Journalistic Malpractice at PBS Frontline

If there were a clearer case of journalistic malpractice, I can’t think of one at the moment. This isn’t just media bias. It’s out-and-out journalistic malpractice bordering on deceit.

This evening the PBS series Frontline broadcast a program called “Money, Power and Wall Street”. It’s about the origins and consequences of the financial crisis that began in 2008. Just from the title, you know it’s dripping with bias.

Still, in order to try to maintain a facade of impartiality, and given that the program’s funding comes from American taxpayers of all political persuasions – not just from leftist taxpayers – you would have thought that Frontline would have at least briefly acknowledged the very popular and very convincing argument that the U.S. government had a significant hand in causing the financial meltdown.

During the program when the topic of subprime mortgages was introduced, which everyone agrees was at the crux of the financial meltdown, the narrator said that the subprime market went from being a very small niche market to a huge one. That begged the obvious question that surely was on the mind of any discerning viewer: how did the subprime market get so big?

This is where the journalistic malpractice really kicked in. Frontline totally ignored why the subprime market got so big. That’s because if they were to explain why it got so big, they would have had to discuss the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and the fact that banks, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and other lending institutions were required by law to make loans to subprime borrowers. (Click here or here for a smidgen of the voluminous literature on the subject.)

Journalists and producers with a modicum of journalistic integrity, even if they leaned left, would have at least briefly mentioned that well-established line of thinking.

Based on what I watched, Frontline didn’t even mention the name Barney Frank in the whole discussion, let alone Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae – all players who were instrumental in promoting the continuation of loans to subprime borrowers.

One speculates as to why they would ignore it. It’s either deceit or ignorance or both. Deceit if the producers of the show were familiar with that line of thinking, and privately acknowledged that it even made some sense, but chose to not present that information because it wasn’t consistent with the agenda they’re trying to promote. Ignorance if the producers of the show have been so conditioned by leftist viewpoints over their lifetimes that they’re mentally incapable of understanding how any arm of the government, except perhaps the military and CIA, can do any wrong, leading them to dismiss the whole CRA angle outright – and ignore the question of how the subprime market got so large because they have no idea themselves how that happened.

Journalistic malpractice, while unfortunate, is a fact of life in a democracy. It’s inevitably going to happen in societies where there’s freedom of the press. People can choose not to patronize or fund the entity committing the malpractice. But what’s galling is when journalistic malpractice is carried out by entities that people are forced to fund through their taxpayer dollars. That goes against everything a free society should stand for. Taxpayer-funded entities should be bound to the highest of standards. Instead, in this case, PBS has been captured by leftists trying to foist an agenda. As the people forced to finance such entities come from both sides of the political spectrum, such taxpayer-funded entities should lose their subsidies, or barring that, be required to hire reporters, editors and producers on both sides of the political spectrum.

Journalists have a professional obligation to present all significant angles of a story. That’s woefully lacking in Frontline. It’s far from a news program. And it doesn’t bill itself as an opinion program. So propaganda program is a more apt description. “Money, Power and Wall Street” easily could have passed as a Michael Moore production.

The principal Frontline interviewer, by the name of Martin Smith, was fond of using the term “crap” while interviewing his subjects, in characterizing the subprime securities that caused the whole mess.

Mr. Smith, your manner of presentation of the issue at hand falls into that category, too.

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BTW, here are some names behind the content of the above-referenced program:

  • Producer – Callie T. Wiser
  • Web Design & Development – Jordyn Bonds
  • Senior Digital Producer – Sarah Moughty
  • Director of Development – Sam Bailey
  • Director of Digital Media/Senior Editor – Andrew Golis
  • Managing Editor – Philip Bennett