James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for July 11th, 2012

Do you know what you’re investing in, and where?

Posted by James McPherson on July 11, 2012

The question above may be trickier than it looks, but since many right-wing media have decided that their readers are clueless about how investment funds work. Maybe they’re right–they’d know their audiences better than I do–but, regardless, the question in the headline seems worth asking today.

The Weekly Standard yesterday offered a post critical of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who while in enemy territory on Sunday commented about Mitt Romney and the millions of dollars he has apparently stashed in banks in offshore accounts in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, “Americans need to ask themselves, why does an American businessman need a Swiss bank account and secretive investments like that?”

The Standard post notes, “But disclosure forms reveal that in 2010, Wasserman Schultz invested between $1,001-$15,000 in a 401k retirement fund run by Davis Financial Fund. As the fund discloses, it is invested in the Julius Baer Group Ltd. and the State Bank of India GDR Ltd., as well as other financial, insurance, bank institutions.” Predicatably, the post was then picked up by Fox News, Human EventsNewsmax, examiner.com, Twitchy, and their conservative acolytes. You can see mostly identical examples here, here, hereherehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. (And no, I don’t expect anyone to go to all of the links; I simply wanted to partially demonstrate how far and fast ignorance can be repeated).

Some of the posts–like this one, which is actually kind of funny, if you overlook the inaccuracy–actually outrightly lie, saying that Wasserman Schultz “had her own Swiss bank account.” Keep in mind that I’m not defending the hypocracy or lying that run rampant in politics on both sides of the political aisle. But pretending that Wasserman Schultz’s foreign investments–and perhaps yours–are the moral equivalent of Romney’s is a major stretch. The two have almost nothing in common.

For one thing, the Congresswoman ISN’T RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT. Even if she were, her investments were public (declared on her financial disclosure form), pretty small (less than $15,000) and occurred years ago. Any idea how much Romney still has stashed abroad today? Most importantly, the investments–which, again, were far different from “overseas accounts”–were made by the manager of her retirement fund, not directly by her. For an embarrassing example of why that matters, I’ll share a brief story:

A few years ago, using an IRS Form 990, one of my students found out that the Christian university where I work was unknowingly investing in Abercrombie & Fitch–a company popular with many college students, but not one most Christian institutions would choose to affiliate with. The investments were made by a financial manager, of course, and the student’s story led to a change in investment policy by the university’s board of trustees. In fact, chances are that if you have a retirement fund you have no idea which companies your money is supporting at any given moment. (For the record, my own retirement fund is set up to avoid certain industries, based on my own politics, but the many individual companies that get small pieces of my money vary widely and change with time.)

Oh, speaking of money: Americans paid record-low amounts of federal income taxes during Barack Obama’s first year as president. I wonder if the Weekly Substandard will get a conservative meme going about that.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »