By Arthur Alpert
I’m so old I prefer to see movies in movie houses, so when the 2016 Oscar winner, “Spotlight” and one of its competitors, “The Big Short” finally arrived at the dollar theater (which isn’t a buck anymore), I caught both of them in one week.
“The Big Short” sought to turn Michael Lewis’s excellent book about the few investors who foresaw the global financial shock of 2008 into a feature film. Gutsy effort, I thought, boldly done, but limited by Lewis’ initial decision to focus on the handful of contrarian seers instead of on how Wall Street banks, brokerages, credit raters and their buddies, including the captured regulators, stole from the rest of us.
Too little attention paid, that is, to how politically powerful, greedy, ignorant and sometimes criminal perpetrators of the rip-off got away with it and in some cases, were bailed out with my money and yours.
Of course, I mused, the Albuquerque Journal reported this story minimally. Also, it continues to ignore how Wall Street works in both news coverage and published opinions. This is not happenstance. It’s policy. Management’s political agenda (government bad, Corporate America noble) determines what is and isn’t newsworthy.
Not even when Neel Kashkari warns that we have banks “still too big to fail” does the Journal pay attention. Yes, that’s the same Kashkari tasked with saving the banks as a Treasury Department official in the George W. Bush administration. He’s just become president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
His warning was reported by Binyamin Appelbaum in the Feb.16 N.Y. Times and elsewhere, of course, but not in the Journal.
And today (April 14) when Nathaniel Popper and Peter Eavis reported in the N.Y. Times that the Federal Reserve and FDIC said five of the nation’s eight largest banks are “still too big to fail,” there was nothing in the Journal.
Oh, I’m certain they’ll print a paragraph or two any day now.
“Spotlight” was more impressive, probably because it reminded me that at its best, the press operates in the public interest. That was why the Boston Globe, a newspaper business, took on the local Roman Catholic Archdiocese on behalf of victimized kids. In fact, lots of excellent journalism emerges from newspaper businesses whose owners allow their news people to pursue the news.
Those owners risk economic retaliation, of course, but they may gain financially when readers and advertisers respect the journalistic integrity they demonstrate.
Win or lose financially, these owners erect a wall between the news and the business sides of the enterprise to ensure news coverage in the public interest.
That is one way to do business. In another, publishers use their newspapers to advance their personal or class political interests, sometimes boldly and without shame.
This is the Journal’s approach, of course, as we will document further next time when we return to “Spotlight” for further guidance.