Thought Police I: More Analysis of NPR Trying to Discredit Elizabeth Warren

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The Columbia Journalism Review takes apart an interview by Adam Davidson of NPR’s Planet Money, which we linked to earlier this week and caused some consternation among readers who listened to the program. Davidson took a combative stance towards Warren, painted her as out to get the banking industry and out of step with mainstream America (really? most Americans are as disgusted with the practices of credit card companies as she is). He also interrupted her repeatedly.

CJR also makes a broader point: the media has been trying to marginalize Warren in a completely different fashion, by simply refusing to cover her.

The CJR points out that no banking industry executive would have been treated this way, and it’s 100% correct. What it fails to note that it isn’t just becoming standard practice to question liberals merely for being liberal, suggesting that a diversity of views is a bad thing. And frankly, women are easier to take on. It’s socially acceptable to interrupt them, which can throw off one’s line of thought. In court, it’s a tactic of counsel to raise a lot objections to throw off opposing counsel. Even the mild mannered Charlie Rose at point in an interview Naomi Klein questioned he at points in a way that he seldom does (making faces and interrupting her) but threw softballs to financial industry stalwarts like Timothy Geithner and Morgan Stanely CEO John Mack. In a interview with Elizabeth Warren, he was did not challenge her but did set some snares that she did not walk into.

From the Columbia Journalism Review (hat tip reader Doug):

A couple of times in the last few months I’ve taken the press to task for ignoring the Congressional Oversight Panel and its report on the TARP. I’ve talked to reporters in the biz since and got the impression that many of them don’t really take it seriously because its chairwoman Elizabeth Warren is a liberal who, they say, pushes her agenda.

So it’s worth listening to this entire Planet Money podcast from NPR, where Adam Davidson badgers Warren for more than an hour to justify her existence, so to speak.

If you want a peek inside business-press mentality, and why certain stories get reported and others don’t, you can do worse than start here. It sees Warren as an outlier whose views, based on decades of research, are suspicious. It would never, ever have badgered a former bank exec, say, like this if one had been chairman of the panel. Davidson, like the reporters I referenced above, has been talking to too many bankers and insiders who sneer at someone not inside their bubble. Perhaps he’s trying to prove his objective journalist bona fides at “liberal” NPR by taking it to a liberal.

Warren isn’t legitimate in the eyes of the press, so it just pretty much ignores her—even though she and her co-panelists were selected by Congress to oversee whether the Treasury is spending the $700 billion we gave it in a way that’s best for the economy.

This interview is really cringeworthy stuff from Davidson, who comes out looking pretty bad (which makes it all the more admirable that NPR runs the entire tape). Warren takes this fight going away.

I don’t have a complete transcript of the show but I typed up some of it.

The article continues here.

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  1. X

    The media seems utterly incapable of understanding its own demise. I’m not sure how well the man on the street could analyze the collapse of mainstream media but they at least are realizing that something is seriously wrong. But not the media members themselves, they are violently immune to seeing their own failure.

    You can see them tear at their clothes saying “Why has this happened to us? We paid deference to all the right people, we kept all the right secrets. Why won’t anyone listen to us anymore? The people don’t care about things like debt and regulatory capture, the people just want shrill leftists to quiet down so we can restore confidence.”

  2. Independent Accountant

    I watch Charlie Rose and saw him lob softballs at Timmy Boy. He was much rougher on Warren. I don’t know if he has an anti-female animus or he enjoys “basking in the reflection” of persons of consequence like Timmy Boy.

  3. In Debt We Trust

    The 21st Century will be known as the time of alternative media. I hope sites like this continue to grow and thrive in inverse proportion to regular media outfits that have an agenda to peddle/protect.

  4. meli

    I noticed this on Chris Matthews the other night, also. He and some guy were really pummelling a woman for trying to put forth the argument that torture didn’t work. They didn’t disagree with her, they dismissed her.

    There are some excellent articles around about how Rubin and Greenspan used very similar tactics against Brooksley Born when she sought to regulate derivatives. They didn’t disagree with her; they dismissed her, accusing her of ‘overstepping her bounds.’

    I’m really glad you posted this. I was so dismayed by the way they treated Elizabeth Warren.

  5. Doc Holiday

    It seems like we just hit on this theme a few days ago, with newspapers and journalism sacrificing legitimate news and even truth in exchange for shareholder profits.

    Obviously Warren has to be made into either a good guy or bad guy and what she has to say is meaningless, because she is a symbol that can now be twisted and morphed into whatever the shareholders require — but make no mistake, the shareholders want and need controversy, so discrediting Warren and fueling that fire is of paramount immediacy!

    We as readers, need to look the other way while warren speaks, and instead, watch the shells slide around the tables as they cover various peas that help take your eye of the matter at hand.

    The race to discredit American’s like Warren who represent justice, is a race that is the greatest threat to America since The Civil War. This is a time of corporate fascism, where our free press, free speech and liberty are being taken away on a daily basis. Our government, in partnership with wall street and global entities has allowed our media systems to be taken over and controlled by people that claim to be Capitalist — which is ironic, because like church and state needed separating, how can we have shareholders in control of free speech and free press?

    The contradiction and conflict of interest between shareholders and journalism has peaked, and as we watch more and more news outlets go under, we all will have less ability to be informed. Perhaps then, that is why crooked and failed banks are being rewarded with taxpayer revenues, instead of realistically looking at the heart of this darkness — it’s far better that we all shut up and stop being involved as citizens, and thus let this pirates take us all back 200+ years, to a time when suppression was their God-given right!

    Also see crap like this:

    Bailout? Who needs a bailout? Certainly not the newspaper industry.

    Now, as lovable as newspapers are, it’s awfully hard to buy into this notion. Take a look at Fox News. Rupert Murdoch has taken his 24-hour news channel and made it into a mockery of journalism over the course of the last decade. His invention of Fox News only drew the line in the sand deeper between Democrats and Republicans. Nobody expects to turn on his channel to receive fair coverage. Anymore, viewers flock there for one of two reasons: They absolutely agree with everything they hear being said, or two: They utterly disagree with anything in front of them and it angers them so much, they simply can’t change the channel.

    That particular business model has worked out brilliantly for someone who cares first and foremost about business. But journalistically? Perhaps that appears to be the trade that took the biggest blow as a result of Murdoch’s ideas. The repercussions of his slanted programming has all but forced the hands of Universal to lean a little to the left in their MSNBC coverage. At this point, the idea isn’t about relaying the news, it’s simply more about who can turn the most heads.

    Full Disclosure: The Author has just had chocolate covered peanuts and needs to lay in the sun.

  6. Erick

    Warren does a great job enumerating the myriad ways the collusion between government and banks causes problems for regular people. I think there is consensus around a desire to end such collusion.

    So why will she only consider solutions that involve more government involvement in the banking system?

    The US credit system is government insured and heavily subsidized. It is incredibly non-obvious to me how the resulting economic damage in this system relates to “free market” ideology.

  7. Carlos

    I think the media is under marching orders by powerful groups and NPR by the government all to create the illusion that all is well. I have seen lately several cease and desist notices sent to the most outspoken bloggers out there. This change you can believe in I guess

  8. George

    Thanks so so much for posting this. I enjoyed some of the Planet Money pieces, even listened to their live program this spring.

    Davidson happened to stumble on the story of the century and is apparently going to ride it as far as it takes him. Unfortunately his best work was basically just reciting things he learned from the Calculated Risk blog. I never learned anything new from them, just was glad they were amplifying the real story. But it is sad to hear that Davidson has become drunk on his own importance. We as a nation are so far from fixing the problems caused by the financial elites in the last 3 decades, it is sad that Davidson feels a need to disrespect a brave voice like Warren who might help us avoid repeating this catastrophe in the future.

    I am going to write to Ira Glass and make sure he gives Davidson a severe talking to regarding matters of substance and manners. And not give any more money to NPR.

  9. Doc Holiday

    House Republicans yesterday (June 8, 2006) revived their efforts to slash funding for public broadcasting, as a key committee approved a $115 million reduction in the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that could force the elimination of some popular PBS and NPR programs.

    On a party-line vote, the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees health and education funding approved the cut to the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes money to the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. It would reduce the corporation's budget by 23 percent next year, to $380 million, in a cut that Republicans said was necessary to rein in government spending.

    A similar move last year by Republican leaders was turned back in a fierce lobbying campaign launched by Public Broadcasting Service stations and Democratic members of Congress, in a debate that was colored by some Republicans' frustration with what they see as a liberal slant in public programming.

    From: GOP takes aim at PBS funding

    Also see a more up-to-date upgrade:

    ‘NewsHour’ on PBS to Get Makeover

    The reorganization of the news staffs should make it possible to do more with the same budget and not lay off employees, Ms. Winslow said, noting that the cost of field reports, which previously kept correspondents tied to the studio, had dropped as digital technology improved.

    Unlike many news organizations, “NewsHour” has not had to lay off employees. Still, it has had financial challenges since last year, when salaries and hiring were frozen and 401(k) contributions suspended, as corporate underwriting lagged. The picture is much the same this year. Currently the program gets more than $10 million annually in funding from PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, about $8 million from foundations and $6 million from corporations. In April, Intel joined Chevron as a major sponsor.

    >> This kinda makes me wanna follow the money…

    Statement on President Obama's Fiscal Year 2010 Budget

    Today, the President submitted his Fiscal Year 2010 budget to Congress, recommending a total of $502 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) including: a $440 million two-year advance appropriation for FY 2012..

    We realize the President had to make many difficult decisions in allocating resources, given the economic situation facing our country. We are, however, deeply concerned that the President's budget request for FY 2012 falls well short of public broadcasting's need.

  10. LeeAnne

    I listened to the tape yesterday and did, indeed, cringe.

    Warren IMO was trying to get across the ‘notion’ that this crisis is about people and families as her credentials were being attacked by a twit whose only cred was the power of the mic.

    It was really godawful.

  11. bob

    Warren was trying to make an even more important point, which she was not even allowed to get near.

    If all of these people are loosing their jobs, how are they going to be able to pay back their debt?

    It one of the recurring themes in this mess, looking back versus looking forward.

    Davidson was trying to argue about what caused the problem to begin with, which really is of little use now.

    Warren was trying to point out that without jobs, and some sort of economic fairness, there will be no recovery.

    What ever you think ideoligically, Warren is correct in her assumptions, this will get worse, not simply level out.

    Davidson was trying to argue the age old point of the banks, that they should get paid. If people don’t have jobs, they can’t pay.

    Arguments on this crisis seem to hinge mostly on this asymetry, two people arguing, one about what happened in the past, one about how to move forward.

    This does not help.

  12. ccm

    Adam Davidson: I talk to a lot a lot a lot of left, right, center, neutral economists [and] you are the only person I’ve talked to in a year of covering this crisis who has a view that we have two equally acute crises: a financial crisis and a household debt crisis that is equally acute in the same kind of way. I literally don’t know who else I can talk to support that view.Conclusion: Adam Davidson didn’t prepare for his interview with Warren. The “balance sheet” recession concept that Warren is talking about is a mainstream explanation of the Great Depression (Mishkin, “The Household Balance Sheet and the Great Depression” Mishkin is an ex-Governor of the Fed), of Japan’s lost decade (google balance sheet, richard koo) and has been covered by Paul Krugman in relation to the current crisis.

    We can only assume that Davidson has never heard of Paul Krugman, Frederic Mishkin, Richard Koo or any of the many, many other economists who have addressed this issue.

  13. Yves Smith


    I agree the word “savage” was over the top, and I have toned down the comment accordingly. And I should not have put it in the same league as the NPR interview. Now that I have looked at the interviews, that was unfair. I did not see the Warren interview, a friend who saw it at the time thought Charlie was trying to (nicely it turns out) trap her, and looking at it, I can see where, and that Rose did not try that with, say Geither, or even Taleb.

    Around minute 8 of the Warren interview, he suggests Warren is biased against banks, she refused to take the bait. He sets other traps at 11:00-12:00, which she almost falls into.

    And I must say I am not a fan of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, I am making a more general point.

    However, if you look at the late 2007 interview, starting at minute 16, Rose starts disagreeing with Klein, repeatedly interrupts her, makes faces. Even when he is more respectful (min 22) he again poses a question and makes a face. And he sets up a false dichotomy, capitalism vs. government intervention, where there are choices in between. When she addresses that, he finally decided to leave her alone,

    Being interrupted when on TV, unless you are very practiced, is much more destabilizing than in normal conversation. If Klein had not successfully held her ground, Rose appeared primed to continue in a similar vein.

    Some colleagues at the time (no connection to NK) told me at the time that Charlie was much less evenhanded with her than he normally is. I relied on their take rather than independently verifying it, They are normally pretty sound judges, but they were focusing on a portion of the interview.

  14. Hugh

    NPR and PBS back in the day sold themselves as alternatives to the traditional media. It is hard to say in hindsight if they ever were that different from other media. Certainly they came to be that which they were, at least in theory, reacting against.

    Most of the top echelons at both NPR and PBS should have retired 10 years ago. As it is, they regurgitate the same conventional wisdom that you can get from any media outlet.

    I hesitate to call what they or the media do as news anymore. They are purveyors of propaganda and infotainment. I do not look to them for information but rather to get an idea of which way the spin is going.

    The Bush years with all their scandals, disasters, and lies, and now the Obama Presidency facing the mess that Bush left and not handling it very well, should have been a Golden Age for news and news organizations, and perhaps for the blogosphere it is, but for the mainstream media it has been a period of decline and an increasing lapse into irrelevance and idiocy.

  15. Greg Hall

    Warren sliced and diced Adam Davidson, who happens to be a light weight. Charlie Rose was civil, but she’s a Harvard interloper, and he’s used to dealing with the City’s power elite. She can handle any of these bozos. She has the intellect and moral radar that they lack.

  16. Francois

    My (much less charitable) view is that Adam Davidson made a complete asshat of himself during that interview.

    He needs to work out some issues he has with “women” and “smart”. He seems to believe the two can’t go together.


  17. X

    To Hugh’s comment that the upper eschelon of NPR and PBS should have stepped aside 10 years ago, I think the same is true of the Democratic Party. There seem to be some promising younger members but the party is severely hamstrung by those like Schumer, Reid, Pelosi, Dodd, Feinstein, etc., who are married to old paradigms and scandals that prevent progress. When members of the older generation become blind to their own shortcomings and failures they should step aside or be forced out (the individuals not the whole generation).

  18. Jmd

    Charlie Rose is a dawg…has an official, society-sanctioned girlfriend (I think she is Babe Paley’s daughter?), but always haunting places like Cipriani in the Sherry-Netherland and various other Upper East Side haunts. Not surpising that he is a misogynist, if you’re not Julia Roberts that is. As for John Mack, worked for him at Credit Suissed (fmrly CSFB). What an uninspiring leader! All hype, no substance.

  19. Dan Duncan

    Why is this former Huffington Post Blogger turned COP Chairperson going on The Daily Show opining about anything other than the COP’s role of tracking expenditures?

    The COP is an accounting function. It was established to track TARP expenditures—not to establish policy. Warren, by overextending her mandate, marginalizes the very important role of the COP and turns it into politics as usual.

    And you’re wondering why she’s not taken seriously?

    And please, cut the garbage about not taking her seriously because she’s a woman. What a cop out. Elizabeth Warren is not taken seriously because of her crap analysis on bankruptcies and medical bills.

    Her “studies” were concocted from the get-go to “prove” that an astronomical number of bankruptcies were caused by were caused by medical problems. It’s been cited as Exhibit A in Junk Social Science.

    The study with David Himmelstein was called “Illness and Injury as Contributors to Bankruptcy.” Seems innocuous enough, right?

    Until you look under the hood.

    According to Warren—54.5% of all bankruptcies have a “medical cause” and that 46.2% of all bankruptcies have a “major medical cause.”

    Only, it’s total BS. The only way to arrive at these figures is to falsify the definition of “medical bankruptcy” to such an extent that gambling, drug or alcohol addictions, as well as the birth or adoption of a child wind up being “medical causes” of bankruptcies—-no matter the actual cause of their financial problems.

    Obviously, there are situations in which a researcher could legitimately classify those conditions as “medical”. But Warren exaggerated to such an extent that in her world, a father who gambles away his family’s mortgage payment is the victim of crushing medical bills.

    In Warren’s World, a bankruptcy is classified as being caused by a “major medical cause” if the debtors had more than $1000 in accumulated, out-of-pocket medical expenses (uncovered by insurance) over the course of the two years prior to the bankruptcy—even if the debtors themselves did not cite illness or injury as among the reasons for their bankruptcy!

    Are you kidding me? The debtor does NOT cite medical expenses as a problem…has approx $45 a month in expenses…and yet, according to Warren—this is a “major medical cause”!

    Consider also: Her “study” used the year 2001 as the basis.

    In 2001 the AVERAGE per capita out-of-pocket medical expenses were $683. So…even though the average American spent about 1/3 more on medical expenses during the 2 year period, Warren still manages to group ALL cases involving expenses of more than $1000 as bankruptcies with a “major medical cause”.

    Law Professors Todd Zywicki and Gail Heriot (a woman!) completely discredited Warren’s study.

    Again, back to Warren’s World, they wrote in WT, “A bankrupt person with $1001 in uncovered medical expenses and $50,000 on a Bloomingdale’s card would constitute a “medical bankruptcy” in their study. Perhaps their expansive definition of “medical bankruptcy” should include self-proclaimed “shopaholics” as well.”

    There are many reasons to criticize Elizabeth Warren. And doing so does not necessarily amount to cheauvanism.

  20. lambert_strether_openid

    Dan, here’s Warren’s list of publications and her bio Please read them and get back. Then you can retract “this former Huffington Post Blogger turned COP Chairperson” — since, for anybody who does their homework, that opening line is going to cause them to ignore the rest of your comment (as I did).

    As for why she went on the Daily Show? Could it be that she was asked to? I’m not a telepath, so I can’t speak to her motives, but if I were asked to go on one of the few shows on TV that has an ounce of integrity, I would. Wouldn’t you?

  21. Richard Smith

    If you do make it to Dan’s second paragraph, that’s wrong too.

    This ‘accounting function’ canard about the COP has been parroted so zealously that the actual text of the mandate may come as a surprise. Here it is:

  22. X

    And Dan, her study is far from discredited. Zywicki and Heriot hardly merit a serious response for their op-ed, but there was a an actual paper disputing Warren’s study which takes up most or all of their points. There is a response to that paper here:

    That is what it looks like to be discredited. Warren is beyond reproach (though of course not beyond criticism)in her work. Intelligent criticism is one thing, but calling her work junk and not backing it up is a right-wing talking point.

    In fact your entire post is a right-wing talking point. If it is an honest mistake then this could be a starting point towards learning to critically evaluate what is and isn’t a good source. If you repeat right-wing talking points on purpose, I think you’ll find that most around here (including the conservatives) are immune to it.

  23. Doc Holiday

    Re: “I’m not a telepath”

    I was sensing that you may have been one previously; are you feeling that too, or is it just me?

    I think it is somewhat sad for our society that so many people have lost touch with their inner potential abilities and their actual day-to-day abilities to communicate (with others). Perhaps we, as a society are too busy being awed and shocked by the speed at which porn downloads, versus taking a little more time to ponder the deeper meanings of what it means to be intelligent.

    This is the type of question I have for Generation Whatever They Are Call Themselves, i.e. after all is said and done with what your doing, with all your smaller and smaller handheld devices that offer faster and faster computing power — how will you be defined in the long-run in terms of how future generations will regard the information you missed out on, while you were being mesmerized by bullshit? Huh.. huh?

    I think that Q? (somehow) takes me back to my interest in the decline of the number of people that are or could have been telepathic, but then again, they know what I’m trying to say and I wish they were here right now, because I think all that is left for me to say.

    So when you say psychosomatic, you mean like he could start a fire with his thoughts?

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