Paul Murray's weblog, with news you may have missed and my $0.02 worth on a number of topics.
"You can't make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."
- Art Buchwald
I bet you don't have a friend who's an acupuncturist
E-mail me: pmurray [at] despammed.com
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Thursday, November 15, 2007
Obsessing over image.
There's a number of things that trouble me about the idea of Hillary Clinton as president. One of them is her campaign's obsessive efforts to manage the media, well-described in this New Republic story
If grumbling about a [NYT Barack Obama pickup] basketball story seems excessive, it's also typical of the Clinton media machine. Reporters who have covered the hyper-vigilant campaign say that no detail or editorial spin is too minor to draw a rebuke. Even seasoned political journalists describe reporting on Hillary as a torturous experience. Though few dare offer specifics for the record--"They're too smart," one furtively confides. "They'll figure out who I am"--privately, they recount excruciating battles to secure basic facts. Innocent queries are met with deep suspicion. Only surgically precise questioning yields relevant answers. Hillary's aides don't hesitate to use access as a blunt instrument, as when they killed off a negative GQ story on the campaign by threatening to stop cooperating with a separate Bill Clinton story the magazine had in the works. Reporters' jabs and errors are long remembered, and no hour is too odd for an angry phone call. Clinton aides are especially swift to bypass reporters and complain to top editors. "They're frightening!" says one reporter who has covered Clinton. "They don't see [reporting] as a healthy part of the process. They view this as a ruthless kill-or-be-killed game."
Despite all the grumbling, however, the press has showered Hillary with strikingly positive coverage. "It's one of the few times I've seen journalists respect someone for beating the hell out of them," says a veteran Democratic media operative. The media has paved a smooth road for signature campaign moments like Hillary's campaign launch and her health care plan rollout and has dutifully advanced campaign-promoted themes like Hillary's "experience" and expertise in military affairs. This is all the more striking in light of the press's past treatment of Clinton--particularly during her husband's White House years--including endless stories about her personal ethics, frostiness, and alleged Lady Macbeth persona.
It's enough to make you suspect that breeding fear and paranoia within the press corps is itself part of the Clinton campaign's strategy. And, if that sounds familiar, it may be because the Clinton machine, say reporters and pro-Hillary Democrats, is emulating nothing less than the model of the Bush White House, which has treated the press with thinly veiled contempt and minimal cooperation. "The Bush administration changed the rules," as one scribe puts it--and the Clintonites like the way they look. (To be sure, no one accuses the Clinton team of outright lying to the press, as the Bushies have done, or of crossing other ethical lines. And reporters say other press shops--notably those of Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards--are also highly combative.)
So far, the strategy has worked brilliantly. In the current climate, where the mainstream media is under attack from both conservatives and liberals, Clinton may have picked the right moment to get tough with the press. But, as the murmur of discontent among the fourth estate grows--and Hillary's coverage has taken a sharper tone since a widely panned debate performance late last month--even some Hillary supporters fear that the strategy may produce a dangerous backlash.
Emulating the Bush Adminstration -- yeah, that's an appealing attribute, all right.
Author Michael Crowley goes on to describe the various tactics the campaign uses, which are familiar to anyone paying attention. He also notes that many of her media advisors worked for fellow Senator Charles Schumer. (Schumer inspired the Bob Dole wisecrack that's been recycled about other politicians: "The most dangerous place in Washington is between Chuck Schumer and a TV camera.")(via somewhere I can't remember -- I don't normally read the New Republic)
Labels: Hillary, journalism, media, politics
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Not everyone's a victim.
Media critic Howard Kurtz makes a valuable point today: "Everyone who is defaulting on a home mortgage is not necessarily a victim."
I feel sorry for anyone in that situation. Losing a home is an awful thing. Some were undoubtedly pressured into buying by unscrupulous lenders. Too many greedy players on Wall Street got away with making shaky loans for too long. They sliced and diced mortgage debt into increasingly exotic paper and lost sight of the risks involved, figuring the Fed would bail them out if things got out of hand.
But let's face it: Most of the people who took out home mortgages for no money down knew that this was a roll of the dice. Who gets to buy a house without a down payment? And most of those who took out adjustable-rate mortgages knew that their rate would balloon in a couple of years, and could do so at a level that would be hard to afford. They took the risk anyway. No one forced these folks to take on big mortgages they could barely handle ....
Like people who raced to buy dot-com stocks of companies with no profits, folks bought houses they couldn't afford because the escalator had been going up so quickly for so long that it seemed like a reasonable bet.
But when the mortgage meltdown pieces are written or broadcast, the lead is inevitably someone who is about to lose his or her house, with not so much as a nod toward the notion that these people might have overreached or bears any responsibility at all for their financial plight.
Perhaps inevitably, Hillary Clinton has now proposed a $1-billion fund to help struggling families catch up on their mortgage payments, and John Edwards also wants to give money to those who can't make their payments. So the taxpayers should bail out folks who took out these loans with their eyes wide open?
Labels: economics, media, mortgages
Monday, August 20, 2007
Oh, those hot tips.
I hope you weren't investing based upon Jim Cramer's recommendations on his CNBC Mad Money
show. Barron's explains
Cramer, by all accounts, had a stellar career as a hedge-fund manager. And he is held out by CNBC as the guy who can help viewers make big money. But a comprehensive and careful review of his stock picks by Barron's finds that his picks haven't beaten the market. Over the past two years, viewers holding Cramer's stocks would be up 12% while the Dow rose 22% and the S&P 500 16%, according to a record of 1,300 of the CNBC star's Buy recommendations compiled by YourMoneyWatch.com, a Website run by a retired stock analyst and loyal Cramer-watcher.
We also looked at a database of Cramer's Mad Money picks maintained by his Website, TheStreet.com. It covers only the past six months, but includes an astounding 3,458 stocks -- Buys mainly, punctuated by some Sells. These picks were flat to down in relation to the market. Count commissions and you would have been much better off in an index fund that simply tracks the market.
When we asked Cramer and CNBC for their own records of Mad Money's stock-picking performance, they had more excuses than a Tour de France cyclist dodging a blood test....
This is not so much about picking on Jim Cramer as it is a reminder to view all stock tips with caution. To their credit, SmartMoney
magazine revisits all of their stock suggestions on a regular basis to check their performance.
Labels: investing, media