Last week, small groups of bloggers were ushered into the Treasury Department for quasi-off-the-record meetings with Tim Geithner and other senior Treasury officials. (“Quasi-off-the-record” because the officials’ names were published, but they weren’t quoted directly.) These blogger/Treasury confabs seem to be becoming institutionalized, there having been, I’m told, the two others before this.
It’s been interesting to watch as these outsider types (that is, most of them are outsiders; after all, Mike Allen was in one of the groups) take a few tentative steps up the access slope, where most mainstreamers live, and which, as we’ve written, can be very slippery indeed.
John Lounsbury, a SeekingAlpha contributor, wrote that he was “privileged” to be there, while Mike Konczal of Rortybomb posted an ironical photo of himself posing in front of Robert Rubin’s portrait (it’s definitely ironical: Konczal is a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute and a progressive).
(Just to get the logistics clear: There were two meetings: one, Aug. 16, that hosted non-salaried bloggers Lounsbury, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrock, co-authors of Marginal Revolution, Philip Davis, a Seeking Alpha contributor, Konczal, Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism, and Steve Waldman of Interfluidity; and a second, Aug. 18, of salaried bloggers including Reuters’s Felix Salmon, Tim Fernholz of The American Prospect, Politico’s Allen, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, Shahien Nasiripour of Huffington Post, Nick Baumann of Mother Jones, and Ezra Klein of the Wapo. Salmon reports that Matt Yglesias of ThinkProgress was unable to get past Treasury security. Got all that?).
(Disclosure: Salmon is an upcoming speaker at one of our on-the-record Audit Breakfasts with funders and others. Read more about those here. Are we done yet?)
Later, Smith mulled the threat of journalists being coopted, but dismissed it on the grounds that the meetings aren’t held that often and bloggers don’t get that much out of them, anyway. Fair enough. Indeed, she wonders whether meeting the Treasury Secretary is worth bloggers’ time. This is a new day, isn’t it?.
While in theory one could lose one’s edge by staring the opposition in the eye, sports teams do this as a matter of course. If we saw the staff of the Treasury more often and we had something to gain, that could be a concern, but these sessions take a lot of time, and I question what the upside for bloggers is. The immediate one is getting one’s nose inside a new tent, but that is a matter of novelty and wears off after the first encounter. I suspect the main effect is that we and Treasury each sharpen our games a teeny bit by engaging directly on points of contention.
I’m with Salmon (“off”) on this, actually. There’s got to be some wiggle room.
All the process issues aside, I have no doubt these sessions did some good. For one thing, they seemed to palpably sharpen bloggers’ views on some subjects, particularly on HAMP, the mortgage-mod program that never sounded very promising, but is now coming into focus as a serious failure and cruel one at that.
The problem is that it’s not helping people stay in homes, but merely delays foreclosures. This helped banks weather a foreclosure crush, but raised false hopes among a substantial number of applicants, hundreds of thousands of whom were disqualified, as Felix points out, even though they made their payments on time.