Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

US journalism today

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One major contributing factor to the situation in which the country finds itself is the almost total abandonment by journalism of their investigative and reporting mission. Partly this is due to the takeover of major news outlets by large corporations, whose focus is always on increasing profits—and stirring up trouble with the government is not the pathway to greater profits, when those corporations make more money from doing business with the government (and getting government approval for things they want to do) than they ever could from exposing governmental wrong-doing and missteps (i.e., deliberate wrong-doing on the one hand, incompetence on the other). So instead of news those corporations deliver news-like entertainment.

Pointing out specific instances of the problem can seem quite negative, but OTOH simply bemoaning the trend without specific instances is simply hot air. Specific examples are required to ground discussions in reality.

With that introduction, take a look at this column:

In late 2008, former federal prosecutor Neil Barofsky was appointed to oversee the Treasury Department’s administration of the $700 billion Wall Street/TARP bailout, and in that position, he has easily been one of the most impressive and courageous political officials in Washington.  A life-long Democrat who donated money to the Obama campaign, he vigilantly fought for his independence as TARP watchdog and has been relentless in his criticism of Treasury officials and especially Tim GeithnerThe Washington Post reports today that Barofsky is resigning from his position, and the otherwise routine article by reporter Bradley Dennis contains this passage:

[Barofsky] quickly emerged as an aggressive overseer, viewed as a much-needed cop monitoring for waste and fraud within TARP by some lawmakers and watchdog groups, and, by Treasury officials and financial-industry representatives, as a self-promoter whose overreaching investigations scared some needy banks away from participating in the federal aid program. . . .

In his sometimes scathing reports to Congress, Barofsky showed little reluctance in criticizing administration officials on everything from how their lack of transparency was fueling “anger, cynicism and distrust” to how their foreclosure prevention efforts had fallen well below expectations.  Barofsky was particularly hard on the government’s bailout of insurance giant American International Group, saying that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — which was led at the time by now-Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner — “refused to use its considerable leverage” and instead paid AIG’s trading partners in full on the firm’s debts.

Such criticisms did not sit well with Treasury officials, many of whom believed Barofsky’s conclusions were overstated and aimed primarily at drawing media attention.

“We’re fine with critics,” said one Treasury official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak more candidly. “[But] he’s been consistently wrong about a lot of big things.”

Just ponder the utter cowardice and lack of professionalism needed to produce this passage.  First, some aide to Timothy Geithner wanted to publicly slam Barofsky on his way out the door, but lacked the courage to attach his name to the criticism.  So he told this Post reporter that he’d be willing to provide a derogatory quote about Barofsky, but only if he could hide behind anonymity when doing so.  Barofsky has stood behind his public criticisms by putting his name on his reports and appearing unmasked in interviews, but this Geithner lackey is too afraid to do that.  So he demands that the Treasury Department be allowed to malign him while hiding behind the Post‘s protective shield.

Then, the Post reporter, so desperate to include criticism of Barofsky for the sake of “balance” and in order to curry favor with the administration, agrees to channel the insults about Barofsky while concealing the identity of this Treasury critic — for absolutely no good journalistic reason.  Remember, this isn’t some powerless whistle-blower granted anonymity to expose wrongdoing by someone in power.  It’s the opposite:  Barofsky is on his way out, and this official is still at Treasury, undoubtedly doing the Secretary’s bidding.  Worse, the criticism is completely uninformative; it’s just an unspecific insult claiming that Barofsky has “been consistently wrong about a lot of big things” without identifying a single alleged error.  So anonymity is granted to allow a powerful government official to publicly malign someone in the most unaccountable manner possible. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2011 at 8:53 am

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