Audit Notes: Noonan forgets the stimulus, native ads, Mary Jo White

The WSJ columnist says Obama should have done things he actually did

It’s hard to pick the worst sentence in Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column this weekend, so let me just highlight a few of them:

On the plane home I read a piece by Mort Zuckerman, who’s emerged as one of the most persuasive and eloquent critics of the president’s economic policy. The unemployment picture is worse than people understand, he explained in U.S. News & World Report. The jobless rate, officially 7.7%, is almost twice that if you include those who have stopped looking, work part time, or are only “marginally attached” to the workforce. “The labor force participation rate … has dropped to the lowest level since 1984,” Mr. Zuckerman noted. “It is harder to find work today than it has been in any previous recession.”

Meanwhile, the president is stuck in his games and his history. He should have seen unemployment entering a crisis stage four years ago, and he did not. At that time I was certain he’d go for public-works projects, which could give training to the young and jobs to the experienced underemployed, would create jobs in the private sector and, in the end, yield up something needed—a bridge, a strengthened power grid. He instead gave his first term to health care. And now ObamaCare is being cited as a reason employers are laying people off and not hiring, according to a report from the Federal Reserve.

Mort Zuckerman! Also, it’s harder to get a job today than in the Great Depression?

And how did Noonan forget about the whole $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus? Also, it included at least $140 billion in public works-style spending. It should have been much more, yes, but here’s one of the many, many bridges the stimulus helped build or restore.

Oh, and $11 billion went to improving the power grid.

— Jack Shafer of Reuters nails it on native advertising (emphasis mine):

When Web publishers deliberately blur the visual and textual divide that separates editorial from advertising, as The Atlantic did, they force readers to judge whether a page is news/opinion or a commercial advertisement. But they’re not confused; it’s the publisher and the advertiser who are confused. The publishers and advertisers have polluted their own tradition by erasing the traditional line. Suddenly, it’s completely reasonable for readers to blame controversial news stories directly on advertisers and blame controversial advertisements directly on reporters and editors, because publishers and advertisers have essentially merged operations. Such calamities injure both publisher and advertiser, even already controversial advertisers like Scientology. (In The Atlantic’s defense, it should be noted that it ultimately conceded that it “screwed up” the presentation of its advertisers message and promised to do better in the future.)

The Atlantic debacle hasn’t stilled the enthusiasm of Web publishers for sponsored content. Lewis DVorkin of Forbes, an early promulgator of sponsored content, continues to bang his drum for it. He claims 20 partners (SAP, UPS, Harris Bank, et al.) for Forbes’s “BrandVoice.” It’s enough to make you barricade yourself behind Orwell’s collected works when DVorkin approvingly quotes his chief revenue officer’s quip about BrandVoice: “It’s not an ad, it’s thought leadership.”

No, Lewis. If money moved from the client’s hand to that of Forbes, and Forbes posted the client’s copy, it’s an ad.

This is what Andrew Sullivan was getting at in a recent shot at The Atlantic for its IBM native ads. He noted that the magazine has a positive piece on the power of IBM’s Watson computer on its cover:

I still trust that the Atlantic did not run this cover-story as a way to curry favor with an advertiser that is also running “sponsor content” articles extolling their innovation. I do not believe this was product placement. But I can no longer say that those who wonder about that are crazy. When you rent out your name, prose, font, logo and pages to corporations’ “sponsored content” and then write cover-puff-pieces about the technology of exactly those companies, a reader has every reason to wonder whether they can trust a magazine that was only recently almost a symbol of such trust.

The New York Times’s Gretchen Morgenson looks at Obama SEC nominee Mary Jo White’s record on prosecuting Wall Street:

Let’s just say her prosecutorial stint did not include a lot of cases against large United States financial institutions.


Morgenson finds that White did notch a few wins but let others off easy:

A review of her years in the Southern District also turned up several intriguing cases that Ms. White and her colleagues did not pursue or turned away. All three of these matters involved large and prestigious financial companies headquartered in the United States…

It is clear that Ms. White was gutsy in going after John Gotti and terrorists. But her record on large and complex financial fraud cases is more mixed. This, coupled with her more recent defense work on behalf of the nation’s largest banks, means that she still has much to prove to the investors that the S.E.C. was created to protect.

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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 Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,