Bailout's '$700 Billion' Cost Is a Contrived Wild Guess; Media Mostly Ignores

As I write this on Monday afternoon, the People's House has rejected "the $700 billion bailout."

You won't believe, unless you're a very experienced cynic, where that $700 billion figure came from.

The answer appears to be "out of nowhere."

With no basis.

I'm not kidding.

Here's the evidence, carried six whole days ago at Forbes (HT LAT's Top of the Ticket Blog via BizzyBlog commenter Dan Scott):

..... The committee's top Republican, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, says he's concerned about its cost and whether it will even work.

In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

My guess is that the person just quoted, if discovered, might be better known today as a "former Treasury spokesman."

It doesn't seem like a wild stretch to suggest that there is a whiff of blackmail in the figure Treasury decided to use (i.e. "How big does it have to be to get them to do what we want?").

This is serious stuff ..... right?

Yet the press coverage of this quote, admittedly unattributed (not that it's stopped the press before), is very light. Further, though I may have missed it, I haven't seen anyone challenge Paulson, or Bernanke, or Bush about the validity of the $700 billion figure.

The New York Times has not reported it (search is on "particular data point" in quotes) in its regular news coverage. It is mentioned at the Times's Freakonomics blog -- in a comment.

The same search at Google News at about 3:00 p.m. ET returned 61 items (not 66, as claimed on the first page). Almost all are local TV stations, relatively minor publications, or right-leaning blogs. I saw not major Old Media outlet.

Although many of those TV items indicated that the Associated Press had a hand in their reports a 7-day search at the home page of ap.org came up empty, even typing "particular data point" without quotes.

I daresay if most Americans knew of the Treasury person's quote, the communication lines in Washington would melt down. How can this possibly not be important?

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.