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Abrams Research Survey: Financial Journalists Say Media Dropped Ball On Crisis

DAVID BAUDER   01/ 8/09 03:52 PM ET   AP

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NEW YORK — Signaling a look inward that echoes critiques of the media's performance in the months before the Iraq War, some of the nation's top financial journalists believe reporters dropped the ball as the nation's economy tumbled toward crisis mode.

Sixty-two of 100 journalists surveyed by Abrams Research, a firm started by former MSNBC chief Dan Abrams, criticized the media's work, suggesting there was an over-exuberance about the economy and a failure to connect the dots as troubles began.

"That's a very telling and interesting number," Abrams said Thursday. "Some of the comments we got were really fascinating. I think there's a lot of self-examination going on within the financial media about what happened and why."

The journalists questioned over the past few weeks, mostly reporters from organizations such as CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and others, were promised their identities would be kept confidential in return for their opinions.

They split almost evenly on who deserved the most blame for the crisis: 45 said banks and 44 said regulators. Only two believed that the media was mostly to blame, and nine pointed their fingers at consumers.

Said one journalist: "Everyone dropped the ball. But the media does not have nearly as much blood on its hands as the financial industry and government."

Another reporter said that, just like in the dot-com era, basic rules of gravity were ignored. What goes up, must come down.

"I blame myself in part," one reporter said. "I wrote about many of the components of the bust, including the opacity of derivatives (where does the risk go?), the extremely low interest rates that fueled housing, and declining lending standards. But I failed to put it all together and see how really, really bad things would get."

Yet there was a substantial minority that resisted blame being placed on the media.

"The media, like real life, is full of a diversity of opinions and stories," a journalist wrote. "The warning signs were there, and stories were written about the looming dangers. I find it offensive that there's a notion that the entire business press can be criticized for a failure to see the future once we're in a troubled climate."

The survey found that 42 of the journalists believe at least three Fortune 1000 executives will be indicted during the coming year for their roles in the financial crisis. Abrams said he was surprised that the number was so high; 27 of the journalists believed there would be no indictments.

"Unfortunately, stupidity and venality aren't criminal offenses," one journalist wrote.

Only 30 of the journalists said they thought the current situation will come to be known as a depression. Thirty-one of the journalists said the recession would end by the beginning of next year; most believed it would stretch longer.

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Filed by Danny Shea  |