Not everyone knows this, but for the past three years, I have been a producer, economic analyst and fill-in host for a TV show called “Boom Bust” that runs on the RT network. I haven’t been on that show for a month now and a lot of people have been asking me why. The reason is because I resigned just after New Year’s, I tendered my resignation and left the show. I am writing this post to explain why I joined Boom Bust and why I left.
First of all, I joined the show in December 2013 basically because, after writing Credit Writedowns for five years, I needed more ‘human interaction’ than blogging or writing a newsletter could provide. Credit Writedowns started off in March 2008 after I got Lyme disease and needed to take a break before I decided what to do next. And for whatever reason it took off. I got hit by the blogging bug and stayed with it. Writing is cathartic in some ways because it allows me to coalesce thoughts I have into something intelligible and share them with lots of people. It also provides a written record of my thinking, something that I find useful when I am updating my thinking about financial or economic events.
But by late 2013, blogging had become a very lonely endeavor. I had a skeleton crew of people who helped me get a paid newsletter off the ground that I had been doing for almost two years. But when it came to actually seeing and talking to real live people on a day to day basis, I just wasn’t doing it! And that was something I desperately missed.
I had been a guest on some of RT’s shows in the past, the Alyona Show, the RT America news and Capital Account. I thought the people at RT asked good questions and I really enjoyed the interviews. So when RT asked if I wanted to produce Boom Bust, their new finance TV show, I jumped onboard. Almost immediately, I was not just building the guest list and producing the show; I was also on air daily – something I hadn’t expected (or initially wanted since all the new duties made writing a paid subscription newsletter difficult),
Then, Crimea happened. Following a Crimean referendum opposed by the Ukrainian government on 16 March 2014 – which the UN said had no validity, by the way – Russia annexed Crimea under the guise of ’self-determination’. I wrote a post comparing it to the 1845 US annexation of the Republic of Texas, basically saying that Putin wanted an Eurasian EU that reconstituted the Soviet Union via a free trade zone or a more tightly integrated unit like the EU – either through diplomacy or potentially by force, if necessary. The Crimea annexation was the first major sign that Russia was willing to use force – and the world was alarmed.
Crimea turned what was a relatively low-profile finance show into a more controversial enterprise. And immediately the guest cancellations began. People who I knew from my days in the blogosphere basically said that, although they respected my work and loved the show’s content, they were being advised to avoid RT.
Things stabilized eventually. But then the same thing happened again when pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region shot down Malaysian Air Flight 17. A whole slew of guests disappeared. And after that, while the show stabilized yet again, it was never the same.
Fast forward to this past December and the host of my show left for family reasons. I knew right then I had a big decision to make because we would basically be starting over with a new host without an econ background, with a weakened guest roster in a politically-charged environment. Having the whole holiday break to think about what to do, I decided – for family reasons and professional ones too — that my time at RT was over.
By the way, I understand why people are skeptical about RT given its connection to Russia. My personal view is that – like the US – the Russians clearly are using sophisticated digital espionage techniques. And it’s also clear that given their capabilities, they have conducted espionage against American targets. Everyone knows that though. It’s not clear, however, that they ‘hacked’ the US election – as in electronically hacked into polling stations and manipulated vote data. There is no evidence this occurred. That said, I do think it is likely that the Russians are the ultimate source of the DNC emails (through middlemen of course to have plausible deniability).
Now, the US intelligence agencies have a responsibility to assess threats to US interests of this nature. And as a former American diplomat, I support the CIA and NSA’s desire to brief higher level government officials on the potential threats foreign governments represent to US interests because that is the kind of information that diplomats and other US government officials need to be able to make policy. Unfortunately, I believe those briefings have been politicized in a way that increases geopolitical tension rather than easing it.
Back to RT: We operated in a bit of a bubble at Boom Bust because we had very little daily interaction with the news side of the network and the other shows on RT. The reality at Boom Bust always was that we were all American journalists. And we created each and every show. There was no input from Russia whatsoever. I remember early on in the show that we invited a guest on the show who had been openly critical of Russian foreign policy right after the annexation of Crimea. Rather than dodge that issue, I formulated an open-ended question. And the guest – rather than repeat his criticism, self-censored. I was surprised (and disappointed).
On Trump, I’ll say this. In the last several months of my tenure at RT, I was consistently saying that the economy was doing reasonably well and that there were no signs of recession whatsoever. That’s exactly the opposite of what Trump was saying. Anyone who watched our show understood fairly quickly that we were neutral politically and wanted to report the facts independent of the political campaign.
What we tried to do at Boom Bust was to play to RT’s strengths as a media outlet and look at global financial stories that were overlooked or report on stories from an angle we felt under-appreciated. And because our show was international, it was clearly not geared to the US election in the first place.
I am proud of the work that we did at Boom Bust. I am also grateful for the opportunities it gave me to cover big events on the ground like the Greek crisis, the Brexit referendum, and the refugee crisis. I am saddened that our work there has been politicized. But perhaps RT just wasn’t the right platform for an independent international business show. I don’t know. I will continue to follow the same themes at Credit Writedowns now and look forward to interacting with my former guests from that venue.
I didn’t expect this post to be as long as it ended up being. But, there it is. While I enjoy Credit Writedowns, I am going to be looking for something else to keep me gainfully employed. I would appreciate hearing from you about jobs, consulting projects, and conferences you think would work for me. Also I look forward to hearing from those of you who read the site or watched the show or who are new to Credit Writedowns to hear what you think about what I’ve said here. Email me at ed h at credit writedowns dot com and let me know what’s on your mind.
All the best,