October 15, 2008
Time magazine, Oct. 13, 2008. (Newseum collection)

Time magazine, Oct. 13, 2008. (Newseum collection)

Media Failed To Make Cents of Financial Crisis?

Crisis. Bailout. Fears. Panic.

Since mid-September, chaos on Wall Street has dominated newspaper front pages across the country. Now a global financial meltdown is making headlines worldwide, and some are asking what role journalists played in the crisis.

A recent series of headlines on Tina Brown’s new Web site, "The Daily Beast," summed up some of the sentiments: Is the Press Spooking the Market? Should Reporters Go To Jail? Did Jim Cramer Sink the Dow?

Early on, critics charged the media with fear-mongering, saying overhyped reports were contributing to the disaster. Others blamed journalists for not realizing potential problems in the markets, and then warning the public.

"As in the savings and loan scandal of the late 1980s, the press was a day late and several dollars short," longtime press critic Howard Kurtz concluded in The Washington Post last Monday.

CNBC correspondent Charlie Gasparino even apologized for the perceived failures: "What we didn’t understand was that this was building up," Gasparino told Kurtz. "We all bear responsibility to a certain extent."

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Some reporters had looked skeptically at the financial issues, particularly in the subprime mortgage industry, months ago. Media columnist David Carr of The New York Times defended that reporting.

"After large-scale financial disasters, the press is usually criticized — often justly — for ignoring the problem, but it’s hard to make that case with the subprime mess," Carr wrote late last month. "If no one saw this coming, they were not looking."

An exhibit on the media and the financial crisis can be found in the Newseum’s News Corporation News History Gallery, where historic newspapers from the Great Depression also are on display.

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