Should Journalists Name “Zombie Banks?”

An interesting exchange on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning between Joe Scarborough, the Financial Times’s Chrystia Freeland and The New York Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin:

SCARBOROUGH: We keep hearing about “zombie banks.” Who do you think the “zombie banks” are?

FREELAND: I don’t think that it’s the job of journalists to put banks out of business by naming names…

SCARBOROUGH: Define a “zombie bank.”

FREELAND: A “zombie bank” is a bank that doesn’t have enough capital and has sufficiently encumbered assets that it cannot function normally but thanks to the government credit guarantee could keep on going for some time…

SCARBOROUGH: You just described Citi and Bank of America, didn’t you?…

SORKIN: It’s the prevailing wisdom that Citi and perhaps Bank of America…perhaps Wells Fargo would fall under this category. I’m in the same camp that [Freeland] is, the second you start mentioning these companies aloud, you have a bigger problem.

Setting aside the fact that Sorkin, while pledging allegiance to the No Naming Names policy, “mentioned these companies aloud,” (and that the Sorkin-edited DealBook site has done as much before), what about the policy itself? Is it the right one for a business journalist? (See my colleague Ryan recently on “Chicken[ing] Out.”)

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

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.