Friday, December 02, 2011

A blow against faux reportorial balance

Left-side political commentators such as Greg Sargent and Steve Benen, along with the more even-handed James Fallows, keep a constant watch for faux balance in political reporting -- that is, quoting partisans on both sides of a given issue without giving any hint if the claims of one side (or both) are manifestly false or unsupported by evidence. 

Today, the New York Times' senior economics columnist Floyd Norris strikes a blow against faux balance, and does so in good reportorial fashion, by calling in outside authority. In fact in this case, the 'authority' is the news hook for the article. 

The subject is the stuck housing market: the policy in question is stronger mortgage relief for underwater homeowners.  The occasion is more or less explicit calls from Fed governors for such intervention. The ground is well prepared for this infusion of reportorial judgment...
To many Republicans, the answer is simply to let the markets sort it out. That prescription seems to be based more on ideology than on any actual analysis of how the housing market is functioning...
 ...which is covered by the sentence close and subsequent backup:
and it seems to infuriate Fed officials.

“Regardless of how we got here, we, as a nation, currently have a housing market that is so severely out of balance that it is hampering our economic recovery,” said Elizabeth A. Duke, a Fed governor, in a speech in September.

Mr. Dudley, the New York Fed president, also denounced the way the market was functioning. “In contrast to the efficient mechanisms in place in the commercial property market to work out troubled debt,” he said in his speech at West Point, “the infrastructure of the residential mortgage market is wholly inadequate to deal with a systemic shock to the housing market. Left alone, this flawed structure will destroy much more value in housing than is necessary.”
As a columnist not on the op-ed page, Norris operates in a kind of middle zone between opinion and reporting. On the op-ed page, Paul Krugman denounces anti-Keynesian policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic twice a week. In the business section, Norris and David Leonhardt are more circumspect -- they have more space to build a case, they cite more data and more outside authorities, and they are less strident in putting forward their own prescriptions. They do advance policy recommendations.  But still, an outright dismissal of a core position held on one side of the aisle strikes me as rare.

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