MSNBC's Ratigan Shows How Journalism Should Work

Journalists, take note: Dylan Ratigan should be your model.

Despite working for MSNBC, Ratigan has shown a hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners interview style that is quickly gaining him the reputation for being the toughest interview on television.  It isn’t often that an MSNBC host can claim to be tough on both sides of the political aisle, but the former CNBC correspondent could probably do it with a straight face and a clear conscience.

This morning, for example, Ratigan was brought in as a hired gun of sorts, to speak with Obama’s Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), Dr. Christina Romer.  Typically, in interviews with White House economic wonks, TV personalities can easily be blown away by the technical rhetoric of economists.  Typically, these wonks sound very much like they know what they’re talking about, even when they are in fact dodging the question.  This was not a typical interview in either regard.

For example, to kick things off, Ratigan asks a rather technical question:
Yeah, I’ll jump in right there and say, uh, Christina, that is fantastic, that is great news, that you’re going to leave risk with those who decide to take the risk in the first place.  Can you give me any sense of what the capital requirement will be?  In other words, setting a new capital requirement is – sounds great, but again, for a market that was once thought to be highly levered when I borrowed five or six dollars for every dollar that was out there, and even in the peak of the eighties’ takeover boom we were at ten-to-one, we allowed this marketplace to go –  in some cases to go forty-, sixty-, even a hundred-to-one in some cases.  I’m curious as to what you believe – what your agency believes fair leverage is.
Now to be fair, there is no right answer to this question.  Ratigan is asking for a specific ratio, which Romer cannot possibly give, unless it has been unilaterally decided by the CEA.  But when she attempts to dodge the question, Ratigan holds her feet to the fire:
CHRISTINA ROMER: You know, I think the crucial thing is, that is a topic which is going to be worked out, it’s going to be something –

RATIGAN: Well, worked out by who, though?  That’s – my concern is, because I know that the financial lobby has exploded over the past couple of months into Washington D.C., and my concern is that the size of that leverage will be set by the same people who set it last time, one of which was Hank Paulson, who was at the time the CEO of Goldman Sachs, and went on to be the Treasury Secretary, and then he went on to be able to have a secret meeting where he gave out, you know, a few hundred billion of the taxpayer’s dollars behind closed doors.  I’m curious what the new process of setting leverage will be.
And this is Ratigan’s mentality – when Mika Brzezinski later thanked Romer for being on the show, she also thanked her for “tolerating Dylan.”  Ratigan’s laughing response?
Oh, tolerating?  That’s journalism, Mika, she enjoyed it – we were having a good time there.
While it’s debatable whether Romer actually enjoyed that tough-but-fair interview, it was certainly enjoyable for viewers.  Kudos to Ratigan, for asking tough, fair-minded questions – and for pursuing those questions to the point of substantive response.  That’s journalism.