Thursday, May 14, 2009

NPR's Planet Money Suffers Mental Eclipse

For coverage of the economic crisis you could do a lot worse than the folks at NPR's Planet Money. They host a three times weekly podcast, maintain a blog, and contribute reporting to other public radio programs. On last Friday's podcast, however, correspondent Adam Davidson apparently disengaged his brain when he put on his headphones.

The apparent cause of his sudden onset stupidity was an interview with Congressional Oversight Panel Chair Elizabeth Warren. One would think that a radio reporter on a national news outlet ought to be able to conduct an interview, but not in this case. The interview devolved into what was essentially a shouting match between Davidson and Warren. For the record, Warren got the better of him as Davidson's argument was mostly reduced to stammering and "yeah, buts," at least in the clips they played on the podcast.

Even if Davidson had carried the argument, one can only wonder why on earth any journalist with even the flimsiest pretense of objectivity would allow himself to let an interview turn into such a mess. Remember, this was an interview by a reporter. Davidson was not moderating a debate between persons with differing viewpoints. He started, I think, to inform his listeners about the current state of the COP's work and instead gave us a negative example of how a reporter should act.

His problem with Warren's work as far as I could tell, boiled down to the fact that Warren believes the current economic crisis requires a two-pronged solution. This solution includes a component to address the malfunctioning financial system and a component to address what Warren sees as the attack on the American middle class that has taken place over the last thirty years or so. Warren's views on this are well known, and not always liked; but it isn't as if she discovered her desire to champion the middle class after she began working on TARP issues.

Davidson could easily have done some actual reporting and questioned Warren on her views. The questioning could have even been (gasp!) tough. Instead, he chose to argue against her position himself. His main argument against Warren's economic two-state solution to the problem: It is not widely held by a majority of mainstream economists.

For a reporter to put their journalistic reputation on the line and engage in a partisan argument is already a dicey proposition, to do so when the force of one's argument rests on an appeal to conventional wisdom is lunacy.

I'm not going to search the NPR site for a citation, but I would be willing to bet that many NPR reporters, possibly even Davidson himself, have interviewed many people during this crisis that were widely regarded as fools for their unconventional takes on the approaching economic collapse not that long ago. (Nouriel Roubini or Peter Schiff anyone?) For Davidson to quite literally shout at Warren that she is wrong to think that the solution to this crisis goes through the American middle class simply because this is not a widely held view is just ridiculous.

I guess I owe Megan McArdle an apology since I was wrong to think that she was the only reporter that didn't like Elizabeth Warren. This latest episode makes me wonder if there are any reporters out there that are not so in the thrall of our nation's financial and political elites that they cannot consider, and possibly report on, some alternative view of the facts. Especially a view that has the audacity to be unconventional.

Update: The Confluence has the real reason why Davidson gave Warren the business: Sexism. Here I thought it was just his slavish devotion to dominant memes (uh, I think that means he thinks like everyone else) but I'm a man so what the hell do I know. Frankly I'm not sold on misogyny as the explanation for Davidson's bad behavior. I can't confirm this, but I hear that he once refused the offer of a piece of gum for the sole reason that it had not been recommended by 4 out of 5 dentists! Sorry. I can't help it. It is just so easy in this case.

1 comment:

Your Lovely Wife said...

I'd make you up a t-shirt that says: I heart E.W. But I'm sure everyone will just ask you why you like Entertainment Weekly so much!

I guess all this explains why we like E.W. so much...she is "different" too...and by "different" I mean has a brain!