NYT lets NBC’s Zucker Spin Away

I’d like to tweak the Times a bit for letting NBC/CNBC spin (read: lie) on Stewart vs. Cramer without calling them out on it.

Last week, NBC brass, in defending its business network, dropped this canard:

Last week Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, told attendees of an investors conference that “to suggest that the business media or CNBC was responsible for what is going on now is absurd.”

The problem is that’s not what The Daily Show “suggested.” Only a fool or a flack would say that, and the Times shouldn’t have let it go unchecked. Clearly, the people who caused this were Wall Street, regulators, the Federal Reserve, and the mortgage industry. The media’s responsibility is more indirect, in not calling them out enough beforehand. CNBC’s responsibility is that it actively egged them on and helped the inside-the-bubble thinking become that more incestuous and myopic.

Jeff Jarvis was in the audience and reports that Zucker also said “blaming” CNBC is like blaming the press for going to war in Iraq. It’s great to see that this media genius hasn’t learned that lesson yet. Or is he just that dishonest?

I’m not going to make that call, but it’s awesome how he’s comparing CNBC’s business coverage with the disgraceful press performance in the runup to March 2003. It’s an apt analogy. The press couldn’t have prevented a damn-the-torpedoes president from going to war in Iraq. It could have, however, asked the tough questions and done the deep digging that might have informed its readers and viewers on the truth, enabling them to prevent it.

As Jarvis points out, Zucker’s argument implies the utter impotency of his news organizations, which the journalists there must just love. Hey, what’s the point? Might as well sell insurance for AIG. Jarvis:

Really? I think that says that the press has no importance and no role in public policy. Doesn’t matter if we miss the story, he’s saying. It’s not our fault. Will he take no responsibility?

The LAT’s Patrick Goldstein, unlike the NYT today, pointed out last week that Zucker was full of it:

Actually, what’s really absurd is Zucker’s imagining that CNBC did a good job. What the network really did was help fan a gigantic financial bubble, even when Jim Cramer and its other “experts”—as Stewart has repeatedly pointed out—were savvy enough to know that the companies they covered, and often touted, were involved in all sorts of shady conduct.

Zucker should be profusely apologizing and promising to make things right, not defending CNBC’s hapless carnival act.

This NYT miss isn’t the end of the world, but it goes to the point that we can’t just let people spew whatever they want to in the name of balance.

Spinning is lying. Call it out.

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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 rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.