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Baker Response

Baker Response

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Published by NPRombudsman

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Published by: NPRombudsman on Oct 11, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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To my mind, the bias in whether the reporters say good or bad things about the Democrats orRepublicans are very much secondary. Frankly, I think that most people are pretty good at seeingthrough these biases. The biases that I concern myself with are far more fundamental. For example, theselection of people as experts and how the reporters treat their views.Just to take an issue that I am intimately familiar with, we had a huge housing bubble driving theeconomy from 2002-2007. It was (to my mind) easy to see both that it was a bubble and that it wouldeventually burst and cause very serious damage to the economy. (I wrote this in dozens of places, sonone of this is 20/20 hindsight.) Needless to say, the vast majority of economists did not share this view.As it turns out, the vast majority of economists were hugely wrong. They missed the biggest thing tohappen to the economy in 70 years. To my mind this should call into question their understanding of theeconomy. However, reporters would consider it incredibly rude and inappropriate to point out that aparticular economist whom they are interviewing failed to see the biggest asset bubble in the history of the world. Nor would it ever occur to them that this could mean that this person may really not have avery good understanding of the economy, and therefore may not be a good person to get views topresent to listeners.Again, based on the fact that I saw this thing clear as day, I think that any economist who did notrecognize the bubble really does have some problems with their understanding of the economy.Interestingly, no one at the Fed, the IMF, the Treasury, or to my knowledge at any other publicinstitution lost their job or even missed a promotion for failing to see the bubble and warn of itsconsequences. To my mind, this speaks to an incredible failing in the economics profession, whichmeans that you cannot simple accept someone's credential as evidence that they understand theeconomy. (This is sort of like in the Soviet Union before its fall. They had a large group of credentialMarxist economists whose views on the economy [with few exceptions] would not have beeninformative to listeners.)I think that reporters have to take some responsibility for presenting people that have credible views tolisteners and if there are reasons to question their credibility to make that clear.I should point out that this is not just a one-time story (albeit a very big one-time). I was appalled by thereporting on the jobs report released yesterday that carried the "better than expected," theme. This wasmade possible by a lot of economists saying silly things about a double dip recession. They had no goodstory for a double-dip, for whatever reason they just decided it was a cool thing to say. Then we get anemployment report that by any reasonable measure should be taken as awful (it will take us 80 years atthis pace of job growth to get back to full employment) and the coverage is "better than expected."[here's my comment on a Post piece http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/beat-the-press/washington-post-calls-jobs-report-better-than-incompetent-economists-had-expected] It was a mistake to rely on the double-dippers as credible sources because they did not have a plausiblestory. But even worse, the fact that they were shown to be completely wrong will not affect thelikelihood that they will again be used as sources for future stories. If being wrong doesn't increase the

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