Reporting the recession

At the National Press Club on Monday night, four top business journalists detailed their role in keeping the country informed on the year’s top story – the financial recession.

Alexis Glick of FOX Business Network, Diana Henriques of The New York Times, Steve Pearlstein of the Washington Post and Ali Velshi of CNN convened for the 63rd Kalb Report, which was taped in front of a packed crowd in the National Press Building at 14th and F streets.

The panelists discussed the role of journalists in the global economic crisis, the aftermath of Bernie Madoff’s global Ponzi scheme and the Davos World Economic Forum. Moderator Marvin Kalb also pressed them on whether business journalists failed to predict the current crisis.

“People think there are a lot of bad things going on in the world and if a journalist would just shine a light on these things, it would be better,” Pearlstein said. “As journalists, we don’t control this process but we do play a big role.”

Velshi countered the notion that journalists failed to inform the public about the events leading up to the financial collapse. He argued journalists do provide the public with vital information, but each citizen is responsible for deciding what to do with that information.

“If I’m the weather guy and I tell you that it is 10 degrees below zero, it’s your responsibility to you to put your jacket and long johns on,” Velshi quipped.

Panelists outlined how they thought the recession unfolded. Henriques, a GW alumna, said part of the problem was the nation’s “fixation” on the stock market.

“The stock market has become a barometer of the nation’s health,” Henriques said.

Pearlstein likened the events leading up to the financial collapse to a cartoon character.

“It was like Wile E. Coyote when he runs off the cliff, then looks down and realizes he went too far,” he said.

Velshi also commented on how the economic crisis in the U.S. affected people on a global scale.

“We led the world into this one. Nobody really cared because they were getting rich. But this house of cards was our doing and now it is our time to rebuild it,” Velshi said.

Glick, who moved to her role in journalism from the business world, offered a simple solution to surviving the recession.

“People are paying with credit cards in cabs, they’re paying with credit card for groceries. It’s not right. The other day, I put my American Express into a drawer and told myself that I was going to learn to pay with cash,” Glick said.

University President Steven Knapp, who attended the event, shared his enthusiasm for the latest Kalb Report installment.

“There was a tremendous student turnout,” he said. “It was very educational and I really enjoyed it.”

James Spencer, a junior majoring in Middle Eastern studies and political science, expressed his enthusiasm for the program.

“The Kalb Report was absolutely fascinating,” Spencer said. “This was the first time I’ve been to one but now I plan on coming to more of these.”

Each panelist also suggested a plan for students pursuing a career in business journalism.

“The most useful thing to study is history,” Pearlstein said. “Things tend to repeat themselves and things remain the same, like human nature. I see so many young people these days so well-versed in technology, but not history.”

The event was sponsored by the GW Global Media Institute, the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University and the National Press Club, and funded by a grant from The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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