to provide a voice to the masses. The Iranian government tried to shut down the internet last year, but companies helped create proxies to keep the people connected. Mubarak shuts down the internet in Egypt, but companies like Google help the Egyptians find a way to stay connected. I also learned from the always informative Planet Money podcast why the Egyptian Military has for the most part seemed friendly with the protesters.

To your main point: Are the events half-way around the world more important that our leaders steering the nation like the Captain of the Titanic? No, probably not. But at least other sides of the story are getting a loud voice now. We can take some solace in that.

Thanks for that video, it was awesome.

Ryan said...

Rolls, my comments about the media coverage are two fold.

1) It starts with the editors, who think pictures of riots in Egypt are more important to their audience than the Fed's policy.

2) ... and it is expressed by the reporters, who are quick to simply report whatever is going on within the context of the bias they have. The opening paragraph of that article immediately frames the situation as one of partisan politics, when Bernanke was originally appointed by Bush. Aren't newspapers supposed to represent the "People" if not at least their readers? Instead, Ben Bernanke faces "harsh" questions, may even be perceived as a valiant defender of current policy, and the article ends with a misplaced zinger from a Democrat, leaving you with the aftertaste that the critics of the policy are silly. No information other than what is being said by the people in the room is given, not to say lots of intonations and implications aren't imbued by the reporter.

At the very least, the opening line of the article should have been:
"There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens than debase its currency." That would have more properly framed the article as one of issue, not personality or party, and it also would have been more gripping.

Ryan said...

p.s. glad you liked the video. Thanks for the follow up vid, also very good and pretty funny. Will be interesting to see if that guy makes a healthcare video.

Kevin said...

Nice vid - interesting stuff. I didn't get to read the NYT article, but I'm not sure how much political incentive is behind putting Fed policy decisions down a few headlines. For better or worse, if it was my job to sell papers, "Revolution" works better than "New Fed Policy".

That said, I agree that the Fed stuff is important, and it's hugely important to how our country runs. Articles should be (and have been) written on "should the Fed be this important" etc. Very valid discussions.

Ron Paul and crew have been questioning the very existence of the Fed for years now, so this isn't exactly a breaking story, which is also a reason why it doesn't command bold headlines.

The other area of mild disagreement from me is that I'm very interested in the Egypt goings on. This is a legitimately big deal. It's revolution by the people for democratic reform...but those reforms will potentially cost us an ally in the mid east. How will this affect Israel? What happens if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over? Will this be destabilizing to the whole region? All questions that will be answered in the future.

Another cool part of this is that this is an indirect result of Wikileaks. A released cable started mayhem in Tunisia, which started this revolution in Egypt.

Overall, the Fed may indeed be an under reported story. Whether that's due to shoddy reporters/editors or just because readers find it boring is unsure. I will however be very interested to see how this revolution unfolds.

G. Smith said...

Really? Is it surprising that an ongoing revolution of one the wealthiest and most populous Arab countries in the world takes center stage in a daily paper over Bernake's sallow-eyed mug and a discussion of Fed policy?

I know it's hip to be dismayed at mainstream media but I think even the most jaded observer would agree that putting this Congressional hearing over the Egyptian revolution would be pretty shoddy journalism. I'm following the events there pretty closely (Mubarak handed over power, but still President, huh?) as I think are millions of other Americans that have family and friends there.

It's certainly true that Fed policy can affect more Americans more directly, but not this week. I can't fault the NYT, or any other daily news source for putting it in their Economy section rather than the front page. They even had a video (where Paul Ryan holds up another biased newspaper lol) I agree that the news about Chris Lee is ridiculous, but I couldn't find that anywhere on the NYT website.

It's probably a casualty of our 24 hour news cycle that these important discussions about our economy tend to get overlooked if they don't lead. I look to the Planet Money folks for more in-depth analysis and discussion. And sometimes recommendations from TLATL :)

But in this case, I have to disagree about the quality of the video. The cartoons are pretty cheeky and funny, but I found it less informative, and more partisan than the NYT article. In particular, I think the video over-simplifies the decrease in the CPI, and then makes some disappointingly partisan jabs at Obama.

Ryan, I'm confused, I didn't find the word "harsh," or any Dem zinger at the end of the NYT article? I thought the opening paragraph appropriately characterized what I saw in the video, they were tough questions and Bernake parried them. Is it still the same article? I'm not going to argue that the NYT is totally unbiased, but I thought the current version presented Paul Ryan's argument very clearly (do you think SEWELL CHAN reads TLATL and saw your post and made edits?)

As to your question about whether or not newspapers are supposed to represent their readers - I'm not sure that ideal is often met. Both virtual and real media outlets need to sell news, and there's no way I'm picking or clicking up a newspaper that has Bernake on the front. On the other hand, if it was a picture of him sneaking out of an adult movie theater with Chris Lee, I'd post it to my Facebook.

One more side note about why events in Egypt are important to Americans - most of the the $1.3B the U.S. gives to their military comes right back to us to purchase American guns and tanks. It's an important corporate subsidy!

Ryan said...

Sewell Chan definitely reads this rag. Not sure where I got "harsh" from, probably the RSS feed which I then confused with "tough". Either way, the effect is the same, as Bernanke is set up as the expert who, to use your words, effectively "parried" the "tough" questions.

No doubt it's boring stuff and from a purely practical perspective would obviously sell less papers than riots. However, I say fooey to all the points you and Kevin brought up about how important it is to us. I can't tell anyone what they find interesting, but all the points that are mentioned, if you scratched out the nouns and did a mad libs style effect, you would get an episode of Glee.

The monetary policy of the Fed is far more likely to cause riots here than any "changes" in Egypt will do anything for us. The main source of my frustration is, admittedly, not the press per se, but the structures that manufacture these stories. I clicked on the front page of stltoday last week as well, and on the front page was a poll of how Obama was handling the Egyptian crisis.

There is this underlying presumption that this is our business. It's one thing to empathetically track the happenings of our neighbors, it's another when that usually ratchets up our involvement and becomes anything from a financed political coup to an outright invasion.

That's what I keep trying to tell my dear liberal do-gooder friends, you are making the beds the neocons then sleep with hookers in.

As for the video, it was obviously more partisan, but in that sense it was less partisan in terms of it is not bullshitting the viewer into believing it is unbiased.

I disagree that it was less informative. The simple facts that Ben Bernanke has no business experience, has never won an election, is completely connected to the financial apparatus of our country are important facts that the NYT seemed not to mention -- it wasn't reported in the hearings, so why mention it?

Ryan said...

P.S. Also meant to say, that all of your arguments of how boring the Fed and Bernanke are, are really great arguments for the dismantling of the Fed. After all, if they're constantly able to duck scrutiny, if the press can't do it, if Congress can't do it, if the public doesn't elect these people, then maybe they really shouldn't "be playing god" with the economy.

Remember, they provide no vital function that is unique to their existence. Everything done by them could equally be done by a panel of regional banks, or any other decentralized arrangement that might enable functional disagreement.

Kevin said...

I really don't understand the main point you're making, or your counter points. (The Glee stuff sounds like a joke, but you never address anything that was said).

I am not sure what your connection is between Egypt and the Fed. Your original post is pretty clear: Quantitative Easing "plays second fiddle to the chaos in Egypt. Is anyone following what is going on in Egypt? I personally find it rather uninteresting...I was further dismayed to view the home page and find it listed in the second row, behind Egyptanistan".

I would say it's a no brainer to put the Egypt stuff as the main headline.

Then the point changes significantly: "The monetary policy of the Fed is far more likely to cause riots here than any "changes" in Egypt will do anything for us. The main source of my frustration is, admittedly, not the press per se, but the structures that manufacture these stories."

The only thing manufacturing these stories is a few hundred thousand protesters, and a peaceful riot that toppled an Arab autocrat in the name of democracy.

Again, I think this stuff is fascinating. I'll paste in a few sentences from the CNN article i have open:

Fierce demonstrations erupted in Bahrain, where people have organized themselves through social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, the same forums used by their Egyptian and Tunisian counterparts.

In Yemen, pro- and anti-government protesters clashed for a fifth day in the capital city of Sanaa.

tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in the Iranian capital Monday.

Algeria, Jordan and Syria have also been a part of the domino effect.

Ryan said...

Kev, I didn't address your specific points because they were not worth addressing. How could I possibly answer the question about "how will this affect Israel?" I guess I could tell you what would happen if the Brotherhood takes over, but then I will be accused of being an extremist. And that scenario is not being reported anyway.

No, these questions are pure speculation on the media's part, who lack the expertise and knowledge to have that conversation (I don't have it either, and neither do you). Instead, they manufacture the stories as ones of immediate personal interest and drama, and ignorant platitudes about democracy, hence the Glee comment. Heck, the media lacks the knowledge to comment insightfully on our own history and culture, let alone Egypt's.

And this is a blog, not a thesis. The connection I made between the Fed and Egypt was the media (the NYT was the example), and I think I clarified my point there that I understand that the sensationalism around riots sells more papers than even the weak attempt to sensationalize monetary policy. Easier to take pictures of.

It's just a thin gruel to live on, as is most TV. It is also a distraction from more important things. I will post a little more about Egypt directly in a little while.

Jim said...

yeah, i don't really follow most of what is in this thread. frankly, i sometimes think you confuse some of your points, and transition to other conservative narrative while trying to defend a separate and only loosely related point. but whatever - i might be wrong (i read it pretty quickly). if you think the protests in the middle east are not important to americans, that would certainly be a unique perspective. but if you are just saying that in your opinion, fed policy is more important, then sure, maybe you are right. but it is obviously not crazy to think otherwise.

and the above wasn't actually why i wanted to reply to this thread. it was b/c i know exactly what you mean and think you are exactly right about how newspapers (like the times) subtlety incorporate bias into their articles. i read the times often, and many of times they have something on the front page right side that is political in nature and frankly seems kind of minor and you just know the editors are trying to get a dig in against republicans. so it can be article placement, headline writing, or the article structure or quotes used in articles. i will say that it seems hard (if not impossible) to report in an unbiased manner all the time. we are human. I don't really think I have a point here other than to agree with you on this topic. Not sure what you do about it, other than just be aware that most (all?) media has a point of view and perhaps seek out multiple sources before forming an opinion.