Language of Fear

Now that a $700 billion (or is it $850 billion?) bailout bill has become law, reversing within only a few days a vote that struck down a less pork-laden version, it might be instructive to look at how this issue was presented to the American public.

My time is tight today, so I apologize if this entry is pretty scant, but this is something I have been listening to for a couple weeks now. Today I will merely enter into evidence this news story from NPR in collaboration with This American Life that I heard on the radio last week. It’s an excellent story, explaining to the uninitiated the workings of money market funds and the commercial paper market, and what all that has to do with the current liquidity crisis. But look at the language used to describe this crisis by both the reporters and their interview sources:

The potential for disaster was horrifying.

…the time when the American economy survived a brush with death.

The nation’s entire financial system slid toward a terrifying abyss….

…very real disaster.

nightmare scenario

“For those of you who’ve experienced an earthquake, some say it’s a soul-wrenching experience, and it’s massively moving everything,” Peterson says. “And that’s last week. There was a monster unleashed.”

“I think we were close to the abyss.”

If a money market fund loses money, that’s called “breaking the buck.” It’s like a tear in the space-time continuum. It’s simply not supposed to happen.

“Breaking the buck is sort of like having a serial killer in a high school — it causes a little bit of panic,” Balika says.

Wow, that is quite a load of metaphors. An earthquake ruptures the space-time continuum, unleashing serial killer monsters who push high schools toward the abyss.

Where’s the smoking gun mushroom cloud?


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