Audit Notes: Talking turkey On the Media, redistribution, housing update

Audit radio on how the press mishandles an annual Thanksgiving press report

I went on On the Media with Brooke Gladstone this weekend.

We talked about the press antics that inevitably accompany the annual cost-of-Thanksgiving-dinner press release.

Have a listen:

— Thanks to this New York Times report, we know that talking about the concept of redistribution two decades earlier meant the Obama administration would not pick you to run the Council of Economic Advisers in 2011.

Raking in $2 million a year from Wall Street for speeches, board seats, and “advice on its charitable giving,” though? The job’s yours, Gene Sperling!

“Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds,” said William M. Daley, who was Mr. Obama’s chief of staff at the time. Republicans wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, he said, adding, “It’s a word that, in the political world, you just don’t use.”

These days the word is particularly toxic at the White House, where it has been hidden away to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less a target for Republicans, who have long accused Democrats of seeking “socialized medicine.” But the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law and lies at the heart of the insurance market disruptions driving political attacks this fall.

— Audit Rewind: I happened across a post I wrote way back in 2008 on Barron’s, which boldly—and foolishly—called the bottom of the housing market in a cover story.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that it was, oh, four years early on that terrible call. But you didn’t need the benefit of hindsight to know that it was terribly wrong at the time.

Ahh, the tricks of the trend story. First, call it “nascent,” as Barron’s does near the top of the story. That way you don’t look too bad if your prediction takes forever to come true, but prescient if you luck out (that’s what most market calls boil down to, anyway). Next: imply some big name is a skeptic when he certainly is not. (Barron’s says “even Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson” noted recently that housing supply numbers are turning around—as if the Treasury Secretary is a raging bear with little incentive to put the best face possible on the economy). Imply you’ve got more evidence than you really do and overweight it (“such pessimism appears overdone, based on much recent data.”). Quickly raise and dispatch that which is most contrarian to your thesis, just to show you’re not in cuckoo land (“the U.S. could be on the cusp of a painful recession.”)

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

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: , , ,