Fear Factor Benefit?

by Roger Pynn

Could the economic crisis be bringing a wave of thoughtful news on a complex situation … writing that aims to educate rather than irritate?

An exceptional column by local Orlando Sentinel Columnist Mike Thomas landed on the driveway about 6 a.m. yesterday. It pointed to what you have to hope will be a trend … in-depth writing on this frightening picture that simplifies and goes beyond the fear it naturally has caused.

Thomas took the scholarly approach and turned to history to accurately explain what’s up, who shares the blame, etc. He did a great job of explaining in Joe Six Pack terms what things like “swaps” are and why they are driving the fear factor. There are – brace yourself – up to $62 trillion in swaps circulating out there.”

Take a look at this Wikipedia entry and you’ll see Thomas did a public service with this simplified description: “Basically swaps are like insurance policies on corporate bonds and securities except they are completely unregulated. So the companies issuing them aren’t required to keep enough money in the bank to pay them off in case of default.”

Deeper in the Sentinel were two stories of uncommon insight.

1. An “A” Section piece from AP’s Eric Carvin headlined “Where Did All “Your” Money Go?”explaining that what you think you’ve lost is actually something you never had. Trillions in market value may be gone, Carvin wrote, but “While the money in your pocket is unlikely to just vanish into thin air, the money you could have had, if only you’d sold your house or drained your stock-heavy mutual funds a year ago, most certainly can.”

2. A Bloomberg News piece by Matthew Benjamin and Michael McKee that reminded us, “Consumer spending is two-thirds of gross domestic product. If Americans close their wallets, recession – or worse – is all but certain.” Even more pointedly, it concluded “It’s simply going to take time for investors’ fears to subside. With asset prices plunging, greed will eventually make a comeback.”

But, by the time the Sunday “Today” show was on, CNBC’s Trish Regan did a fair job of trying to explain that the situation may be more about fear than crisis … a crisis of confidence, she said, but by pointing out that consumers read headlines she left little doubt that the fear gets a lot of fuel from the media.

However, to be fair, “Today” show Financial Editor Jean Chatzky has an uncommonly calming article on the show’s Web site that almost screams “don’t watch us and conclude that the sky is falling!”

In these times, media consumers would be well advised to search for and listen carefully to balanced and accurate reporting … especially those that include the insight of someone other than Chicken Little .

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