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Bulls and Bull-oney

Reported by Judy - October 8, 2005

The Fox financial show "Bulls and Bears" for Saturday (Oct. 8, 2005) was mostly bull-oney -- a mishmash of the usual Fox spin on why the news is always good, even when it's bad. This time, the topics were the slowing down of the hot housing market and the plot to blow up New York subways.

First, the housing market. Host Brenda Butner pegged the segment around news that the average price of a Manhattan townhouse had fallen 13 percent in the last 3 months and the question of what that meant for stocks. The premise of the show demononstrates all that's wrong with most Fox business and economic coverage -- it was narrow and superficial in order to keep the show fast-paced.

Panelists generally agreed that some kind of a slow down in housing prices was a good thing. They took the news of the slowdown of Manhattan prices as an indication of conditions generally in the nation and went on to speculate about what it might mean for stocks. Butner offered no information about the housing market in other parts of the country, even though the New York Times ran an article weeks ago about the slowdown in Denver-area prices and it would not have been hard to gather information about housing prices nationally. Panelist Gary B. Smith, from realmoney.com, put up a chart for about 3 seconds showing prices still going up, although down from the peak of February.

It took panelist Pat Dorsey from morningstar.com to point out that markets like Manhattan, Miami, and southern California are not representative of the entire country. "Those are bubbly markets. Is the average home owner in Des Mones, Iowa, going to suffer because of this? No," he said of the slowdown in Manhattan real estate prices.

The panelists made no attempt to discuss the housing market in different parts of the country -- why there are hot spots like Arizona and Florida but slow areas such as Michigan. Too many facts would bore the listener and slow down the show, which is based on Butner quickly calling on one panelist after another for a 15-second comment that is immediately rebutted by the next panelist.

Conveying spin, not information, is the crux of the show. And it's Butner's job to keep things spinning in the proper direction -- pro-Bush. She did just that during a segment on the plot to blow up New York subways, which was supposed to be about why the market went up a little Friday despite the news of the alleged plot. Dorsey pointed out that even though the stock market "went haywire after 9/11," it now has built in an expectation of another terror attack on U.S. soil and no longer reacts that way. Butner seized on the "haywire" comment, and interjected, "It went haywire in the short term, but long term it went well." Can't leave viewers with the impression that something is wrong in Bush-land.

Panelist Tobin Smith, from changewave.com, needs no such minding from Butner. He is always on cue to polish Bush's apple, as he did when he told viewers that another terrorist attack would be good for the nation's politics, if not its stocks. "If they come and bomb us, that brings us back together" as it did after 9/11, he said.

The show's values were on display in the stock-picking segment. Gary B. Smith suggested viewers buy Wal-Mart stock. "They put Toys R Us out of business. They're putting grocery stores out of business. It's the place to go," he said.

Putting companies out of business -- it's the American way. But when Wal-Mart's competitors are all out of business, what will keep Wal-Mart's prices low then?

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