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November 17, 2016

Financial Regulation As A Template For Journalistic Transparency

Look at any financial or economic report from the research arm of an American investment bank and you will discover a bewildering array of disclosures, mandated by the Federal government as part of its never-ending drive to level the playing field of investing and – possibly more important to the mandarins in Washington -- cut into the large bonuses of bankers and the profits of these banks. These disclosures cover everything from the personal and family holdings of the analysts writing the reports, to the business relationships of the parent firms, to the latest colonoscopy results of the janitor who cleans the analysts’ offices. Any conflict of interest, however small and inconsequential, must be disclosed, on pain of sanction of the analyst and the firm. Those sanctions include fines, temporary or permanent banishment from the industry, and, rarely, jail time.


In addition to these disclosures, analysts and banks are restricted by a byzantine rule book that is routinely reinterpreted, amended and added to by the regulators, who take great delight in finding narrow, technical violations that would be open to interpretation (or seen as insane) by any sentient human being, and hammering the firms, in public if possible. Oh, and there is more than one regulatory agency, so FINRA (Financial Institution Regulatory Authority) might have a rule that specifically contradicts an SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) rule. And just to make it more fun, each state can regulate and hold criminally and civilly liable any of these analysts and their firms. Remember Eliot Spitzer?

These disclosures are not designed to control what information is released or the opinions of the analysts and economists, but rather to ensure that there are no ulterior motives governing the analysts’ financial opinions, and that all investors, from individuals to huge institutional investors, receive the same information at the same time.

The claim is, of course, that without objective analysis, untainted by secret (insider) information, financial connections, and self-interest, the American investor will be denied the information he or she requires to make sound financial decisions and will be ripe for the taking by the financial industry.
As we all know, since the Media has told us repeatedly, America hates big banks (almost as much as they hate journalists). And the U.S. Congress and various state legislatures have used that dislike to great effect, both for political gain (banks are a convenient whipping boy) and for financial gain (fines levied against banks can run into the many billions of dollars).

Yet the American people have never been presented with the opportunity to regulate the information they receive from the press, the very people for whom they have such contempt. Why is that? The United States Constitution frowns on control of the media, and specifically states that:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And I wholeheartedly support every word of the 1st Amendment. Our founders were very smart men and understood the danger of a press that was beholden to government for its existence.

So why regulate the press? Or to be precise, why demand disclosures of any conflict of interest on the part of the journalists who are tasked with providing America with news?

And even more pressing: How can one justify any regulation of a clear and unambiguous right to free speech and a free press? Well….I can’t…but the Left certainly can. Just look at the rhetoric of 2nd Amendment regulation for the talking points to justify this. “Reasonable regulation” in the public interest is perfectly okay if it means taking away my right to keep and bear arms (the 2nd Amendment is even more clear and concise than the 1st Amendment), so I will use their logic to take away their right to an unfettered and out-of-control press that is clearly biased in favor of their world view.

But back to the original question: Why do it? Because the media are broken. There is not even a semblance of objectivity among the journalists who report the news. In a 2016 study by The Center For Public Integrity, 96% of the money donated by reporters to the 2016 presidential candidates went to Hillary.

donation graph.png

In all, people identified in federal campaign finance filings as journalists, reporters, news editors or television news anchors — as well as other donors known to be working in journalism — have combined to give more than $396,000 to the presidential campaigns of Clinton and Trump, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.

Nearly all of that money — more than 96 percent — has benefited Clinton: About 430 people who work in journalism have, through August, combined to give about $382,000 to the Democratic nominee, the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis indicates.

That the political imbalance is bad enough (it speaks volumes about the lack of diversity...their favorite buzz-word), but their insistence that even with that clear conflict of interest that they can be objective is an affront to the intelligence of the American people and a slap in the face to the ideals of a free press. That they are in the thrall of the ruling party bothers them not a whit. That they cannot see that they are shackled to a political party is a testament to their obliviousness and lack of intelligence.

And that’s okay.

Actually it is not okay, but I do not believe that it can be changed, so I will tolerate it.

But what can be changed is America’s awareness of these nefarious connections to the politicians that the media should be reporting on, but who are instead simply regurgitating the current talking points generated by the communications directors and press secretaries.

And the change is simple. Mandate disclosures, modeled after financial disclosures, for every journalist publishing in America. A simple short paragraph below each article outlining political contributions, family and personal connections, as well as any personal communication that the reporter or pundit or journalist has received from the people about which he is reporting. And then require the newspaper or the network to report the same information about its senior management or owners. If that is an onerous burden, as undoubtedly would be argued, than an internet link to that information can be provided. And any other reasonable accommodation can be made to streamline the process, but the objective measures: political donations and personal connections of those controlling the information would be available to any interested party.

Notice I said nothing about controlling the information they report on and pontificate about and manipulate and blow out of proportion and bury. They can keep being the Democrat Party’s fluffers to their heart’s content. They can keep trying to be the story and support their favored politicians and protect their access to the inside scoop and the best cocktail parties and do all of the things that most of us find vile beyond belief. In short, they can say whatever they want. This is not censorship.

But…we will have objective information about their lack of objectivity. And then American voters can decide for themselves, using objective analysis of the information they are provided by the press whether to believe that yes, Donald Trump is in fact the racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic Antichrist who said PUSSY! and Hillary Rodham Clinton is an angel sent by God to save humanity from the deprivations of the Republican Party and its deplorable, gun-toting adherents in the hinterlands.

Or, Hillary Rodham Clinton is a kleptocrat in the mold of Tammany Hall, but without even a passing interest in the well-being of her constituents. That her two desires are power and riches, and if the country suffers an existential decline…so be it. That her lust for lucre came at the cost of the victims of her serial rapist husband, the four dead in Benghazi, the rape of what little integrity the State Department ever had, the security of the United States, and a dozen other significant ethical and legal lapses that were carefully modulated and manipulated and minimized by the media.

There is a rhetorical and logical assumption that, “Freely stated is freely denied.” Which is a fancy way of saying that without facts, a supposition can be denied with ease. The media have, for years, been accused of bias. And their response has always been, “That’s not true.” With disclosures, it would be a more difficult rhetorical feat to continue to deny pervasive prejudice and favoritism.

Many thanks to OregonMuse, who proof-read this and made a few important suggestions

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posted by CBD at 07:00 PM

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