Any time you see Wall Street CEOs and CNBC campaigning for what they call the common good, it’s worth raising an eyebrow or two.
So it is with CNBC’s “Rise Above” crusade, which has blanketed its airwaves and adorned its lapels since the day after the election with pleas for a solution to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
You’ll note that CNBC has not Risen Above for the common good on issues like stimulating a depressed economy, ameliorating the housing catastrophe, or prosecuting its Wall Street sources/dinner partners for the subprime fiasco. But make no mistake: even if it had, it would have been stepping outside the boundaries of traditional American journalism practice into political advocacy. And that’s precisely what it’s doing here, at further cost to its credibility as a mainstream news organization instead of some HD version of Wall Street CCTV.
The big question: Why is a news organization running what’s effectively a political campaign for Simpson-Bowles, complete with thirty-second spots and campaign buttons? Look, kids. You can get your very own Rise Above pin, wrapped in the flag, just like your favorite business-news personalities! Roger Ailes himself must blush at this kind of grandstanding, but I have a hard time believing the business class and CNBC would be so worked up over this austerity program if it weren’t for the major tax increases contained therein.
The day after the election, Joe Kernen read off the prompter, with all the enthusiasm of a TASS newscaster, “We are ‘Rising Above’ the partisan rhetoric to find a solution for the fiscal cliff.”
Five minutes later and in the same segment, Kernen claimed that Obama’s reelection wasn’t really a mandate for raising taxes on the well off. Way to Rise Above there, Joe!
CNBC thinks it can get around the newsroom-as-advocate problem by asserting that it’s only pushing a kind of starched-shirted patriot’s common sense wrapped in insipid branding.
Here’s editor Nik Deogun explaining the campaign:
The election is over, but the American economy will only be unleashed if we avoid the fiscal cliff, pare our deficit and rise above partisan politics. On this point, nearly every business leader and investor who appears on CNBC has been consistent: The status quo leads to economic stagnation or worse; solutions could release powerful forces that propel the nation out of its post-recessionary funk.
Politics and politicians can solve this crisis but they are now in the way. For a deal to get done, we must rise above partisan bickering. For a deal to get done, they must move the public toward some form of sacrifice. That’s always been the spirit of America.
You can see the problem here: CNBC is mobilizing because the capital class is near unanimous about something. What do the union leaders or the academic economists have to say? Hey Nik, Let some air into that bubble. It’s starting to smell like Clive Christian No. 1 in there.
CNBC’s own promo furthers the echo chamber impression, featuring Maria Bartiromo saying, “CEO after CEO tells us we will go back into a recession if this is not dealt with.” Bartiromo was last seen here sandbagging Eliot Spitzer, who was disgraced in a prostitution scandal, while giving the utmost deference to AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, who was disgraced in an accounting fraud scandal—and that interview was no outlier, as I noted in that post. I wonder what Spitzer thinks, but CNBC doesn’t.
Come to think of it, I wonder what a leading economist like, say, Paul Krugman has to say about the issue. Despite being vindicated time and again in this crisis, Krugman is Keynesian kryptonite to the Joe Kernens and Michelle Caruso-Cabreras of CNBC land—a unicorn, even.
But as Krugman has said for years now, contra CNBC, there is no fiscal crisis. If there were, the Treasury would not be able to borrow at 1.57 percent, as it did yesterday, near all-time lows and below the current rate of inflation (meaning investors are paying Uncle Sam to borrow their money). Krugman, among many others, is vehemently opposed to Simpson-Bowles, which is a deficit plan that would put an artificial cap on government revenue and reduce tax rates on the rich by 12 percentage points.
The advocacy of a certain type of Very Serious (to cop a Krugmanism) point of view isn’t the only problem with the Rise Above nonsense. It’s the reporting—poor to the point of misleading— on what the “fiscal cliff” is. You’d think if you were going to jeopardize what’s left of your journalistic credibility with a crusade that you’d do a better job explaining the issue.