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December 09, 2005

I Challenge Franklin Foer to a Battle of Wits: Fishwrap at Ten Paces...

Franklin Foer rides to the defense of "important institutions... The New York TImes and The Washington Post."

The Plank: But the reckless, sweeping assault on important institutions--especially The New York Times and The Washington Post--that emanates from large swaths of the liberal blogosphere will have a devastating long-term effect. These are irreplaceable institutions. As Massing points out:

Even the bloggers who so hate the "mainstream media" get much of their raw material from it. If the leading newspapers lose their capacity to report and conduct inquiries, the American public will become even more susceptible to the manipulations and deceptions of those in power.

I just wish that more of the MSB had a modicum of awareness of this fact.

Is that really true? I would say that Joshua Micah Marshall gets some but not much of his raw material from the "mainstream media." Ditto for Pandagon and Andrew Sullivan. Wonkette, Crooked Timber, Billmon, Orcinus, OxBlog, Volokh Conspiracy, and Outside the Beltway get material from the "mainstream media," but in the sense that it is their lawful prey. Daniel Drezner, Marginal Revolution, and ThinkProgress are much more likely to be sources that the mainstream media draw on than otherwise. Baghdad Burning owes nothing to the mainstream media.

Among those I read most regularly, I would say that Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias are the ones that get "much of their raw material" from the mainstream media.

And the quality of the "mainstream media" is low, quite low.... Let's surf on over to http://nytimes.com/ and look at the articles it regards as the most important and puts on the home page. They are:

  1. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/politics/05cnd-delay.html?ei=5094&en=7a8d29dd736ac712&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print Judge Upholds Most Serious Charges Against DeLay. By DAVID STOUT.
  2. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/international/middleeast/05cnd-saddam.html?hp&ex=1133845200&en=75afe8c0f4752111&ei=5094&partner=homepage Hussein Is Fiery Again in Unruly Court Session. By ROBERT F. WORTH.
  3. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/politics/05cnd-rice.html?ei=5094&en=e5ada7f574851bfc&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print Rice Chides Europeans on Detention Center Complaints. By JOEL BRINKLEY.
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/05/business/media/05cnd-abc.html?hp=&pagewanted=print ABC Names Anchors of 'World News Tonight'. By JACQUES STEINBERG.
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/05/international/asia/05highway.html?pagewanted=print In Today's India, Status Comes With Four Wheels. By AMY WALDMAN.
  6. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/business/05cnd-guidant.html?ei=5094&en=585e4d423ba26c7d&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print Troubled Maker of Heart Devices Gains New Suitor. By VIKAS BAJAJ and BARNABY FEDER.
  7. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/international/middleeast/05cnd-mideast.html?ei=5094&en=7fb486cebe501b3e&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print Bomber Kills 5 Outside Shopping Mall in Israel. By GREG MYRE.
  8. http://nytimes.com/2005/12/05/politics/05cnd-panel.html?ei=5094&en=f0e33be2a4ff9caa&hp=&ex=1133845200&partner=homepage&pagewanted=print 9/11 Panel Calls U.S. Response 'Disappointing'. By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS.

There we have a sample of 8. Let's pick one at random. I pick 5....

Oh my God.

This is far worse than I expected to find.

Story number 5 begins:

On the dark highway, the car showroom glowed in the night like an American drive-in. Inside, it looked more like a game-show set: bright lights, white floors, huge windows, high ceilings and ad posters of beaming consumers far paler than most Indians. For 36-year-old Ram Reddy, the price was right enough to make a down payment on his fifth family car.

He and his brother already had one car "for the children," two "for the ladies," and so on. Now they were buying the Toyota Innova, a big-as-a-boat luxury van that retails for a minimum of $23,000, 46 times India's per capita income of about $500.

The Innova is a new plaything of the moneyed here, one being peddled, like so many products in India today, by a Bollywood star. It is yet another symbol of the kid-in-a-candy-store psyche that has seized India's growing consuming class, once denied capitalism's choices and now flooded with them.

Fifteen years after India began its transition from a state-run to a free-market economy, a new culture of money - making it, and even more, spending it - is afoot.

This domestic hunger for goods has become an important engine for an economy that still lags in exports. So intense is the advertising onslaught, so giddy the media coverage of the new affluence, that it is almost easy to forget that India remains home to the world's largest number of poor people, according to the World Bank.

Still, India's middle class has grown to an estimated 250 million in the past decade, and the number of super-rich has grown sharply as well.

And, after more decades of socialist deprivation, when consumer goods were so limited that refrigerators were given pride of place in living rooms, they have ever more wares to spend it on: cellphones, air-conditioners and washing machines; Botox, sushi and Louis Vuitton bags; and, perhaps the biggest status symbol of all, cars.

India has become one of the world's fastest-growing car markets, with about a million being sold each year. It once had only two kinds, Fiats and Ambassadors. Now dozens of models ride the roads, from the humble, Indian-made Maruti to the Rolls-Royce, which has re-entered India's market some 50 years after leaving in the British wake....

One million cars sold a year.... That means that at most one out of 200 Indian families buys a car. Only one in 40 families in India has anything we would call a car.

India's "superrich".... At current exchange rate, the income of the 20,000th richest Indian family is roughly $250,000 a year. Maybe 3000 Indian families are "superrich" in the sense of making more than $1,000,000 a year.

India's "250 million strong middle class."... The income of the family that contains the 250 millionth richest Indian is about $2,500 a year at the current exchange rate--and about $15,000 a year at purchasing power parity. The PPP estimate is probably more relevant, because what most of India's "250 million strong middle class" buy are the necessities that are so very cheap in India because the wages of unskilled labor are so very low. India's "250 million strong middle class" has a material standard of living that we in the United States associate with the working poor.

Average hourly wages in India? Perhaps $0.50 measured at current exchange rates. It is not easy to forget that India remains the country that is home to the world's largest number of poor people. It is not easy to forget that at all.

I receive mammoth value added from the Financial Times, Reuters, and Bloomberg. I receive substantial value added from Knight-Ridder, from the (increasingly uneven) Economist, from the inside-baseball-political news (but not the substantive policy analysis) of the National Journal, and from the news (but definitely not the editorial) pages of the Wall Street Journal.

But value added from the New York Times? A few reporters are good. Others are liars--the kind of people who would agree to claim that a senior administration official is an ex-Capitol Hill staffer. Most don't know enough about substance to write the stories they are tasked with writing.

So let me ask Franklin Foer a question: in the New York Times of December 5, 2005, where does he see any value added? I see value added (but not to me) in Paul Krugman's musings about the strange shape of the current economic recovery. Where else?

Posted by DeLong at December 9, 2005 10:32 AM