David Brancaccio is one of public broadcasting’s biggest stars. He hosts NOW on PBS; public radio listeners will recall his old job, hosting Marketplace. Earlier this month, he swung by SFR’s office to promote a PBS special on health care reform, with the Nightly Business Report team and Tavis Smiley. (It airs at 7:30 pm, Sept. 24 on KNME, with a localized NEW MEXICO IN FOCUS special on health care half an hour prior.) But he preferred to talk about journalism and the economy.
SFR: I follow your podcast. I don’t own a TV.
DB: There’s a correlation: The bigger TV you have, the dumber you are. Smart people have TVs, often—but not very big ones.
What are you doing in Santa Fe again?
We’re meeting with viewers and so forth, trying to help the station. They want to do cool things for people who give money. I’m one of the entertainers.
So you’re drinking wine and eating cheese.
I wish. I don’t want to get too wasted before I start talking about serious stuff. I’m talking to people about the crisis in journalism. Also, we need to have a national conversation about not just fixing the economic crisis, [but] how we create a better country and a better world.
A lot of people assume we’ll go back to the way it was in the ’90s, when everybody had money.
This is exactly my point. I was interviewing Ken Rogoff; he’s a big-shot economist at Harvard. He’s studied the last 400 years of economic crises. He said this one is following the pattern of the big ones. He says, ‘Brightly, we could be back to 2007 levels in the economy by 2011.’ I started to think, well, that’s the goal? Things were so perfect? There was no injustice? Health care was fine, there were no national security issues or wars? Let’s not go backwards; let’s go forwards. But that conversation means very substantial changes to the way the world works.
As far as changes, Obama just reappointed Bush’s federal reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke.
And all of his economic team are essentially Robert Rubin proteges [from the Clinton era], so how much is going to happen? They’re coming up with a new financial blueprint for the planet. Obama has a plan, and it’s pretty tame. The entrenched interests are not into substantial changes. So what will drive real changes? An educated public saying, ‘We’ve got to go way further than this.' Our show tries. It’s a difficult time to do nonprofit journalism. We had a furlough for four weeks.
You had a furlough?
It’s not a happy situation, but at least there were no layoffs…How are we going to talk about any of these things, like fixing the world, if journalism is dying out? People think it’s all up for grabs—that there are no facts, it’s all point of view. That means as a country, we can agree on absolutely nothing.
It seems we’d need a common set of facts to talk about the economy.
Some stark facts break through. Something like half the capital in our markets is now controlled by five or six companies. It has not always been that way…[People] know they’re working real hard without much gain…There is shocking economic data that shows a great predictor of what your class will be, how much you’ll earn, is what your parents earned. It’s like, ‘What?!’
What’s this health care special with you and Tavis Smiley?
I’m trying to get the president of the United States. We’re not going to know until two days before. If he wants to do it, we’re a great venue. If he doesn’t want to do it, he won’t do it. He’s a tough get.
Can’t he just ‘tweet’ everybody that voted for him?
Good old Twitter. Our show is about meaning, and Twitter is the opposite of meaning. We’ve got to make the case that there’s something special called journalism, and it requires investment.