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Make 2009 the 'Year of Useful'

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

A fellow is ballooning in New Mexico. He miscalculates the wind, somehow floats into a wind-stream that carries him so high he passes out from lack of oxygen, then deposits him out in the middle of the desert. He comes to, disoriented and lost, but cheered by the sight of a passer-by, a hiker. “Hey, where am I?” he asks the stranger. “You are in a basket, sir, way out in the middle of the desert,” the stranger answered.

“Say, are you some sort of accountant or investment expert or financial news pundit?”

The amazed stranger said, “Actually I’m all three of those things – how could you possibly know?”

“Elementary,” replied the dazed yet astute crash victim. “The information you have just given me is completely accurate yet utterly useless.”

There are, of course, many kinds of information (the term used loosely) dispensed by media figures and those they choose to interview or cite. There are opinions from experts who are remarkably undaunted by having been wrong so consistently. There are historians’ factual reports, which seem right about half the time. There is the analysis from all the former this’ and thats; former hedge fund managers, former CEO’s, former government bureaucrats; key word: former. There are the teleprompter paragraphs written by who knows who, read with conviction and pizzazz, by the financial-news babes flashing a lot of leg, a little cleavage and dazzling smiles. Finally, there is actual news, including a lot of statistics.

To be fair, within this stew, there are quite a few chunks of accuracy. But most of it is utterly useless.

The television news programs, and to only a slightly lesser degree the financial news programs, continuously insult intelligence by elevating truly bizarre people to expert status. Their vague, groping answers and unfounded opinions then become “information.”

I recently saw an interview with a fellow who makes his living selling hot tips about which teams to wager on to fools recruited with ads in, of all places, Forbes and Robb Report. The show sought out this gadfly presidential candidate and self-published, self-help author for his opinions on the bail-outs and the economy. Another show highlighted the thoughts on global warming and the world economy from a ditzy actress who has never done anything much but act ditzy. Can’t we do better than this?

We have an embarrassment of media riches ideal for useful public debate, intelligent discussion and dissemination of useful information. They are almost entirely wasted -- dumbed down to the equal of “The Hills.” Talking heads are replaced with yelling heads uncomfortably close to pro wrestler-cartoon characters from the Vince McMahon stable.

Just entertainment. You can cringe just as badly at FNN as at CW. “The Girls Next Door” seems less and less silly compared to five financial doofuses arguing aimlessly over the bottom of the housing market.

So here’s a New Years Resolution for our friends in the media: fewer unqualified experts, less wild speculation, more legitimate and even useful information.

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