At a time when the U.S. economy seemed to be going into the tank, the question no one seemed to be asking the past two weeks was what about the press... the talking press? For years, everything seemed quite rosy if you watched or listened to the broadcast media. Rukeyser, Dobbs and all the other wizards with access to the airwaves posed as geniuses with impeccable sources on Wall Street. The network anchors invariably closed their newscasts, quoting the Dow Jones 30, as if they and their listeners knew what the devil that meant. They were feeding us a snow job about the robust American economy. They, in turn, were being snookered by the fast-talking mouths on the stock market floor or in the high rises of Manhattan.
For nineteen years, the broadcast media lionized Alan Greenspan who kept his grasp on the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve System for nearly two decades. We had no idea what Greenspan really was up to because his gobbledygook was so unintelligible. It was hard to get a sound byte on anything he said. Nonetheless, Greenspan was portrayed by many journalists as one of the most informed economists in the world. So investors, big and small, went along for the ride without realizing that someday we would pick up our morning newspaper with a frontpage headline like the one in Saturday's Los Angeles Times that read: "Bailout tab: $700,000,000,000."
Whether it translated into millions or billions of dollars, we regular people only knew it was the kind of cash we would never see. Only the bankrupt masters at Lehman Brothers, AIG, Fanny Mae and the other beleaguered investment houses knew and they just were praying for relief. To the rescue came one of their own, Ben Bernanke, chair of the Federal Reserve, who huddled the other day with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and other experts to work out a solution. Need we be reminded that Paulson is a Bush appointee?
Together, they did not meet in a fast food joint, but rather in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the elegant watering hole where the elite meet to eat, sample fine wines and have a grand old time. It's the favorite spa of the wealthy who once owned our money.
No one in the press, or for that matter Barack Obana, has dared to insist that the executives from the tottering institutions return their lavish retirement buyouts that ranged from 24 million to $161 million each. Until they do, Barack ought to be saying there's no deal on the proposed billion dollar bail outs that amount to a reward for bad behavior. But short of that, his groping for a bipartisan deal is agonizing. Democrats are demanding that he overcome the impression that he's a wimp; unwilling to fight for the presidency by challenging John McCain who admits that the knowledge of economics is not his strong suit.
As for the broadcast media, its analysis of where the country is heading at best seems mute. The networks and the cable news programs are waiting for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post or other major newspapers to give them a headline.
The irony of the mess is that the institution the conservatives decried for years is once again being asked to rescue them and their pals in the private sector. Hah, hah. You remember, the one the late journalist Molly Ivins used to refer to in good old Texas jargon as "the gummint."