Here are two samples from Paul Krugman's blogs at the NY Times. They are now available to us all free. Good stuff very often. Krugman is spot on about the Petraeus coverage and exactly the same fits much coverage. The same thing happens in Canada. A recent national TV coverage on an Ontario election debate focused solely on body language and other aspects of the presentation. Policies were not even mentioned. Performance was based purlely on factors other than content. The blog site is here.
September 20, 2007, 11:26 pm
Is This the Wile E. Coyote Moment?
Lots of buzz suddenly about the possibility of a sharp fall in the dollar. The Canadian dollar is back at parity with the greenback; there are rumors that the Saudis are planning to diversify into euros, and maybe even that the Chinese might break the dollar peg. A nice summary at Barry Ritholtz’s blog The Big Picture.
I could say that I saw this coming; the problem is that I’ve been seeing it coming for several years, and it keeps not arriving (and I don’t know if this is really it, even now.) The argument I and others have made is that the U.S. trade deficit is, fundamentally, not sustainable in the long run, which means that sooner or later the dollar has to decline a lot. But international investors have been buying U.S. bonds at real interest rates barely higher than those offered in euros or yen — in effect, they’ve been betting that the dollar won’t ever decline.
So, according to the story, one of these days there will be a Wile E. Coyote moment for the dollar: the moment when the cartoon character, who has run off a cliff, looks down and realizes that he’s standing on thin air – and plunges. In this case, investors suddenly realize that Stein’s Law applies — “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop” – and they realize they need to get out of dollars, causing the currency to plunge. Maybe the dollar’s Wile E. Coyote moment has arrived – although, again, I’ve been wrong about this so far.
Much more about all this in a thoroughly incomprehensible paper I recently published in the European journal Economic Policy. Don’t bother clicking if you hate funny diagrams and Greek letters.
September 19, 2007, 9:43 pm
What I Hate About Political Coverage
Warning: this is a bit (actually, more than a bit) of a rant.
One of my pet peeves about political reporting is the fact that some of my journalistic colleagues seem to want to be in another business – namely, theater criticism. Instead of telling us what candidates are actually saying – and whether it’s true or false, sensible or silly – they tell us how it went over, and how they think it affects the horse race. During the 2004 campaign I went through two months’ worth of TV news from the major broadcast and cable networks to see what voters had been told about the Bush and Kerry health care plans; what I found, and wrote about, were several stories on how the plans were playing, but not one story about what was actually in the plans.
There are two big problems with this kind of reporting. The important problem is that it fails to inform the public about what matters. In 2004, very few people had any idea about the very real differences between the candidates on domestic policy. It remains to be seen whether 2008 is any better.
The other problem, which has become very apparent lately, is that this sort of coverage often fails even on its own terms, because the way things look to inside-the-Beltway pundits can be very different from the way they look to real people.
Which brings me to the Petraeus hearing.
To a remarkable extent, punditry has taken a pass on whether Gen. Petraeus’s picture of the situation in Iraq is accurate. Instead, it was all about the theatrics – about how impressive he looked, how well or poorly his Congressional inquisitors performed. And the judgment you got if you were watching most of the talking heads was that it was a big win for the administration – especially because the famous MoveOn ad was supposed to have created a scandal, and a problem for the Democrats.
Even if all this had been true, it wouldn’t have mattered much: if the truth is that Iraq is a mess, the public would find out soon enough, and the backlash would be all the greater because of the sense that we had been deceived yet again.
But here’s the thing: new polls by CBS and Gallup show that the Petraeus testimony had basically no effect on public opinion: Americans continue to hate the war, and want out. The whole story about how the hearing had changed everything was a pure figment of the inside-the-Beltway imagination.
What I found striking about the whole thing was the contempt the pundit consensus showed for the public – it was, more or less, “Oh, people just can’t resist a man in uniform.” But it turns out that they can; it’s the punditocracy that can’t.