Tucker Carlson of Fox News has been doing the dirty work of the Fake News Media this week, creating a false narrative to make it look like US senators betrayed the trust of the nation during the coronavirus crisis.
As you know, I generally hold Carlson in the highest esteem, but he went way off the rails by suggesting that Sen. Richard Burr and others used insider knowledge about the current economic crisis to sell their stocks before the downturn.
Carlson is combining those wise trading decisions by senators like Burr and Dianne Feinstein with their public statements encouraging people not to panic as somehow being criminal or dishonest.
“There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time crisis and that appears to be what happened,” said Carlson.
I submit he could not be more wrong. Heck, even the New York Times says Carlson went overboard in attacking the Republican senator.
Here’s the way the Times couched the argument on March 19:
WASHINGTON — Senator Richard M. Burr sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock in major companies last month, as President Trump and others in his party were still playing down the threat presented by the coronavirus outbreak and before the stock market’s precipitous plunge.
The stocks were sold in mid-February, days after Mr. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, wrote an opinion article for Fox News suggesting that the United States was “better prepared than ever before” to confront the virus. At least three other senators sold major stock holdings around the same time, disclosure records show.
Two weeks after Mr. Burr sold his stocks, he spoke at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington to a nonpartisan group called the Tar Heel Club, warning that the virus could soon cause a major disruption in the United States.
The gathering, which drew fewer than 100 people, included representatives from the North Carolina governor’s office, as well as staff members from other congressional offices in the state.
“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history,” Mr. Burr said, according to a recording obtained by NPR, which reported on his remarks on Thursday. “It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
He added: “Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel. You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or whether it can be done on video conference.”
Let’s consider this analytically.
Burr sold his stock in mid-February. The stock market continued to rise until about Feb 20. Carlson says that because Burr and other senators had attended closed-door briefings about the coronavirus, they therefore had “insider knowledge” that they used to enrich themselves.
Here’s the problem with that argument: if you search the archives of the Drudge Report, you will see that on Jan. 22, the top story was “Virus Mutating” with additional top headlines that “New cases rise sharply” and “China quarantines Wuhan.” The story from the Daily Star in London reported that there were 440 cases confirmed so far, but then included this stunning sentence:
Actual figures are likely to be much higher, with leading Virologists suggesting billions could be at risk.
So unless the Drudge Report, the number one news site on the Internet, is considered a source of insider knowledge, the whole premise of Carlson’s crusade is absurd.
If reading that a pandemic could affect billions (plural!) of people doesn’t scare you into selling your stocks, then nothing will! (Hint: There are only 7 billion people in the world!)
The question isn’t why Burr sold his stocks by mid-February, the question is why didn’t he sell them sooner. Of course if everyone had sold a the end of January, it would have just hastened the same market downturn we saw at the end of February.
Can Carlson or anyone else really justify the idea that if you serve in the US Senate or some other high office, you sacrifice your ability to protect your assets by making wise investment decisions?
And I speak from experience. On Jan. 24, I moved all my 401(k) investments out of equity mutual funds and into a stable return fund that invests in Treasury bills. Why? Because I read the Drudge Report and other news outlets and predicted what was coming. I also have a wife from a China, but we independently reached the conclusion that the crisis was long-term. There was no reason to think that the Wuhan virus was going to stay in Wuhan, and when it hit the US, it was obvious that the economy would tank.
The other complaint about Burr is that he told Americans that the economy was strong. Well, sorry, but it was strong! And there was no benefit to telling people it’s time to panic! Most people wouldn’t believe you anyway.
As an example, I warned my brother to get out of the stock market in early February, but he didn’t do it. Why would he? The economy was at an all-time high. Most people would not extrapolate a Chinese virus outbreak with a collapse of the American economy.
As Trump often says about paying the least tax he legally can, “I would be stupid if I didn’t take advantage of the deductions that are available.” By the same token, we should be glad we have a handful of senators who were smart enough not to be snookered by a worldwide pandemic.
Nor should the senators have played Chicken Little and warned everyone to sell their stocks. That would have been truly irresponsible and could have even worsened the crisis.
Yet Carlson and the liberal media are trying to use this crisis to grandstand against politicians. Again, according to the New York Times:
Liberal groups quickly sought to capitalize on the sales, suggesting Mr. Burr should give up his office and advancing unsupported claims that he may have broken the law. [Emphasis added.]
“Senator Burr needs to resign immediately,” said Zach Hudson, a spokesman for American Bridge, a Democratic advocacy group. “His conduct as detailed by this report represents a gross violation of the public’s trust and he must be held accountable for his behavior that appears criminal.”
Criticism came from the conservative side as well, with Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host, also calling for Mr. Burr’s resignation.
Tucker Carlson is just plain wrong.
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