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Washington Post Crashed and Burned Watch (Marcus Brauchli's Last Chance Edition)

A correspondent who wishes me ill sends me a link to a Washington Post article that contains:

Amity Shlaes: 1937, in Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term. The New Deal was almost five years old, but the economy was not back. In fact, the country seemed farther from recovery than before...

And identifies Amity Shlaes as:

a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations...

A newspaper that had even a shred of concern for informing rather than misleading its readers would have identified Amity Shlaes as:

a right-wing propagandist fired from the Financial Times for her coverage of Hurricane Katrina, in which she wrote "the fact that the country and President Bush personally were already mobilised for disaster has saved lives.... September 11 changed Mr Bush and the country.... Mr Bush grew into a new role of leader in emergencies.... In addition to its old Federal Emergency Management Agency, [the government] created the Office of Homeland Security to co-ordinate local, state and federal responses. The level of preparedness for a giant storm may not have been obvious outside the country. But the US was prepared for Katrina. All the old and new federal offices worked together and confronted the storm early..." The wingnut welfare network has gotten Ms. Shlaes a new post at the Council on Foreign Relations.

And a newspaper that had even a shred of concern for informing rather than misleading its readers would have made Ms. Shlaes add a sentence to her description of the recovery, so that it would read instead:

Amity Shlaes: 1937, in Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term. The New Deal was almost five years old, but the economy was not back. In fact, the country seemed farther from recovery than before. 48.8 million people were employed in 1937, compared to 38.6 million in Herbert Hoover's last year. The unemployment rate in 1937 averaged 9.2% (counting WPA workers as employed), compared to 22.9% in 1932...

Marcus Brauchli has a problem. He heads an organization in crisis. But every day what is published under his name reinforces the Washington Post's reputation as bad-quality fishwrap whose editors care nothing at all for informing their readers. There are still some reporters--a few--at the Post doing their jobs, but they are part of a true dog's breakfast: small undigested nuggets of nourishment embedded in a substance that concern for the delicacy and sensitivity of my gentle readers forbids me from naming.

Brauchli's only chance is, I think, to change the culture: this afternoon he should fire Fred Hiatt and John Pomfret, and say that the culture of the Post will no longer be one that misleads its readers through "balanced" appeasing of the politically powerful, but instead one that strains every nerve to make its readers the best-informed and most-knowledgeable people on the planet.

Remember, Pomfret is the guy who on September 14, 2008 thought it was worth publishing Donald Luskin:

Quit Doling Out That Bad-Economy Line: Things today just aren't that bad. Sure, there are trouble spots in the economy, as the government takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and jitters about Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers, amply demonstrate. And unemployment figures are up a bit, too. None of this, however, is cause for depression -- or exaggerated Depression comparisons. Overall, the pessimists are up against an insurmountable reality: In the last reported quarter, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.3 percent, adjusted for inflation. That's virtually the same as the 3.4 percent average growth rate since -- yes -- the Great Depression.

Why, then, does the public appear to agree with the media? A recent Zogby poll shows that 66 percent of likely voters believe that "the entire world is either now locked in a global economic recession or soon will be." Actually, that's a major clue to what started this thought-contagion about everything being the worst it has been "since the Great Depression": Politics. Patient zero in this epidemic is the Democratic candidate for president....

A housing "slump," a housing "crisis"? A "severe" price decline? According to the latest report from the National Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing home is up 8.5 percent from the low of last February. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median price of a new home is up 1.3 percent from the low of last December. Home prices may not be at all-time highs -- and there are pockets of continuing decline in some urban areas -- but overall they've clearly stopped going down and have started to recover. So why keep proclaiming a "crisis" after it's over? "Turmoil" in the debt markets? Sure, but we've seen plenty worse. According to the FDIC, there have been a total of 13 bank failures in 2007 and so far into 2008. There were 15 in 1999-2000, the climax of the Obama-celebrated era of Clintonian prosperity. And in recession-free 1988-89, there were 1,004 failures -- almost an order of magnitude more than today. Since the Great Depression, the average number of bank failures each year has been 94. Despite highly publicized losses in subprime mortgage lending, bank equity capital -- the best measure of core financial strength -- is now $1.35 trillion, more than the $1.28 trillion level of mid-2007, before the "turmoil" even began....

Some economic indicators -- export growth and non-defense capital goods orders such as industrial machinery, for example -- are running at levels associated with brisk expansion. Others are running at middling levels, such as the closely followed Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index. But it's actually difficult to find many that are running at truly recessionary levels. There have been 11 recessions since the Great Depression. And we're nowhere close to being in the 12th one now. This isn't just a matter of opinion. Words -- even words as seemingly subjective as "recession" -- have meaning....

McCain campaign adviser and former U.S. senator Phil Gramm was right in July when he said that our current state "is a mental recession." Maybe he was out of line when he added that the United States has become "a nation of whiners." But when it comes to the economy, we have surely become a nation of exaggerators. Yet Gramm was pilloried for his remarks, and McCain had to distance himself from his adviser by joking that in a McCain administration, Gramm would be ambassador to Belarus. What does it say about our nation that it has become political suicide to state the good news that our economy is not in recession? Whatever the political outcome this year, hopefully this will prove to be yet another instance of that iron law of economics and markets: The sentiment of the majority is always wrong at key turning points. And the majority is plenty pessimistic right now. That suggests that we're on the brink not of recession, but of accelerating prosperity...

And Charlotte Allen:

John Pomfret (journalist) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: On March 2, 2008, the Washington Post's Outlook opinion section published a controversial piece about women, authored by conservative writer Charlotte Allen and edited by Pomfret, entitled "We Scream, We Swoon. How Dumb Can We Get." The piece claimed that "Depressing as it is, several of the supposed misogynist myths about female inferiority have been proven true" and suggested that women should "shriek and swoon and gossip and...not mind the fact that way down deep, we can be...kind of dim." The piece was criticized by the paper's ombudsman, who wrote "The Post is a newspaper, not a comedy club. And Allen's article was a bad joke." The piece was also criticized by Columbia Journalism Review, journalism professor Jay Rosen, and throughout the blogosphere. The Columbia Journalism Review's Megan Garber hypothesized that, despite the widespread criticism of the piece, "judging by the hundreds of comments the piece has already received, it’s a winner, tally-wise, whatever else its (many) failings. Because of that, we’ll probably see more similarly ridiculous pieces in the Post’s pages and elsewhere." Pomfret has said that "it presented a different, albeit very non-PC take at a time when women and politics is a riveting topic in this country. I expected the piece to be controversial, but I did not expect the intensity of the reaction."

If Brauchli moves this afternoon to say that it is in the information business, then the organization may survive and find a niche.

If not: five years, and it is gone.