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The lede graf from the Wall Street Journal’s front-page story today on the financial overhaul legislation:
Congress approved a rewrite of rules touching every corner of finance, from ATM cards to Wall Street traders, in the biggest expansion of government power over banking and markets since the Depression.
Now from the New York Times:
The sweeping expansion of federal financial regulation approved by Congress on Thursday and now headed to President Obama’s desk reflects a renewed mistrust of financial markets after decades in which Washington stood back from Wall Street with wide-eyed admiration.
The Journal reports on the shift in something concrete and real–power. What has just taken place, the Journal lets you know, is an enlargement of the scope of economic activities that will fall under the coercive capabilities of the state–and it won’t just be Wall Street fat cats who feel the effects, but everyone who so much as uses an ATM machine. The Times reports, by contrast, on something subjective, something that exists mostly in the heads of the reporters and their editors–ideology. The Times graf presents an appealing sense of movement and energy–“sweeping,” “now headed”–and then concludes with a literary device, personification–Washington, standing back, “with wide-eyed admiration”–that, while vivid enough, tells you a lot more about the Times’s politics than about recent political or economic history.
One more comparison, this time dealing with the contents of the legislation. Here let’s start with the Times:
The result is a catalog of repairs and additions to the rusted infrastructure of a regulatory system that has failed to keep pace with the expanding scope and complexity of modern finance.
Once again, we learn about the Times reporters–they like vivid images, and they approve, Lord knows they approve, of the legislation–but find ourselves presented with no actual facts.
Now, the legislation hands off to 10 regulatory agences the discretion to write hundreds of new rules governing finance. Rather than the bill itself, it will be this process–accompanied by a lobbying blitz from banks–that will determine the precise contours of this new landscape, how strict the regulations will be and whether they succeed in their purpose. The decisions will be made by officials from new agencies, obscure agencies, and, in some cases, agencies like the Federal Reserve that faced criticism in the run-up to the crisis.
The Journal may not present its readers with any lovely images here, but it gives them real news, informing us that the legislation represents a mere outline to be filled in by unelected officials and bureaucrats.
Now ask yourself which newspaper best fulfills the journalist duty of skepticism? Of refusing to take government actions at face value? The question all but answers itself, doesn’t it? It ain’t the newspaper that gives its readers little word poems instead of facts.
*Until reading Claire’s post, “Style-Sheet Questions,” I’d never given a moment’s thought to the difference between titling my posts in Title Case or Sentence Case. Now that I have, I like sentence case better. Claire and I have now crossed typographical paths.