What Is True/Slant?
275+ knowledgeable contributors.
Reporting and insight on news of the moment.
Follow them and join the news conversation.
 

Sep. 28 2009 - 11:28 am | 487 views | 5 recommendations | 35 comments

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.”

via The Rising Power of Financial Blog Zero Hedge – Money 2009 — New York Magazine.

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.


Comments

Active Conversation
2 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 35 Total Comments
Post your comment »
 
  1. collapse expand

    Primarily because you all three have strong and interesting opinions on the topic, but also because I enjoy your various styles, I’d really be interested to see an ad hoc roundtable discussion between Mark Bowden, David Simon and you on the topic of bloggers and the traditional media. With alcohol, preferably.

  2. collapse expand

    Matt,

    The best part of this post, for me at least is this part:

    “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.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, the reason blogs and other alternative media are increasing in popularity is that the mainstream media outlets have essentially failed to do their jobs. All you have to do is watch any of the cable networks or even the nightly news to see what a crap job they do. As long as the product–for lack of a better word–continues to be shit people will look to alternatives.

  3. collapse expand

    Bloggers have a leg up on traditional media in one significant way. They can discuss and illuminate topics that are verboten in traditional media. Topics that make the capitalistic masters uncomfortable.

    The Defund Acorn legislation is a current example. Congress accidentally passed a bill that may take funding from any government contractor that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.

    Funny enough, MSBNC is the only mainstream media outlet to discuss this topic in prime time.

  4. collapse expand

    Nancy Miller, also a blogger on TrueSlant, once asked her readers to suggest sardonic titles of books they’d like to see written about the Great Recession. My own contributions, which were limited to shots at politicians and policy makers, were eventually flagged as inappropriate (e.g. “Economics, Necrophilia, and Unholy Offspring: How I Humped Ayn Rand’s Corpse Until a Depression Fell Out of It” by Alan Greenspan), but not before Miller responded directly, stating that poking fun at politicians is fun and righteous and all, but the financial media really deserved a lot of the blame for missing the story.

    And that’s true. It even motivated Dylan Rathigan to change networks. I think part of the reason the mainstream media has lost its collective shit over Zero Hedge and bloggers in general is that mainstream journalists don’t know how to compete in a meritocracy. So what is mainstream media to do? They feel compelled to do something, but they don’t know what. So they do what they know how to do and comes naturally to them: write about every goddamn thing related to Zero Hedge except whether or not Zero Hedge is correct. That’d simply be asking too fucking much.

    Also, I have swine flu.

  5. collapse expand

    Thanks again to The Taibbi, for a great blog/post, and most necessary.

    Let’s see now…New York Magazine is owned by Bruce Wasserstein, formerly of Wasserstein Perella, PE firm extraordinarie (and former employer of one Rahm Emanuel, now Chief of Staff for the Prez), and now Brucie is chairman of Wasserstein & Co., PE firm and owner of record.

    We live in the most skewed and censored of times, with the chairman of the American Enterprise Institute receiving an incredible amount of free advertising/proselytizing as he is also the owner of one of the largest (rated THE LARGEST – 2 years running) hedge funds on the planet.

    The major difference between The Great Depression and today, is back then the people pushed back and exerted some power through FDR, while today, after the bank collapse of 2007, the banksters fully took over the government, lock…stock…and barrel.

  6. collapse expand

    We have to look at the flip side if we’re going to be fair in our analysis, as well. The only thing that makes the mainstream media powerful is the perception of legitimacy caused in large part by the exclusivity of the channels within which they operate. People like to say that when we break down this barrier and information gets out it’s a good thing and speaking in black and white terms it is. Still, this is the libertarian argument and it falls down when we hit reality because people don’t wade through information looking for the best information, they go for the low hanging fruit. That’s what we’re doing here, frankly. I think Matt’s a great writer, actually, and I think at his best he does really good work (the 109th Congress article was amazing), but at the end of the day I’m reading his stuff in large part because it’s entertaining and because he reflects my views on things. I may not consciously think that, but I also know it’s true whether I realize it or not (one of the few benefits of being in marketing, I recognize exactly how and why I’m fallible as a consumer of anything). The same is true for the people who religiously watch Beck or anyone else.

    When there’s no more legitimacy to trusted channels that can’t be trusted then it really does become a free-for-all and while that benefits the people willing to seek out information on its merits, it does not necessarily produce a better informed populace as we’ve seen.

    I’m not suggesting that there’s any easy solution or that the genie should go back in the bottle (even if it could, which it can’t), just that we’re in for a bumpy ride and this flood of information from people like Zero Hedge benefits us in that at least it’s available, but it only benefits the people who pay attention – and that’s not many. Even Matt’s article on GS, which unbelievably managed to make a dent in the public consciousness, has resulted in almost no long-term change (thus far) in the treatment GS receives and I suspect it won’t. The public was barely interested and probably doesn’t even remember it. They’re on to the next fragmented news cycle story. Getting the truth out there is laudable, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how we use all this new information to make society better when there’s a purposeful campaign of very legitimate looking disinformation to accompany every bit of good information.

  7. collapse expand

    I think the medium makes part of the difference.

    As the internet became mainstream, a lot of TV viewers switched their main source of information. Those viewers may be disproportionately educated (at the very least, they are inclined to read text). The TV networks were left catering to the least informed segment of society, and responded by filling the airwaves with trash (reality TV, I’m looking at you).

    • collapse expand

      I think you could have said this 5-15 years ago – in fact I know you could’ve because I recall the polling on demographics. Of course the internet also polled as heavily libertarian at the time, so it wasn’t a major win.

      These days internet penetration is so pervasive that the cross-pollination is presumably nearly total in America. You don’t really get an internet full of eggheads and a TV-land full of boneheads, the internet (to the degree that such a discombobulated-by-design creature does anything) simply becomes more stratified. It also ends up just becoming part of the echo chamber. Rumors start on blogs, make it to Drudge, get talked about on Rush, get picked up by Fox and then the legitimacy of having been seen on TV gets them distributed across all media channels. In that sense, it’s as full of stupid as TV is. And, of course, anyone who has ever read YOUTube comments, watched the secretary play Elf Bowl during the Christmas holidays or braved MySpace can tell you that there are different intarnets for different people.

      The internet simply provides an unchecked channel for more information, not better or worse, and as more and more stupid people use it, it not only becomes more saturated with more stupid content, but it also becomes a focal point for people looking to attract stupid people – whether they’re hatemongering talk radio hosts, astroturfing PR operations or just cackling-to-the-bank quasi-partisan provocateurs like Drudge.

      It’d be nice to think that we’re smarter for being here, and we probably still are statistically to a small degree, but that self-serving ship has unfortunately pretty much sailed. On the plus side, all the new noise has drowned out what used to be a massive signal-to-noise ratio of erotic Star Trek fan fiction and Monty Python quotes. So there’s that.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        heh, that reminds me of the old Bill Cosby routine on drugs. Something like how ‘drugs intensify your personality’, then Cosby saying “but what if you’re an asshole?”

        What we are really experiencing is multi-pronged class warfare. First thing to do is to demonize public education (done that…started with Reagan), then the government as a whole (ibid). Then sell off text-book content for what is left of public education to the highest corporate bidder (check…). Allow worker’s wages to stagnate, requiring multiple jobs and two-worker households, which coincidentally reduces time that one can dedicate to keeping on top of the far away federal bureaucracy. Now, gut the anti-trust laws, and allow media consolidation to flourish. Finally, for good measures, get some crackpot judges in Florida to rule not only that counting votes is injurious to the fraudulent victor of an election (and must be stopped), but also that news organizations have no obligation to make sure what they are broadcasting is factually based, and that FCC rules aren’t really rules, but only ‘guidelines’.

        Shit, I could go on, but I can’t even remember my original point. Just so everyone’s sure…this isn’t, mind you, a conspiracy by some ignorati/illuminati cult, but the result already wealthy people allowed to follow a sense of greed to the nth degree.

        But the problem is, what the fuck can we do about it?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          “Just so everyone’s sure…this isn’t, mind you, a conspiracy by some ignorati/illuminati cult, but the result already wealthy people allowed to follow a sense of greed to the nth degree.”

          I agree, but that really includes us. Even though we have a variety of poverty issues and inequality issues back home, we’re light years wealthier than the country I live in currently and all this information is out there for us to find. Still, the people themselves do have to put down the remotes at some point, pull the feedbags off their heads and actually try to figure things out. They used to say that democracy would work until the people figured out how to vote themselves all the money, but the reality is that it only works until the more powerful interests figure out how to vote the people enough of the money to keep them sated while voting themselves the rest and then play us off one another using bread and circuses. I think Thomas Frank’s analogy of the lower and middle classes marching on the gated communities of the wealthy demanding to lower their taxes was a bit hyperbolic, but pretty accurate in tone. A large majority of people either have insane wealth or enough wealth to feel comfortable and they’re the only people who vote or participate in national politics, by and large.

          “But the problem is, what the fuck can we do about it?”

          Yeah, that’s the distressing part. I have no idea. Send every child abroad for a year after high school to live with families where the kid walks a kilometer to a hut to go to school and has to miss half his or her education to stay home and help harvest the crops? Mandatory gap years? Really, I’ve got nothing.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        My point is that, as the internet became mainstream, to some extent TV has stopped being mainstream (or at least it’s much less mainstream than it used to be).

        In other words, it’s not that there aren’t many idiots on the net. It’s that I think not many educated people these days watch nearly as much TV as they used to.

        The networks pay close attention to their demographics, and my thoroughly nonscientific observation is that they seem to be targeting the lowest-information demographics a lot more than they did.

        Or I’m getting old. Or both.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  8. collapse expand

    “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.”

    Really?

    One would expect that a good journalist would provide citations, multiple sources and generally follow the rules. Bloggers quote each other, cite opinions and waste my time in having to find verifying sources that they should have included. Writing a sentence does not make me a journalist nor does having an opinion make me an expert.

    Tabbi you may write for a blog but you are not a blogger but a journalist, there is a difference and it god damn does matter. Shit Rolling Stone knows the difference, even a crazy asshole like Hunter Thompson knew the rules. Every blogger should strive for journalism and it’s centuries old tradition revealing the truth.

    If Zero Hedge is muck-raking, is searching and revealing the truth in people and events then it is doing journalism. If it is just crazily slinging mud without a single fact…well lots of bloggers do that. Keep in mind that Drudge doesn’t wear a fedora to look like a blogger, he knew when he started that people tended to trust and respect journalists. We shouldn’t sully the history and fine men and women who wore out shoe leather and telephones and sweated over typewriters and argued into the night with editors by throwing aside the name of a noble profession for what amounts to letters to the editor for most bloggers.

    I read this site because of the number of journalists and experts who write what they know and keep me informed with convincing stories and opinions.

  9. collapse expand

    ” The only thing that matters with a guy like Zero Hedge is, is he right or not?”

    Matt, It seems to me that this is the ONE question that people need to ask of our journalists and our leaders – Are/Were you right??!? It reminds me of an exchange from one of the Democratic primary debates:

    KUCINICH – ….. And you’ve seen here tonight people who voted for the war, voted to fund the war, and now they have a different position; people who voted for the Patriot Act, now they have a different position; people who voted for China trade, now they have a different position; people who voted for Yucca Mountain, now they had a different position. Just imagine what it will be like to have a president of the United States who’s right the first time. Just imagine.

    BIDEN – ….. And so folks, this — but this is not about who was right when, it’s what’s your plan now? What are you going to do now?

    Biden had me screaming at the TV! What could be more important in determining the likely success of one’s “plan now” than one’s record of being right then?!? Why the fuck should we trust anyone who was so wrong, on so many things in the past?!?
    Alas, judging from the identities of those now in power, and those who continue to prosper in the press, being right means absolutely nothing. In fact, being right can be one hell of an impediment to a career in the press or politics. Remember Donahue and MSNBC? Maher on ABC? Kucinich? Nader?

    Like you said before, “We are officially, royally fucked!”

  10. collapse expand
    deleted account

    Regarding Libtree 09’s above post, Amen.

    FYI- The current issue of The Atlantic has a good piece on the difference between what bloggers vs. journalists bring to the table and why blogger bullshit seems to have precedent.

    One more thing, you gotta be a punk to bring down a punk.

  11. collapse expand

    Matt? If you classify yourself as an ‘asshole’, than you are the most benevolent one I’ve ever met. You have the kindness to like Hagan but not me. I can’t possibly like any journalist who writes like sh*t! And that is the only description for Hagan’s article. No facts, no cites, no investigation of Zero Hedge’s claims, just a snide fairytale of a Chicken Little site and its deranged followers. As one commenter wrote: “…the only thing Hagan’s article is missing are the words “Once upon a time” at the beginning.”

    Dooohhh. Anyone who writes like Hagan isn’t someone worth trusting, let alone liking.

  12. collapse expand

    “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.”

    And we’re glad to have you, too, Matt :)

  13. collapse expand

    “The press makes a mistake, both politically and commercially, when it assumes the public is stupid.”

    As for this, I feel like this happens across the board in politics. Anyone who has worked in politics for someone other than a Russ Feingold or Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul knows this.

    It’s all about sloganeering and pitch men. Someone actually told me recently when I told them that the health care bills aren’t getting progressive mobilization because progressives simply don’t like them that much that “People don’t care about the details.”

    Now, I’m not expecting the average joe to be able to quote paragraph seven of page 345, but I do think the average person IS curious about what’s going to happen to 1/6th of the economy, and the main reason we aren’t seeing people mobilize FOR health care in any large numbers is because they’re (rightly) completely baffled about what’s actually going to happen once the legislation passes. It’s ridiculously complicated, and that’s not the fault of average people, either.

    People want to be challenged, they want to learn. The way the press and politicians completely treat them like they’re dumb only perpetuates any sort of worse nature we have in people to want to simplify things or not be able to understand things that are a bit more complicated. It also contributes to the mentality we see amongst a lot of higher-ups to think of the people as some kind of senseless rabble who they’re going to cook up slogans for and then kind of leave alone, because all the important decisions should be left to the important people.

    In the end, this is in both thinking and practice profoundly detrimental to our democratic tradition (or the democratic parts of our traditions).

    Sorry for the rant, but there was a ridiculous amount of truth in what you just wrote.

  14. collapse expand

    @”The press makes a mistake, both politically and commercially, when it assumes the public is stupid.”
    Pfft…bollocks! I assume the public is 33% apathetic and are totally unaware of pretty much everything going on around them, 33% are dumber than a box of rocks and that’s what teevee caters to, and the last 33% are the people you speak of and that is what the MSM is afraid of. People who are tired of being lied to and must now fact check every-fucking-thing that comes out of a pundits mouth. Bloggers are usually called out immediately when they make a factual error. Someone who tells the truth is what scares today’s journalists and that encroaches on those whose paycheck depends on being whores for industry. My guess is that journalists themselves fit into my 33% theory pretty well.

  15. collapse expand

    The masked “Zorro” Hedge fights on behalf of us peasants against the evil and corrupt President “Lord” Blankfein and his swindling army, who sits in his high castle laughing at the law with the authorities in his back pocket.

  16. collapse expand

    “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.”

    This is honest-to-Christ the best quote about journalism I’ve ever read. Course maybe that’s because I’ve been an asshole journalist for too long. Either way, I’m framing this over my desk. Thanks, Matt.

  17. collapse expand

    Characterizing the general public as stupid has long been a standard tactic of the Establishment. From the media’s point of view, always aiming below the average person’s intellectual level flatters their customers. From the corporatist point of view, it is a neat and simple means to divide the public. If one is in the habit of viewing their fellow citizens as idiots, it is easy to dismiss their concerns.

Log in for notification options
Comments RSS

Post Your Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment

Log in with your True/Slant account.

Previously logged in with Facebook?

Create an account to join True/Slant now.

Facebook users:
Create T/S account with Facebook
 

My T/S Activity Feed

 
     

    About Me

    I'm a political reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, a sports columnist for Men's Journal, and I also write books for a Random House imprint called Spiegel and Grau.

    For Media Inquiries: taibbipress@rollingstone.com

    See my profile »
    Followers: 2,552
    Contributor Since: March 2009

    What I'm Up To

    • taibbipromo

       
    • My Latest Book

      greatd

      To purchase a copy please, please go here.

       
    • Writing for Rolling Stone

      rolling-stoneI’m a political reporter for Rolling Stone magazine.

       
    .<
    • +O
    • +O
    • +O
    >.