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Panting Media Miss Reality

Reactions to H-P and Dell show the consistent overreaction of media to daily stories.
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Please forgive The Business Press Maven's more moderate sensibilities, but it is truly a sight to behold, is it not? As the business media busily interpret any slight underperformance by a retailer as primarily the fault of the foreclosure on customers' homes, they are simultaneously saying that Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) - Get Free Report real solid earnings were the exclusive doing of the efforts of Mark Hurd, their latest CEO genius in the making -- without always mentioning Dell's (DELL) - Get Free Report ongoing disfavor in the eyes of those consumers, who are apparently still buying computers even though they are all losing their homes.

You sense a pattern here? That's right. When it comes to how the economy and stocks are portrayed by the business media, they are not biased in any one particular way.

The little devils are just always overreacting, overdoing and overreaching, and it's on perfect display here. The subprime mess is serious and no one has been more negative on housing than The Business Press Maven. But should the performance of every retailer with obvious merchandising issues be seen through eyes of subprime? No.

And should an obviously competent CEO be drawn as an absolute genius, because his most serious competitor has, for reasons he had nothing to do with, been unspooling? No.

Thursday saw

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Free Report

,

Kohl's

(KSS) - Get Free Report

and

Nordstrom

(JWN) - Get Free Report

all report good results, and we heard some raised outlooks.

At the same time, we were reading about how

Macy's

(M) - Get Free Report

underperformed and cut its numbers. Unless I'm sorely mistaken, these retailers are operating under the same sun, no?

But as we saw earlier in the week with

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Free Report

and

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Free Report

, two other retailers with merchandising troubles, outside of

The Wall Street Journal

, most media outlets wove these particular troubles into a scary

Tale of the Dead Consumer.

I guess they just get undead to shop at Penney's, Kohl's and Nordstrom's or to buy computers from Hewlett-Packard. But forget analysis. Look at this alarmist

Financial Times

headline: "Macy's Cuts Its Forecast in the Latest Case of Retail Gloom."

Furthering the pessimistic tone struck by giant retailers Wal-Mart and Home Depot ... we are soon reading and we are told what went wrong: the acquisition of Macy's stores strained the companies resources in here we go again economically difficult times, as consumers seemed more reluctant to spend amid a record housing slump and high energy costs."

The Wall Street Journal

distinguishes itself, as it did earlier in the week, by

keeping its eye

on the company level problems, which had to do with the merger but not housing.

They tell us right there in the second sentence (before mentioning a weaker economy, which is a factor but must be subordinated, considering) that the company is struggling after converting many disparate stores it owned to the Macy's name.

Everyone hates it and it'll be a struggle -- and take time -- to get right, if they ever do. Customers in their more upscale stores, like the former Marshall Field's, see Macy's as downmarket. The former Filene's customers see Macy's as too swanky. The point -- with apologies to the overreactors, overdoers and overreachers -- is that this is mostly Macy's merger mess, not a mortgage mess.

Women's Wear Daily

also offers a good guide to the transformation, which is at the root of the problem.

In terms of Hurd and Dell, plain and simple: for an article to provide any meaningful perspective, the word "Dell" has to be in it.

CBS

Marketwatch from Dow Jones actually tells Hurd to "take another bow" on the front page of its Web site. But in the article that follows? No mention of Dell, whose weakness has helped the competent Hurd look better than probably even he ever expected.

And Then There Was Light

Or, at the very least, a new sort of light. The Business Press Maven wants to spot companies in a new column for

TheStreet.com

, but I am going to need your help. Public and investor relations hacks have successfully ironed all spontaneity, texture and reality out of analyzing a company. Every presentation to the public is choreographed right down to the last anecdote uttered by an executive at a conference, the last I dotted on the latest press release.

The Business Press Maven has sacrificed to fight back against the end result, earning enemies among the business media as I have pointed out their flaws on my way to being ranked the best business journalism critic in the nation. But we also have to get closer to the source of the trouble here.

Part of the reason the business media are so callous to the truth is that companies have made it easy for them to produce copy. The camera-friendly presentations given along with tasty Danish helps them hit those deadlines.

The few good journalists might fight back with a bit of critical thought, a raised eyebrow as they are repeating a company claim -- but the split-the-difference, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other hand form of the modern corporate media culture has, along with the convenience factor, given the staged, systematized public and investor relations efforts too much credence. Play a game of on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand with a hustler, and you are that much closer to being hustled.

Now, in the name of truth, it's time for us to fight back.

Look, if you work for a company who comes out with a ridiculous, blowhardy, cloying claim in a press release or at a public conference, email me. I want to make mischief and get at truth by setting these overly rehearsed claims, taken too often as fact by the business media, against the knowledge of the working rank and file. Public relations officials against the workers of their own companies, who will be granted anonymity.

At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

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. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;

click here

to send him an email.