Journalistic Capture

Glenn Greenwald makes the main point I wanted to make about the last episode of Stewart v. Cramer. There is nothing special about Cramer and there is nothing special about CNBC. The point Greenwald doesn’t make, but which I will, is that Cramer, like thousands of others, gives investment advice, and like thousands of others failed to call the collapse and therefore gave a ton of terrible advice. Greenwald’s point is that CNBC, like basically every other news outlet, has been captured to some extent or other by the high-placed sources that it has so fastidiously cultivated. Greenwald rightly points out that this is exactly how the New York Times and other elite media outlets talked the country into the war in Iraq.

The point that can’t be emphasized enough is that this isn’t a matter of past history.   Unlike Cramer — who at least admitted fault last night and said he was “chastized” — most establishment journalists won’t acknowledge that there was anything wrong with the behavior of the press corps during the Bush years.  The most they’ll acknowledge is that it was confined to a couple of bad apples — The Judy Miller Defense.  But the Cramer-like journalistic behavior during that period that was so widespread and did so much damage is behavior that our press corps, to this day, believes is proper and justified.

And here’s something I’d like Jon Stewart to grasp. In some important sense, Timothy Geithner faces the same assymetrical information quandry Cramer did. The government is so incredibly dependent on Wall Street for much of the information it needs that it is almost inconceivable that the government (and thus the taxpayer) is not being gamed. Somehow I’d never thought much before about the similarity between regulatory capture and a journalist’s becoming a tool of her sources, but it’s a pretty striking similarity.