Sunday, October 9, 2016

Out of the News Hole

As predicted, I continue to be distracted by Post-Tropical Cyclone Matthew, with flooding rains continuing through the night affecting everyone I know in North Carolina. There, the floodwaters may not drain away completely for weeks. My own hurricane preparations turned out not to be needed. The rain and breezes weren’t much here in Pennsylvania and are winding down tonight but the storm’s combined impact on the mainland was a disaster pretty much in line with predictions. There is a coordinated effort by a few lunatics of the alt-right to discredit the hurricane despite at least 18 mainland deaths, miles of highway washed away, and early estimates of $6 billion in losses covered by insurance — and that is on top of the historic losses already suffered on the islands. Those who argue “almost no one” died are showing they lack an understanding of both human decency and the magnitude of the disaster.

There were indeed news releases in the news hole of late Friday during the hurricane, but they were not the kind I was expecting. In the first shocking report, a giant European bank revealed it has, in round numbers, $50 trillion in derivatives on its books. That’s a huge sum, equal to several years of euro zone GDP. The bank insists the situation is not so bad because, according to its internal analysis, the real risk exposure is “only” double the total value of the bank. I am confident this story will not get lost, but will be picked up tomorrow and discussed all week long and probably longer than that.

In the United States the bombshell was a TV interview from a few years back revealing that a presidential candidate aspires to sexual assault as a lifestyle. For this story too there is zero chance that it is lost in the shuffle. Indeed, the consensus among political observers is that this year’s presidential race is over as a result of the tape and the bungled response. As if to underscore that point, state polls released today show the race was already out of reach before Friday. The larger question now is whether the crisis will be the end of the political party involved. The United States has not lost a major political party in more than a century so this is a big question indeed. It would be impossible to lose sight of, no matter the timing of the news. Saturday Night Live, for its part, has ensured that the immediate political story gets the attention it deserves by making it the subject of an opening segment that is one for the history books. With much of the suspense taken out of the election, it doesn’t look like the remaining presidential debates can approach the record audience of the first one.

In each case, the news came out late Friday during a damaging hurricane accompanied by widespread power outages in the hope of minimizing the impact of the story. News editors cooperated initially by burying the lead, with headlines about accounting questions and choice of words, respectively. No doubt that effort was effective to some extent, but despite it all, the stories are out.