All the same, there are moments, and even whole stories, that leave me wondering about some journalists. A story in this morning's Washington Post by Neil Irwin and Lorie Montgomery on the possibility that Ben Bernanke will not be appointed to a second term a chief of the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee has a couple things wrong with it. First, the lede frames the entire story in a way that is puzzling, to say the least.
The populist brushfire that has burned through Democratic fortunes this week threatened Friday to claim Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, imperiling his nomination for a second term and sending an unsettled stock market tumbling for the third straight day.
What, exactly, is a "populist brushfire"? How did it "burned through Democratic fortunes"? This is meaningless drivel, really. Perhaps to the insiders in Washington, these words and phrases have some kind of resonance; since the Post is one of the ways folks up there keep tabs on the conventional wisdom, this is something for which we should account. Yet, I, for one, am puzzled by the construction.
Did the stock market "tumble" because Bernanke's appointment was under threat? Is there any way that question can be answered, beside consulting "experts" who insist it is, indeed, the case?
The other part of the article that leaves me troubled is the following:
Although Democrats and Republicans alike mostly praise Bernanke for aggressive steps to combat the recession, he is increasingly blamed for failing to rein in Wall Street excesses that led to the crisis and tarred by his role as engineer of the profoundly unpopular bailout for financial firms.(italics added)
This is one of those hidden passive-voice things that nags at me. It offers up some of the serious criticism leveled at Bernanke, yet does so without any reference to specifics. Furthermore, this charge, in particular, is one that can be checked with reference to actual events. Did Bernanke, in fact, have a role in the specific crisis, the collapse of the housing bubble? In fact, there is abundant evidence that Bernanke (and previous Fed Chair Alan Greenspan) encouraged the unrealistic investments in real estate, both private and commercial, and refused to interfere in the mushrooming of financial instruments increasingly reliant on unrealistic values and huge debt. There were many, many signs, even before the economy began to cool in the spring of 2008, that the housing market was a classic investment bubble. The housing bubble was a topic of discussion among economists and commentators on the economy and the financial sector for quite a while. The role of the Fed - easing the landing of that particular crash through incremental increases in interest rates, thus discouraging reckless lending and borrowing - was offered up routinely as a way to avoid what many feared would come. Yet, he (and they, the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee) refused to do so. When the collapse came, and the economy started to falter, then collapse, years-too-long near-zero interest rates left the Fed with no options as to how to tackle the recession.
Bernanke's role in recent economic events is clear. Yet, this article simply offers it up as an example of us versus them, Republicans versus Democrats back and forth on Capitol Hill. In framing it as part of an undefined "populist brushfire", this whole article leaves me scratching my head.