Demonize the Nationalize

By October 14, 2008Economy, Media Relations

That’s the front page of the Washington Post’s Business Section, updated at noon.

Not to get cranky or anything, but isn’t it really strange that media outfits would misrepresent an admittedly major expansion of government involvement in the U.S. banking system as “nationalization?” This are times in which accuracy and discretion are critical, especially given the public’s shaken confidence. (See earlier post.)

Nationalization evokes all sorts of unnecessary and inflammatory allusions: Bank holidays, expropriation, etc. You could just as well write, “Feds Seize Banks, Bush Says Necessary.”

BTW, we posed a question about terminology to the Washington Post’s business columnist Steven Pearlstein in an online chat today, but did not get a response. (No problem, there were many good questions asked). Pearlstein did answer one semi-related question thusly:

Campbell, Mo.: Is the government rescue plan the beginnings of the dreaded “S” word in American politics, socialism?

Steven Pearlstein: It is a socialistic step. A temporary step, but there’s no getting around it. But let’s be careful not to think of socialism as some sort of dirty word. It is a way of organizing economic activity that has some advantages and, when combined with a basically capitalist economy, has provided a very high standard of living to many European countries. It’s often confused with communism, but it is not that.

Socialize, perhaps, temporarily a step, argued fairly by an opinion columnist, but nationalize? No.

It’s sloppy, misleading, inflammatory, agenda-driven, bad newswriting to use the term “nationalize.”

UPDATE (1:48 p.m.): NPR’s take on the President’s remarks this morning:

Carefully tip-toeing around the word “nationalize,” President Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced a plan that will allow the U.S. government to spend about $250 billion of its freshly minted $700 billion bailout program to buy equity stakes in both large and small banks.

Carefully tip-toeing? Get me rewrite! How about the following: “Not using the term ‘nationalize,’ which would, after all, be the wrong term, President Bush…”

UPDATE (2:12 p.m.): From Thomson Financial:

According to the details of the plan, participating financial institutions must sell stock equal to at least 1 percent of their risk-weighted assets, but not more than $25 bln or 3 percent of their assets.

So 3 percent = partly nationalizing. Yup.

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