Mangling “Power Problem”

Heidi N. Moore, an ex-WSJ staffer and vocal defender of the business press, has been Twittering like mad to lambaste anyone who might question the MSM’s performance covering financial institutions before the great crash of ’08, which, of course, took everyone, the financial press very much included, by surprise.

Moore argues the press did its job in warning the public with an ocean of material that critics can’t be bothered to read.

Unfortunately, we are up against lazy people who don’t read biz press daily (or at all) and fall back on dumb quasi-info as result

“Lazy people” apparently include Jay Rosen at NYU, C.W. Anderson at CUNY, and Dan Gillmor at ASU, among others.

So the offenders are mostly “journo profs”:

The only time most journo profs ever left media bubble to spare a thought for biz journalism is to attack for mythical failure.

“Dumb quasi-info” would be my “Power Problem,” a survey and analysis of the reporting by the most influential business news outlets—Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, etc.—on major lenders and their Wall Street backers between 2000 and mid-2007 (the rationale for the choice of outlets and the time period are in the story, and here is a database of some 700 stories that we deemed relevant for one reason or another.

Moore says the piece is also “nonsensical,” “useless,” and “obviously fake ‘research.’”

A debate about where the press fits into the financial crisis couldn’t come at a better time, actually, now that the narrative about the crisis is noticeably turning. At first, as things got sorted out and confusion reigned, various Wall Street-influenced ideas prevailed, namely, that the crash was some sort of natural disaster, was “everybody’s fault,” and/or is too complex to be laid at the feet of any particular institution or group of individuals.

Now, fraud is allowed as possible driver, a perspective we’ve argued for a long time the business press should explore more aggressively. Here’s our fullest statement on that from ‘08.

The new meme started, albeit faintly, when the Angelides Commission kicked off its vital work back in January, got a rocket-powered boost with the Valukas/Lehman blockbuster, and now is fully loosed upon the land with the SEC charges laid against Goldman, an example, by the way, of the business press at its best. (I said last year that Gretchen Morgenson was the most influential important financial journalist of her generation, and, with colleague Louise Story, she keeps showing us why).

But far be it from me to stay up on the high road when the low blows are raining on people who cite “Power Problem,” correctly, as an argument that the press didn’t blow the whistle on powerful financial institutions while they were still powerful.

Here is part of Moore’s attempted Tweetbeatdown (a style note: Each paragraph is a separate message from Moore tweeted “at” Rosen. I’ve taken out the screen names to make it easier for non-Twitter users to understand, and embedded the link to each tweet in its first words):

But if you READ the business press, then it DID warn you, and thoroughly, and nationwide, and early.

And my point is, if you don’t READ the business press, then it can’t WARN you. Because we do not have telepathic powers.

And then there are these, also from Moore to Rosen:

What bothers me here is that you obviously don’t follow the business press. These are prize-winning investigations.


READ MORE: @moorehn: And more:


Sorry, that is lazy. 1) You’re relying on another’s work 2) I gave 15 examples of examples of award-winning subprime coverage

And yet I’m the one who has offered proof instead of calling people names. So, sorry, Jay, but you’re punking out. Weak.

It was precisely because of this kind of intellectual bully-boy stuff dished out by business-journalism pros that we (me and a couple of CJR staffers, Megan McGinley and Elinore Longobardi) spent three months reading thousands of articles to get a handle on a simple question: What was said? The top of the story quotes three practitioners in effect faulting the public for failing to read all the great work that had allegedly been done.

One thing that bothered me was that non-business-press cognoscenti were made to feel unwelcome in the debate about the crisis. All they could do was pay for it.

By all means, read our piece, and feel free to argue with its main premise that the national business press, individually and as a group, did not hold big lenders and their Wall Street backers to account when it mattered. It’s a 6,400-word piece and, so, nuanced.

But for now, I’d like to counter a few of Moore’s bogus assertions:

Let’s start with this one:

Starkman insists there were no articles at ALL on “Wall-Street-subprime nexus.” But that’s EXACTLY what this was abt:

This manages in 140 characters to misread both “Power Problem” and the story in the link, BusinessWeek’s excellent “Nightmare Mortgages” of September 2006, by Mara der Hovanesian, which is “exactly” not about the Wall Street/subprime nexus. It’s really about mortgages, but you have to read it. (The piece is included in our database, and I had it mind when I lauded the author as “excellent” in the main piece).

And, as I say in my story, the tragedy of financial journalism during the period was that some of the best work—tracing the subprime/Wall Street connection—was done in the earlier period, from 2000-2003, before Wall Street-backed predatory lending really took off. What happened? Buy the piece. Add to Cart

But Moore herself acknowledges in messages aimed at C.W. Anderson that “Power Problem” is not as crude as she makes it out to be when she uses it to reinforce her own argument that good work was done (which I never dispute):

must be hard for you to realize you can’t read. Starkman’s own article quotes at least 30 ex. of biz press alarms. Get over it.

please re-read Starkman’s article that YOU cited. He acknowledges biz press warnings from ‘00 to ‘07. Move on please.

So it’s nonsense, until you need it.

And then there’s this, to Rosen:

To take 737 articles out of the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS written pre-crisis is obviously fake “research.” You should know better.

No. We screened through many thousands. We listed 737. By the way, if you want to make a good case in favor of the business press, there are worse places to start.

And to take a few examples cited in the browbeating above, let’s look at the links Moore sends Rosen:


The first link is to a blog post taking issue with someone else’s critique.

The second is to a BusinessWeek story in September 2007 when warnings were moot and, thus, outside the timeframe of our study.

The third is to the der Hovanesian piece discussed above:


READ MORE: @moorehn: And more:

The first link is from 2008, and not a press warning: It’s about how state officials tried to warn others about the crisis, but, alas, no one would listen.

The second link is to a good Orange County Register story and helps reinforce my point the predatory was gettable but underdone by the national media, which were the subject of my piece.

The third is to an interesting New York Times story about an investment scam that doesn’t speak to the point of my piece.

The fourth is to a PDF of a Loeb submission from Dow Jones Newswires, a high-cost subscription service that was outside the scope of our study about warnings to the public.



The first link here is to a Boston Globe story, again reinforcing the point about the national press.

The second is a link to a PDF of a story in Barron’s, which wasn’t part of the study. If you don’t like the study’s parameters, that’s one thing, but Moore isn’t making that argument.

The third is a link to a PDF of a good Atlanta Journal-Constitution series, again, outside the scope and again reinforcing the point.

The fourth links to a story in the Christian Science Monitor—also outside the study’s parameters and not at all part of the mainstream financial press—about borrowers’ bilking banks, the opposite of what we were looking for.


It’s not right to just throw links up against the wall, especially when precisely none of them stick.

There’s a real debate to be had here. Let’s have it, and let’s not be “weak” or “lazy” about it, and no “punking out,” either.

You got that, bubble-dwelling “journo profs”?

And I also ask you to please refrain from Twitter bullying w/words like “delusional” and “fantasia” when YOU have NO case.

Right, no Twitter bullying.

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

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.