Journalists Exude a Depression Lust

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Media: Some journalists out there seem to be actually rooting for a new economic depression — the very thing that will hurt them more than it will hurt many others.

Newspapers across the country are in trouble. On Monday, the owner of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy. The same day, the New York Times said it "plans to borrow up to $225 million against its mid-Manhattan headquarters building, to ease a potential cash flow squeeze as the company grapples with tighter credit and shrinking profits."

Both the Miami Herald and Rocky Mountain News are reportedly for sale, and it's possible they won't find any buyers. In Minneapolis, the Star-Tribune is apparently in financial trouble and has asked its unions to concede to $20 million in salary and wage cuts.

With the survival of network news also in question, the future of the legacy media is bleak. Yet there seems to be no shortage of reporters writing and talking in almost gleeful terms about the possibility of economic ruin. They're careful not to overtly welcome a depression, but in much of the reporting the tone gives it away.

Steven Pearlstein, then a Washington Post business reporter and now a Post columnist, wrote in February that "the best thing that could happen to our economy is for a dozen high-profile hedge funds to collapse; for investment banking to enter a long, deep freeze; for a major bank to fail; and for the price of a typical Park Avenue duplex to fall by 30%."

"For only then," he said, "might we finally stop genuflecting before the altar of unregulated financial markets and insist that Wall Street serve the interest of Main Street, rather than the other way around."

At the Nation, a left-wing magazine that has long supported the sort of economic policies that would bring another depression, Katrina Vanden Heuvel isn't shy in yearning for the central planning of the 1930s. The public, she wrote Monday, should "expect to hear more of this line of attack on public spending as conservatives fight tooth and nail to prevent a new New Deal."

The blogosphere has a name for this syndrome: "depression lust." Virginia Postrel, an Atlantic Monthly columnist who invented the phrase, contributed to a Boston Globe story published in November that collected ideas from various people to (allegedly) give readers some insight into what a 2009 depression would look like.

The conditions "sounded pretty damned good to some people," Postrel writes on her Dynamist blog, "a sure sign of an affluent society, or at least affluent commentators," who, we should add, appear to be operating under the illusion that things would still be rosy for them in a depression because they always have been.

Journalists "seem positively giddy with anticipation at the prospect of a return to '30s-style hardship — without, of course, the real hardship of the 1930s," Postrel blogs.

Jim Miller, who writes a political blog, has made a similar observation. "I can't count the number of times I read hopeful pieces in the New York Times saying that a recession might be coming soon, so now that one is actually here those people have to be pleased."

Did any of those New York Times stories come from David Carr, whose "Stoking Fear Everywhere You Look" appeared Monday?

"Every modern recession includes a media seance about how horrible things are and how much worse they will be," noted Carr, who did a bit of his own communicating with the dead spirits of the Great Depression.

As Postrel notes, journalists, whose industry is teetering and "who are already the equivalent of 1980s steelworkers," should be among the most fearful of a depression.

But they can't help themselves. Their contempt for the capitalism and free markets that have made so many of them comfortable is strong enough to make them wish for economic conditions not in their best interests — and it comes through loud and clear almost every time they report.

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