Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Oh, The Gray Lady.

On the train to work today I read this surprisingly vapid story in The Times. On the frontpage. Above the fold. The basic assumption of this decidedly human interest story is that the credit crunch will bestow upon those Americans who "have proved staggeringly resourceful at finding new ways to spend money" a new found faith in saving money. At the outset we're treated to the popular history of American's love for easy money and fine dining:

"In the 1950s and ’60s, as credit cards grew in popularity In the 1950s and ’60s, as credit cards grew in popularity, many began dining out when the mood struck or buying new television sets on the installment plan rather than waiting for payday."

That Americans have been using credit cards, and credit as a whole, with ever increasing frequency is as strong a fact as global warming, but to attribute this phenomenon to increased consumption of television sets or fine dining is irresponsible. Any undergraduate economics major could tell the reporter that the credit crunch revolves around the increased use of credit as a sort of plastic safety net. During these "freewheeling days of credit and risk" Americans watched their real buying power and salaries stagnate as inflation went up while credit increasingly filled the void. Instead of investigating the hard evidence, The Times, editors and all, thought it apt to interview one Elena Gamble of Elk City (I'll quote it all because it's gold):

Not long ago, Elena Gamble would have looked at the Cadillac parked across the street from her modest home in Elk City, Okla., and felt a twinge of jealousy.

“We live in a small town, and everybody looks at your clothes and what you drive and where you have your hair done,” said Ms. Gamble, who earns about $2,600 a month as a grievance counselor at a local prison.

Now, she and her husband — a prison guard who brings home $2,000 a month — are grappling with $10,000 in high-interest debt. They no longer go to the movies or out to eat, except occasionally to McDonald’s. They quit their Internet service. Their car was repossessed. “What we say now is, ‘If we can’t afford it, we can’t buy it,’ ” Ms. Gamble said.

And when she looks across the street at that Cadillac, her envy has been replaced by pity for the neighbor on the hook.

I wonder if their neighbor is really "on the hook". I have no idea who they are, and the article bases this conclusion on Elena's interview. Is it too much to ask that a Times' reporter go across the street and ask the neighbor, "Excuse me are you able to make payments on your car?" Certainly not the journalistic integrity I expect from the gray lady.

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