Thursday, April 28, 2011

Subtle Political Bias On CNBC Yesterday Morning

Sometimes political bias seeps into business coverage so subtly that you don't really notice it at first.

This morning, on CNBC, this was on display front and center.

David Faber was co-anchoring with Becky Quick and Joe Kernen. Faber projects serious analytical credentials, which served to further blur what was about to take place. The guy he replaced for the morning has no such credentials, having apparently been selected to provide ethnic balance on the morning program.

Thus, when House GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor appeared for an extensive discussion regarding the upcoming action on the nation's debt limit, the biased stage was set.

I won't give a blow by blow account of the discussion. You can probably correctly guess that Cantor defended the need to cut spending while raising the debt limit.

Faber, who leans politically fairly far left, judging by his on-air comments over a decade, chided Cantor for potentially creating a monetary disaster by causing the federal government to default on its debt.

For the record, despite what so many pundits, and Tim Geithner, allege, that's not the only outcome of a failure to raise the debt limit. The House can easily pass a bill to direct the Treasury to prioritize spending in order to pay interest, retire maturing debt, etc., so that internal spending is left unfunded.

What was so subtle, however, was how the network employed Faber to give a patina of credible analysis to what is largely a political topic.

Cantor gave as good as he got, being the intelligent and poised guy that he is. But what struck me as I listened was how, given Faber's line of attack, was his clear desire to put Cantor on the defensive, and completely ignore the excessive spending in Washington.

How differently another network could have handled the same appearance. Imagine a co-anchor asking Cantor if it were wise to pass the debt limit increase without any corresponding spending cuts to at least try to rein in federal fiscal excess?

The debate ran to issues like tax reform, on which Faber used the magic liberal phrase about wealthy people and corporations paying "their fair share." In this instance, Faber's analytical credibility was perhaps most misused, because his comments displayed a total misunderstanding of the difference between tax rates for and total taxes paid by various income strata. But, to hear Faber tell it, right along Democratic party lines, Cantor was espousing cutting spending on the poor, giving tax relief to the wealthy, while flirting with US government default.

Later, Texas Congressman Ron Paul made a guest appearance to discuss his announcement of an exploratory committee for a presidential candidacy, as well as his views on Bernanke's afternoon press conference.

In Paul's case, the subtle bias was to play a sort of video rope-a-dope. Paul is very serious and well-informed, being the current chair of the sub-committee of the House overseeing the Fed. When Paul lit into the Fed's opaqueness, failure to maintain the dollar's value, and a host of other mistakes, the co-anchors were largely mute. Nobody tried to debate Paul's allegations, nor make him out to be a wing nut. Instead, it was like Paul was declaiming into an empty room.

Sometimes I think CNBC is the anti-business network. This morning was a good example of it.

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