Maven: Off Balance

The business press could have a liberal bias, just not the kind you're thinking.
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Let's assume for quick moment that the accusations that the media have a slight liberal bias are true. The Business Press Maven cares nothing about how this would contort political coverage but wants to explain how it would cloud business coverage. (I'm not saying it's true; let's just pretend for a moment here.) The effects would be a little subtler than you think -- we're not talking rank boosterism here -- but any investor who wants to get a bead on which way the economy might head -- especially with a possibly power-shifting election looming -- needs to understand them, and quickly.

Liberals tend to believe in a more active government, which means they have confidence in the federal government's ability to do a lot, including running the economy (one way or another) and affecting the stock market (one way or another.)

A realist looks at any long-term measure of either the economy or the stock market and says, "Wait a minute." Over any big swath of history, there ain't a bit of difference in stock market or economic performance under either party. Sure, different sectors might be favored or reviled under certain parties. But -- and this is very foreign to any liberal viewpoint -- it doesn't appear to even matter who is in Washington long term.

The same might not be said of Iraq, but remember: We're talking the economy and stock market here.

And that seems to mean you could have a Bush, a Carter or a monkey with a green eyeshade in the Oval Office, and it wouldn't make a substantive difference. There simply does not exist a ship's wheel in Washington that is held to steer the economy or the stock market.

This is important, because when President Clinton claimed that a $50 billion spending package was going to spur a $30 trillion or so economy, we knew we could ignore it. It was like saying you were going to throw a pebble in the ocean and make waves. And when President Bush credits minor, narrowly targeted tax decreases in the face of a vast international economy for whatever he credits them, we are also well advised to ignore him.

And when the media start to pontificate about what the economy might do under a change in political control, write it off to liberal bias -- no matter what is being said. Take

a piece this week from

NPR

, which starts with the canard that business favors the Republicans and then reacts with wonderment that the stock market has been going gangbusters even though it looks like Democrats might return to some semblance of power in the upcoming election.

It later surmises that the stock market might be taking special comfort in the prospect of gridlock, bringing up the prospect of President Bush using a veto pen, a pen, incidentally, he'd have to find, because so far it has seemed to have been buried somewhere in his desk. In any case, this story would appear to suffer from the liberal bias we're talking about. It's not necessarily a bias in favor of Democrats but a bias that there is no greater force than Washington. Anyone who wants a good sense of where the economy and stock market are headed is well advised to ignore any talk that presupposes this and focus on the larger forces of the economy.

Revision Rage

Speaking of larger forces, can you give The Business Press Maven a supporting lift so I can get through this next subject? No sooner had my fit of pique over how the business media were blindsided once again by a revision to GDP subsided, then guess what? The government said 139,000 more jobs than originally thought were created in August and September. Do the journalists who keep reporting on these original numbers as if they will stand the test of time deserve a going over or what?

These days, celebrities can get instant free publicity one of two ways. They can adopt a baby in Africa or they can say they are thinking of buying a newspaper. Jack Welch, late of

GE

(GE) - Get Report

, may have gotten wider mention of the book he is peddling by appearing to be interested in buying

The Boston Globe

as he was on his book tour. Only time will tell just how interested Mr. Soft White Light actually was, but The Business Press Maven wants to give out his coveted "Nod of Approval" award to a

BusinessWeek

story that opens by ending the fantasy that such fat cats would be immune to market pressures. (

BusinessWeek

brings up Brian Tierney who came to the helm of the Fluff-idelphi

Inquirer

promising all sorts of good things and is now talking layoffs like everyone else.)

The Business Press Maven, who loves reading newspapers and gets paid by them, as well as by this Web site and book publishers (dang, I'm good), has always been puzzled by the oft-mentioned contention that newspapers would, in these times, be better off private because they would not have to worry about Wall Street pressures. They have good profit margins, this line of thin thinking goes, so why aren't they just left alone? The problem is that margins have never survived years of flat or declining revenue, and we are already seeing them getting pinched. In this case, it is important to understand that Wall Street is actually being more forward-looking than the companies it is passing judgment on. In any case,

BusinessWeek

talks about how private equity might usher in an era of what the magazine terms "brutal accountability."

And speaking of brutal accountability, press release jargon does not get enough. Every industry needs a shorthand, of course. (Journalism has the dubious distinction of having a shorthand "lede" that isn't any shorter than the original "lead.") But jargon is too general, hides meaning and is so commonly uttered that it appears inarguable. Anyhow: Business Press Maven reader Mark Solomon, mentioned in a weekday piece, has compiled a list of nonsensical phrases that are put in press releases and too often make it straight into stories. Mr. Solomon calls his list the Press Unmentionables or "PUs." The Business Press Maven will give out his first annual "Solomon PU Award" to the reader who can add to the list of terrible press release jargon. Who among you will have first-mover advantage?

A journalist with a background on Wall Street, Marek Fuchs has written the County Lines column for The New York Times for the past five years. He also contributes regular breaking news and feature stories to many of the paper's other sections, including Metro, National and Sports. Fuchs was the editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net, a financial Web site twice named "Best of the Web" by Forbes Magazine. He was also a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Manhattan and a money manager. He is currently writing a chapter for a book coming out in early 2007 on a really embarrassing subject. He lives in a loud house with three children.