The Chicago Tribune scolds the government for taking on too much debt.

And the paper knows whereof it speaks. Boy howdy! After all, the company is in bankruptcy. Not that it tells readers that.

For many decades, U.S. government securities have been the epitome of safe, dull investments. If you wanted to be absolutely positive you’d get your money back and then some, Treasury bills were the way to go. Right now, lots of Americans who put their money into big mortgages or stocks a decade ago wish they had gone the more mundane route.

But it’s mundane no more. With federal budget deficits running wild, investors are growing uneasy at the idea of lending money to an institution that seems unable to stop spending beyond its means. Last month, something extraordinary happened: Two-year bonds offered by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. commanded lower yields than those offered by the U.S. government. As Bloomberg.com put it, “The bond market is saying that it’s safer to lend to Warren Buffett than Barack Obama.”

I thought those lede paragraphs could use a little rewrite:

For many decades, Tribune Company securities have been the epitome of safe, dull investments. If you wanted to be absolutely positive you’d get your money back and then some, Tribune bills were the way to go…

But it’s mundane no more. With Tribune deficits running wild, investors grew uneasy at the idea of lending money to an institution that seemed unable to stop spending beyond its means. Last year, something extraordinary happened: Tribune went broke. As Bloomberg.com put it, “The bond market is saying that it’s safer to lend to Robert Mugabe than to Colonel Robert McCormick.”

A little self-awareness goes a long way.


Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.