In Defense of Zero Hedge
“A lot of the readers are people who felt like they’ve lost money to machinations on Wall Street in some way,” reasons Carney. “They see Zero Hedge as standing up for them, so any critique of Zero Hedge is taken as something that really needs to be fought back against. All hands on deck.”
Leo Kolivakis, a Montreal-based pension-fund analyst who recently started making occasional guest posts on Zero Hedge, says he enjoys the large and energized readership he gets writing for Zero Hedge. But even he doesn’t buy everything the site promotes, including the assertions about Goldman’s flash trading. “You can claim that, but where’s your proof? How do I know Lehman and Morgan Stanley weren’t doing the exact same thing? If that was really going on, I think the SEC would move and close that operation up.”
I don’t want this to be about Joe Hagan, because I like Joe Hagan. But I do want to come to the defense of Zero Hedge, about whom Hagan has written in New York magazine.
Let me just say that I’m always suspicious when I see articles about the motivations of journalists. I think they often reflect a misunderstanding of what journalism is all about. Journalists are supposed to be assholes. The system does not work, in fact, if society’s journalists are all nice, kind, friendly, rational people.
You want a good percentage of them to be inconsolably crazy. You want them to be jealous of everything and everyone and to have heaps of personal hangups and flaws. That way they will always be motivated to punch holes in things.
Obviously it would be bad if all journalists were like this, and there is certainly a place for the more gentlemanly school, i.e. those writers and TV reporters who maintain good relationships with politicians and institutions, and work with them to deliver important information to the public.
But the iconoclastic school of journalist should be a difficult person. You know how when you go on the subway, there’s always one asshole on the train who just has to whip a pen out and draw a mustache on the face of the cute blond stewardess in the Jet Blue ad? That’s the kind of person we’re talking about. A pain in the ass on the subway, and in most places (and personal relationships, for that matter), but very useful in this particular profession.
One of the things that inevitably happens when someone like Zero Hedge causes as much damage as he has to very wealthy and connected people is that the media will start looking at who he is. In ZH’s case that’s among other things because he’s a great story, a kind of cyber-Zorro: beyond even his amazing ability to rock the mighty Goldman Sachs from a hitherto unknown blog site, his (formerly) mysterious identity made him an even better feature subject.
But when you shine a light on Zero Hedge, you’re taking the light off the people he’s focusing on. That’s the primary problem with this kind of activity, and one of the reasons you often see this tactic employed against an uncomfortable news-breaker. I’m not saying that was Hagan’s intention — in fact I don’t think it was — but this kind of story can immediately have the effect of shifting the geography of the conversation, from Goldman’s backyard to Zero Hedge’s. I’d expect that from other quarters, but coming from Hagan I’m a little confused by it.
Moreover there are lots of ways to write about a guy like Zero Hedge that will tend to make it look like his reporting is baseless and hysterical, and you can achieve this without even having to prove that he’s even once been wrong about anything.
You can say, for instance, that his tone is conspiratorial, which it is. You can say that people will want to believe his conspiratorial view of things, whether it is true or not, because they are frustrated over losing money and power to Wall Street. And that’s true. You can say that his stories sound overblown and his interpretations of recent financial history sound fantastical, like Star Trek plots — they do. (If you don’t mention that reality itself is that fantastic of late, this can be a damning criticism). You can describe his campaigns on various issues as “crusades,” which in a way they are. And you can say he has an “agenda,” and wonder aloud what that might be.
I’m really not sure any of that matters. The only thing that matters with a guy like Zero Hedge is, is he right or not? And I don’t think you can answer that question by asking if people are maybe inclined to think he’s right for the wrong reasons, or if his tone is generally inappropriate (this was Felix Salmon’s criticism), or if his hostility to bulls in the analyst realm maybe doesn’t flag often enough. Is he right, or is he wrong? If he’s right, the subject matter is so many times over more important than Zero Hedge the individual that I don’t see the percentage in worrying about the source much at all.
p.s. I should mention that one of the other problems with the “coverage” of Zero Hedge has been the persistent highlighting of his blogger status, raising the question of what this potentially ominous rise in blogger influence means.
I don’t know. It seems to me that maybe it’s time we all stopped drawing a big distinction between bloggers and mainstream journalists, because, let’s be honest, that distinction doesn’t really count for shit anymore.
The key distinction used to be that mainstream reporters vetted and fact-checked their material before they put it out in public. But the only media outlets that dependably do that anymore, at least in my experience, are feature magazines like Hagan’s.
Daily newspapers are crap for fact-checking now, even the New York Times (hello, Jayson Blair). TV stations, especially the cable news channels, are often even worse than bloggers, because there we’re often dealing with some chattering numbskull like Maria Bartiromo who is literally ad-libbing her “reporting” live and on-air. Bloggers at least have a neurological weigh station or two between their brains and their hands.
Anyway, I’m all about Zero Hedge. I think there are a great many things about him that represent an enormous improvement over traditional media, and a real rebuke to the thinking of most traditional editors. I know at most commercial news organizations reporters are told that the public has no appetite for complex issues, and that material has to be dumbed down for presentation to the public. Zero Hedge went 10,000% in the opposite direction and became a huge hit. Readers, it turns out, are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Moreover, they will do the work of going out to research a subject on their own if reporters will just give them a little piece — in other words, we don’t have to explain everything over and over again.
The press makes a mistake, both politically and commercially, when it assumes the public is stupid. It isn’t. I think we should all give ZH a lot of credit for proving that to us.