Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why No One Reads the New York Times

It’s Sunday morning and the New York Times is helping people to understand why no one reads it any more.

If you don’t read the Times—except, of course, when a story pops up on your Facebook feed—this story will affirm your good judgment.

Today’s case in point: a hit piece on Romney economic advisor and Dean of the Columbia Business School, Glenn Hubbard.

Distinguished economist, much-in-demand consultant, dean of a prestigious business school, Hubbard works for Mitt Romney and is likely to become the Treasury Secretary or Chairman of the Federal Reserve in a Romney administration.

So, the Times has launched a pre-emptive strike. It is certainly not journalism; it isn’t even a campaign document. It is best understood as a talking points memo for a senator who might have to pass judgment on Hubbard’s appointment to high executive office.

As the American left prepares for the possibility of a Romney presidency it is bringing out the long knives. It shows the left getting ready to stymie the new administration by assassinating the character of one of its most important players. 

Here is the way the Times introduces its multi-page profile of Glenn Hubbard:

“I HOPE you’re sitting down for this,” said Ali Velshi, the CNN anchor, staring into the camera, his voice booming with incredulity about a campaign promise issued by Mitt Romney: that, if elected, Mr. Romney would create 12 million jobs in four years.

Having framed this idea as preposterous, Mr. Velshi introduced R. Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia Business School, a Romney campaign adviser and a “very smart man,” as the host put it. So smart, Mr. Velshi told Mr. Hubbard, that “you couldn’t have been involved in the writing of that policy.” Why? “Because you would know that that is just not possible.”

Apparently, Velshi is a bigoted partisan. He does not even pretend to journalistic integrity. Surely, his high profile at CNN explains why no one watches the network any more.

Both CNN and the Times introduce one of the nation’s leading economic thinkers with a stream of calumny. Presenting their bigoted opinions as common knowledge, beyond dispute, they are manipulating their gullible readers into thinking what they want them to think.

After that introduction the Times allows Hubbard to offer a few words.

The Times then follows with a snide aside:

Succinct, authoritative and unabashedly partisan. Leave aside that most economists see a vast difference between the recessions of the ’70s and ’80s and the crisis that began in 2008. 

The reference to “most economists” attempts to paint Hubbard as outside the mainstream, as a radical, extremist thinker. The Times offers no views of any other economists on the matter.

It manipulates its readers by creating the impression that there is a consensus opinion shared by all experts in the field.

If you disagree with the Times opinion, you are branding yourself an idiot.

Of course, that’s just the beginning of the demonization. Hubbard is next attacked as the principal architect of the Bush tax cuts. For good measure he is identified as a proponent of the financial reforms that led to the economic fiasco.

Not only was Hubbard, in the Times account, always wrong. His motives appeared to be venal. He profited from giving advice that helped banks, hedge funds and mutual funds to loot the nation.

It writes:

MR. HUBBARD is hardly the only marquee economist to parlay his experience and stature into millions of dollars, for speeches, papers and expert witness testimony.  Lawrence H. Summers, once the Obama administration’s top economic adviser, pocketed about $5.2 million in compensation for giving advice to a hedge fund. But in Mr. Hubbard’s case, some of his amply compensated work takes policy stands that buttress the viewpoints of the corporate interests that are paying him.

Why the “but” at the opening of the last sentence? The Times wants to separate Summers from Hubbard, the better to portray the latter as a shill for the financial services industry.

But, what was Larry Summers doing when he earned millions for offering advice to a hedge fund?

And then, the Times accuses Hubbard of being a terrible manager of the Columbia Business School, someone who is generally disliked by the faculty and the university president. The paper insinuates that Hubbard owes his job to the large sums of money his corporate backers give to Columbia.

I will spare you the rest.

Glenn Hubbard represents the best interests of the 1%. His policies cannot possibly produce an economic recovery. Electing Mitt Romney will entail bringing back the economic policies of the Bush administration.

As I said, this is raw political partisanship, the kind the does not even pretend to be objective. It does not even pretend to demonstrate journalistic integrity.

Of course, the article is also exculpating the Clinton administration of any responsibility for having produced the conditions that caused the great recession. It has nothing to say about the failures of the Obama administration.

In the mind of liberal America Republicans are at fault for everything that goes wrong and Democrats must be credited for everything that goes right.

Sometimes you wonder how these people can cling to such a simpleminded idea and still consider themselves to be serious thinkers.

To counterbalance Times bias, read a few paragraphs from William Cohan’s report about Robert Rubin, a principle architect of the conditions that fostered the financial crisis.

William Cohan recounts the good and the bad about Rubin, with a special emphasis on his role in convincing Bill Clinton to sign the Glass-Steagall bank deregulation bill:

But not enough to shake questions about just how wise and thoughtful Robert Rubin really is, especially on the fourth anniversary of a financial crisis in which he played a pivotal, under-examined role. Rubinomics -- his signature economic philosophy, in which the government balances the budget with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts, driving borrowing rates down -- was the blueprint for an economy that scraped the sky. When it collapsed, due in part to bank-friendly policies that Rubin advocated, he made more than $100 million while others lost everything. “You have to view people in a fair light,” says Phil Angelides, co-chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, who credits Rubin for much of the Clinton era prosperity. “But on the other side of the ledger are key acts, such as the deregulation of derivatives, or stopping the Commodities Futures Trading Commission from regulating derivatives, that in the end weakened our financial system and exposed us to the risk of financial disaster.”

The Times gets lathered up with moralistic pique over Glenn Hubbard’s compensation. Its memory seems shorter when it comes to how much Robert Rubin profited from the financial deregulations that he championed.

Cohan has the story:

After he stepped away from Treasury in 1999, Rubin moved to Citigroup, and until 2009 he served as chairman of the executive committee and, briefly, chairman of the board of directors. On his watch, the federal government was forced to inject $45 billion of taxpayer money into the company and guarantee some $300 billion of illiquid assets. Taxpayers ended up with a 27 percent stake in Citigroup, which was sold in 2010 at a cumulative profit of $12 billion. Rubin gave up a portion of his contracted compensation--and was still paid around $126 million in cash and stock during a tenure in which his serenity has come to look a lot more like paralysis. “Nobody on this planet represents more vividly the scam of the banking industry,” says Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan. “He made $120 million from Citibank, which was technically insolvent. And now we, the taxpayers, are paying for it.”

Most of those who made the errors that led to the financial crisis have stepped forward to accept responsibility. The only one who hasn’t, Cohan notes, was Robert Rubin.

1 comment:

David Foster said...

For an interesting view on Rubin, Citi CEO Vikram Pandit, and Treasury secretary Timoth Geither, see the recent book by former FDIC chair Sheila Bair. She's pretty hard on politicians of both parties and on many banking execs, but is particularly strong in critique of special favors received by Citi.

I certainly believe that Romney's plan will result in a sharp increase in employment...the government does not need to "create jobs," rather, to stop getting in the way of job creation. I do, though, have some concerns about Hubbard, whose simplistic views about management and management education I have written about here: