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March 28, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (National Journal Edition)

William Powers of the National Journal writes:

Off Message (03/18/2005): Maybe I'm just another out-of-touch journalist, but I have a hard time sharing the public's sense of disappointment in the media...

Well, let me try to make it easier for him to share our disappointment. Let me express my disappointment in him.

William Powers reads a paragraph from AP:

While mortgage rates and other interest rates are expected to keep rising this year, those increases are likely to continue at a gradual pace unless inflation becomes a threat. But with oil prices surging to record highs, the worry about out-of-control inflation remains very real. Analysts said if policy makers at the Federal Reserve grow concerned that inflation is becoming a problem, they are likely to start pushing up interest rates at a much more rapid clip.

and his reaction is:

Off Message (03/25/2005): A lot of what we do in the news business is glorified busywork.... But when the economy is in the news, and particularly when Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan is jiggering interest rates, the shocking busywork reality becomes painfully clear.... Like economics itself, economic journalism is a dismal, foggy realm where the hapless news consumer is constantly bumping into weird conditionals and subjunctives.... The real problem is the nonstop stream of gassy speculation that predominates in economic coverage and does little except fill empty space and airtime.... This is cotton-candy journalism, devoid of substance...

This makes me want to bang my head against the wall. The AP reporter is trying to say--is succeeding at saying--four things:

  1. The Federal Reserve is currently planning to raise short-term interest rates on Treasury securities at a gradual pace this year (say, a quarter of a percentage point every two or three months).
  2. As a result, mortgage and other interest rates will probably rise at that same gradual pace.
  3. If the Federal Reserve sees signs in the data that it has significantly underestimated rising inflation, all bets are off.
  4. In that case, interest rates--all interest rates--will go up much faster.

If that AP paragraph takes one into "a dismal foggy realm" of "weird conditionals and subjunctives"... Excuse me, ahem, were that AP paragraph to take one into "a dismal foggy realm" of "weird conditionals and subjunctives," then I would be Queen Marie of Roumania.

It's not a weird conditional. It's a straightforward one. It's not a foggy point. It's a clear one. William Powers bewilders himself because he ventures into a realm where he knows nothing, nothing at all about the substance of what is going on, and where he doesn't bother to try to learn.

Let's be clear: I am not disappointed with William Powers because he is (initially) ignorant about Federal Reserve policy and American finance. I am disappointed with William Powers because he doesn't try to cure his ignorance.

Feh. Some quality control, please.

Posted by DeLong at March 28, 2005 07:16 PM