Republican presidential candidate John McCain is known to have a somewhat caustic relationship with the media. But, to his credit, he doesn’t hold journalists responsible for the uproar in the financial markets.
From the Washington Post’s political blog: At a town hall meeting in Denver on Thursday, a questioner who identified herself as a small-business owner who had been struggling for two years because of economic conditions asked McCain what could be done about the media, whom she blamed for “killing” the car and real estate businesses.
She received a huge ovation, and the audience tittered as McCain seemed to smile and hesitate before answering the question.
“I do believe there are many occasions where the nature of the media is to exaggerate things and perhaps not be as accurate as we would like them to be,” McCain said to laughter. “But let me say, very seriously, I think one of the biggest causes of this problem was not so much the media. In fact, I don’t think that the media was responsible for what happened at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.”
He went on to blame the beginnings of the crisis on “such a corrupt system in Washington that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac basically got completely out of control, their executives got exorbitant, huge amounts of pay packages,” while encouraging “all this risky behavior in the real estate market.”
Meanwhile, he added, lawmakers and lobbyists, and greed on Wall Street, accelerated the problem.”In all due candor, I can’t blame that on the media,” McCain added — though he hastened to add: “I will blame them for a lot of other things.”
Last month, National Association of Realtors economist Lawrence Yun blamed the media for creating “unfounded concern” among consumers about the health of the real estate market. (Hmm…I didn’t hear anyone complaining when newspapers were writing story after story about record prices and sales.)
The media’s job is to tell people what’s going on. Are stories about falling housing prices making people skittish about buying houses? Undoubtedly yes, but it’s the data and the statistics that are the problem here, not the media.
Anyone whose livelihood is being hurt by the economic downturn, like real estate agents and auto salespeople, probably wishes the news were better. But facts are facts. To say that the media is the reason people are not buying houses is insulting to the intelligence of the American people, who are smart enough to know figure out what’s really going on.
Personally, I wish journalists had investigated the underpinnings of the housing boom before it went bust. But I can’t blame them for not figuring it out; no one else did either. And if they had questioned the situation while everyone was happily making and spending money, they probably would have been accused of being killjoys.
Journalists aren’t perfect, and they don’t always get it right. But a free press is essential to our democracy. We may not like everything we hear on the news, but the alternative — allowing the government or special-interest groups to influence or control what’s reported — is infinitely worse.