While the Masters of the Universe (aka the bankers) were playing fast & loose with global finances in the manner of casino habitues, you might have thought that the ladies & gentlemen of the press would start to suspect that the boom couldn't last. Given the popular perception of most hacks as cynical, headline-hungry rodents, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the financial journalists would count among their number one or two audacious souls who were prepared to rain on the City's parade.
However, no one piped up, & it's now coming back to haunt them (http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=43161&c=1 ).
A panel of financial journalists, as well as Vince Cable, the Lib Dem deputy leader & economic spokesman, addressed a debate entitled, "Why Did Nobody See It [the recession] Coming?"
One reason given:
"Pressure from financial public relations officers was among the reasons put forward."
It's not just the hacks in the dock, Cable tells of being persuaded back in 2002 that raising concerns about what was always an unsustainable boom was unpatriotic. Yes, really.
Moreover, in an aside which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the Daily Mail, Alex Brummer, its City editor, "admitted his paper's 'obsession' with the house price crash meant other aspects of the impending crisis were less prominent.
" 'Our readers seemed to be obsessed with the housing crash, and we played to that obsession,' he said.
" '[Those stories] were at the front of the paper, where we have 10 million readers, as opposed to the City pages, where we have three readers.' "
The BBC's Evan Davis declares that a journalist's role is to "withstand the pressures of the public relations industry." However, he, too, feebly protests that hacks couldn't be blamed for being so gullible & easily taken-in. He even falls back on the Finance Is Complicated argument, forgetting that a hack's role is to investigate a story, however "complicated", & then explain it to a wider audience or readership.
Brummer, Davis & co. would do well to observe the way in which the BBC's economics editor Robert Peston handled criticism of his reporting on the Northern Rock affair when he visited Newcastle & Gateshead last week (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/7898983.stm ).
Peston pointedly said that as a journalist, he had a responsibility to explain the story, & what it meant for the bank as well as the wider economy. Complaints that he "talked down" Northern Rock were risible (my word, not Peston's).
It could have been worse, however. Much, much worse. The US cable business station CNBC is less a news channel than a cheerleader for free market capitalism. As such, its presenters are encouraged to "editorialise", ie., spout free market, neo-con nostrums which may be fashionable on Wall Street, but which were rejected by a majority of US voters last November.
John Thain, now disgraced former CEO of Bank of America, is one of the main villains at the US end for the credit crunch. He also arranged to have $1.2m spent on his executive bathroom. Despite this, CNBC presenter (& self-styled "Money Honey", a phrase she's trade marked) Maria Bartiromo recently declared that Thain is "a man of integrity" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WiLCpMM3yw ).
The evidently perspicacious Ms Bartiromo also said towards the end of 2007 that there wouldn't be a recession (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPFLWo1WsPE ).
The term "irony" suddenly seems redundant.