The Press Buries the TARP Overseer’s Report

The press has given short shrift to an important report by the Congressional Oversight Panel on the government’s bailout efforts.

I can’t quite figure out why. It’s got the requisite elements for a well-played story: news, credibility, conflict, broad interest—and it pushes for transparency, something that should be of deep interest to the media. But the Washington Post ran a brief wire story online only, the Journal gave its wire story 220 words, and the NYT didn’t bother. It got little pickup in other papers, either.

Bloomberg gives it a little run. Tell me if this is worth a story, from the wire service’s lede:

A congressional panel overseeing the U.S. financial rescue suggested that getting rid of top executives and liquidating problem banks may be a better way to solve the economic crisis.

Sounds juicy to me! Further:

The Congressional Oversight Panel, in a report released yesterday, also said the Treasury may be relying on too rosy an economic scenario to guide its $700 billion bailout, and declared that the success of the program after six months is “mixed.”

The panel’s chief, Harvard Law prof Elizabeth Warren, is pushing Treasury to give more information to the public on what it’s doing with our money:

Warren, in an interview on Bloomberg Television, said yesterday that while “things may be getting a little better” under Geithner, the Treasury still needs to be more transparent about how it is spending the taxpayers’ money.

“We still have a long way to go, a very long way,” she said.

Yeah, we do.

Still, it said a bank liquidation would be “least likely to sap the patience of taxpayers” and “provides clarity relatively quickly” to the markets.

“Allowing institutions to fail in a structured manner supervised by appropriate regulators offers a clearer exit strategy than allowing those institutions to drift into government control piecemeal,” the report said.

Reuters points out that the panel looks at the core issue of what these toxic assets are really worth and finds that Treasury may have the wrong idea.

But if the rock-bottom prices of toxic assets today reflect a fundamental, lasting shift in values, the picture changes.

“It is possible that Treasury’s approach fails to acknowledge the depth of the current downturn and the degree to which the low valuation of troubled assets accurately reflects their worth,” the panel’s report said.

Some on the panel disagreed with the findings, but that’s going to happen on any bipartisan panel.

And the American press was scooped on this by the British Observer over the weekend, and the press doesn’t like that.

Get over it.

This is a non-administration official source of information raising important and controversial points on what’s going on with hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds—not to mention the economy.

That deserves a wider airing.

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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 Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.