Ryan Chittum, a financial journalist with the Columbia Journalism Review, is in the sixth day of an argument with Floyd Norris of the New York Times and still going strong. Today, he fires at Norris for a July 20 column that argued that old-fashioned bad loans, not hypercomplex exotic securities, are the cause of scores of banks going under. Chittum's latest volley slapped Norris for not looking at the big picture: "He didn't step back to include the fact that securitization and the so-called shadow-banking system to a large degree created the conditions that killed the old-fashioned loans that killed the banks," the blogger wrote.
At its core, the debate is over why, despite broadly improving economic conditions, banks continue to keel over, to the point where the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission is close to running out of money.
But it's also (as the cliché goes) about respect. Norris is the Times's chief financial correspondent and, called out by Chittum, he snapped back testily that the younger writer would have agreed with him "If he did any additional research, like looking at the financial statements of the banks that have been failing lately."
That may be why Chittum spent almost as much of his response calling for civility as he did analyzing finance:
Clearly there is room for disagreement among financial journalists. I've written positively about Norris many times. It's not like he's, you know, Larry Kudlow. Can't we all get along? Indeed, for proof that colleagues can disagree without being disagreeable, we turn to the Times itself, noted haven of collegiality.
Perhaps Norris is right to slam, or perhaps big-name columnists like him simply don't take kindly to be being tweaked by bloggers. Either way, Chittum is calling in for reinforcements, asking over Twitter for an "independent party" among other financial bloggers to weigh his case.