Friday, July 27, 2007

What's Good about the Wall Street Journal

The trail of crumbs:

* I find a link in Romanesko, that exemplar of the editor class, to an article by Man of the Left Zbignew Zingh explaining why WSJ is his secret addiction but one he'll kick if Rupert buys it.

* I think how I'd like to pull out a couple grafs for the Cat but feel vaguely guilty, even though it's fair use and I will link to the whole article.

* I find this at the end of the piece:

Zbignew Zingh can be reached at This Article is CopyLeft, and free to distribute, copy, reprint or repost in full with proper author citation and with the "Copyleft" designation. Find out more about Copyleft and read other articles at copyleft 2007 Read other articles by Zbignew, or visit Zbignew's website.

I do not read The Wall Street Journal to keep an eye on my non-existent stock investments. I read The Wall Street Journal because I crave data, particularly data about what the economy, the financial sector and the business community are doing. I want to know what they are doing, and what they are thinking, because, sooner or later, what they do or think will affect you and me. I also subscribe to and read the usual alternative media, print and electronic. But there is a limit to how much political orthodoxy I can take (especially when I agree with most of it) before my political gut starts to demand more substance. It is like those damn doughnuts I eat in the morning: one is good, two is okay; but a straight diet of nothing but screeds and doughnuts leaves you with a soft, flabby belly, a soft, flabby brain and a hankering for more nutrition with less fat.

The WSJ, along with The New York Times and The Washington Post, are the three principle “opinion-makers” in the United States. They set the tone and the editorial policy which then quickly percolates through the rest of the US news media. In an age when “local” media no longer have their own national or international reporters, they rely on the “biggies” to set up the stories for them. The Times, The Post and The Journal propagate the official government stories and the “approved” propaganda. If “your government” wants to channel public opinion in a particular direction, it begins with these three papers. You can read it here today, and read it in your local newspaper tomorrow. The Post writes primarily for Washington’s political wonks and The Times for bleeding heart Republicans who fancy themselves “liberals”. The Journal, however, unabashedly caters to the ruling elite, the moneyed class that owns, and, therefore, does not need to hold elected office. This class’s watchdogs monitor what we are saying; it is imperative that we also monitor what they are saying.

Clearly, it is not every story printed in The Wall Street Journal that merits our attention. This quintessentially mainstream newspaper is as skewed to the right as the rest of them, sometimes more so. However, the staff reporters of The Wall Street Journal are a rather professional lot. The reporters are also unionized and have staged at least one little publicized walk-out to protest the sale of the WSJ to Rupert Murdoch. Buried within many of the reporters’ stories are nuggets of pure information. Thus, while a headline might blandly state that “Investors Shrug Off Sub-Prime Mortgage Collapse” or “Bankers Postpone Sale of Debt for Chrysler LBO”, there lie within the articles heart-stopping descriptions of mountains and mountains of bad debt: collateralized debt obligations, collateralized mortgage obligations, securitized financial shenanigans and unhinged hedge funds that carry book values in the billions of dollars but which really may be worth practically nothing. And then you read who ultimately owns all this bad debt - not the banks (who bundle it, slice it, “repackage” it and resell the debt as “bonds” as fast as they can), not the debt brokers, not the financial big wigs on Wall Street. No, the hot potato often ends up in the lap of teacher and union pension funds, mutual funds, city and state investment vehicles, and foreign investment banks. In the quest for the maximum return on their investments, these entities have indirectly snarfed up investment instruments comprised of the shaky mortgages and gossamer securities that have held the American economy together with spit and duct tape for the past business cycle. And, as usual, it is the lesser people who will be crushed when the edifice finally collapses.

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