In yesterday’s Hugh Cudlipp lecture Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times, took a break from praising his newspaper to admit that their coverage wasn’t always entirely above reproach. The terms in which he did so mark an important moment in the efforts of the major media to rehabilitate themselves in the aftermath of the financial crisis:
Now, we do not always hit the ball out of the park. Like many other news organisations, we were, with two notable exceptions, too slow to highlight the risks ahead of the bursting of the credit bubble. Commentators such as Martin Wolf and Gillian Tett correctly identified the dangers in global financial imbalances and exotic debt instruments such as credit default swaps. But we did not always give them quite the front or full page exposure they deserved.
Well that’s one way of putting it.
But while it is true that both Gillian Tett and Martin Wolf raised concerns about the operations of the financial markets and about the levels of indebtedness in the United States, the paper never gave either of them front page exposure, as far as I am aware.
And the paper were far more energetically wrong than Barber now acknowledges. Consider Andrew Hill’s piece of February 21st, 2007, ‘Pym’s Successor Must Change Gear at A&L’. In it the newspaper complained that the head of the Alliance and Leicester had ‘taken an overly cautious view of the mortgage market’. Here the paper appears to be lost in the same delirium of optimism that had overtaken the financial markets in the early months of 2007, and the article is far from unusual in this respect.
When it came to the financial crisis, the Financial Times didn’t merely fail to hit the ball out of the park. It was playing another game altogether.