On Twitter this evening, I asked: “Why did Marketplace allow David Frum to suggest that TARP began with Obama?” Listen to it. Now you tell me: Is that not highly misleading?

I wanted people to know that I had strong feelings about that show even before someone sent me the Frum clip, so I followed up with this:

I hate Marketplace. It is the worst show on public radio. I time my morning shower so as to miss it. I refuse to be interviewed by them too.

Which prompted people who follow me on Twitter to ask why. A representative comment from Dwight Silverman, tech reporter for the Houston Chronicle: “Interesting. Why do you dislike it so much?” And from Nick Bergus, “Is it style? Substance? Point of view? Please explain the source of this hatred.”

Okay, I will.

Marketplace, produced by American Public Media, is a few minutes of business news sandwiched into NPR’s Morning Edition and a longer report intended for All Things Considered. The Morning Report is the one I listen to, unless I can’t stand it and run for the shower.

The problem with this report is that it cannot decide if it wants to be the audible Wall Street Journal or Adam Smith for Dummies, a business person’s show, or a show for people who only know about business from the consumer or lay person’s side. Deciding on this is too hard a problem for the mush minds at Marketplace, so it tries to be both. It wants to impress us with some taken-for-granted knowledge and also treat us like morons who don’t know their interest rates from their Nielsen ratings.

That is what I hate. I would rather 1.) listen in on a sophisticated conversation that is sometimes over my head, or 2.) have a show that is specifically made for me as a consumer and occasional victim of big business. What I do not want is a program that splits the difference. But that is what Marketplace is. It is controlled by a weak and condescending idea: You’re don’t know crap about business… oh and by the way Japan’s Nikkei index climbed .7 percent to 9,582.22.

Mostly, however, Marketplace wants to be brief. Brief is the program’s real ideology. And that is a weak, condescending idea. You’re busy, Marketplace tells us. A person on the move! You don’t have time to actually understand this stuff. But you feel you need to know about it… and you are soooooo right. We bring you people who do understand these subjects. They can acquaint you with them painlessly (briefly) so that when someone in your circle mentions the discount window at the Fed, you can say to yourself: I’ve actually heard of that. (Hey, is it really a window, or is that like… a metaphor?)

This is what Marketplace Morning Report is about: arming us not with “knowledge of,” but “acquaintance with.” (The distinction originates with Robert Park.)

Another thing I hate about Marketplace is how fake it is willing to be. Take the almost daily reports from correspondent Stephen Beard in London. Marketplace would like us to think that its hosts are having an informal conversation with Mr. Stephen. Instead of asking him for a report, the way a grown-up news show would, it conducts a little dialogue, a 45 second Q & A, with Beard. But Marketplace doesn’t trust dialogue. Uncontrolled, it may not be brief enough! Listen closely, and you realize that host and correspondent are reading from a script. They’re faking it. The producers figure you’re too stupid to know the difference between a conversation and actors reading their lines.

And anyway, you won’t care because you are rushed, on the go, a busy person who can’t be bothered to learn the details. Like which American President actually began the TARP program.

Corrected to reflect the difference between the morning and after-the-bell versions of Marketplace. –JR

UPDATE: Marketplace issued a correction, at least on the Web it did. Reads as follows:

CORRECTION 9/16/10: David Frum’s commentary about voters blaming President Obama and other politicians for a bank bailout that he believes saved the financial system omitted when the TARP lending program to banks began. It began before President Obama took office and has continued under his administration.

Also see: Marketplace’s Misleading Report On Fashion Copyright in Techdirt.

Advertisements