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The Daily Fray

Barney Frank: What I Read

June 3, 2011

How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? What sources can't they live without? To find out, we regularly reach out to well-informed people to learn more about their media diets. This is taken from a conversation with Rep. Barney Frank, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Financial Services. It has been edited for clarity and length.

In the morning, if we're in session, I read The New York Times, Congress Daily, National Journal and then the three Capitol Hill papers: The Hill, Roll Call and Politico. I try to read those every day. During the afternoon, I'm reading internal memos from staff and other documents from regulators and maybe an occasional paper from an economics professional.

Paul Krugman is great. I'm very much guided by and reinforced by Paul Krugman. I think he does very good stuff. I read Gail Collins for amusement and the Financial Times's Martin Wolf is very good on stuff I need to know. Though I don't have the time, I try to read The Economist. More often than not, it is to my right politically but it is the one publication where the ideology has no impact on the information that's presented. That used to be true of The Wall Street Journal but it's not, unfortunately, anymore.


When I get home, my interests are more narrow. I'm either reading about financial issues or about history—particularly British history. I'm reading a biography of John Stuart Mill, Michael Lewis's The Big Short and I just finished a fascinating book called Winston's War, which is a critique of Churchill's leadership during World War II.

TV is my default activity when I'm too tired to read. I like watching re-runs of situation comedies. Typically Frasier or Everybody Loves Raymond. I don't care for Seinfeld. I'm bothered by the character of Kramer. I find it hard to watch shows where there is one character that is so obnoxious that no one would hang out with him. That's also my problem with Will & Grace. I don't understand why Jack was his best friend. He's unpleasant and dishonest. Why would anyone want to put up with a Jack or a Kramer? It's discordant for me to think about. My partner's an outdoors guy so when we're watching TV together, we'll put on River Monsters, which follows a guy who catches unusual creatures in the water.

I don't get news on my phone. I don't use Facebook or Twitter. I want substance. I'm not betting on stocks. I don't deal in emergencies and I don't know CPR. There's enough possibility of misunderstanding as it is without 140 character tweets. Of course, when you're talking about somebody getting shot, tweets have been good. But generally, I want more than you can get on a phone.

The trouble with new media is the fact that there's no screen. Anyone can publish anything. We still have the notion that if it's printed it has some validity.  Previously, you had to convince at least one other person that it was worth printing. Now, anyone can print anything in this medium. In general, there's a lot more gossip and fragmentation. People are starting to just get reinforcement in the media. On the left, it's MSNBC, Fire Dog Lake and The Huffington Post. On the right, it's Fox News and the talk radio hosts. People interpret facts differently through these parallel universes. It's what makes compromise so hard because your partisans just think your selling them out because that's what everyone they know says. It deepens and sharpens a partisan and ideological divide.

For more Media Diets: Charlie Gasparino, Don LemonMartin Peretz, Aaron Sorkin, Lizzie O'LearyAdam MossJennifer EganMalcolm GladwellSusan GlassnerJoe WeisenthalAndrea MitchellAnna Holmes, Clara JefferyEric SchmidtNick DentonDavid BrooksAndrew BreitbartGary ShteyngartTom McGeveranMegan McCarthyBret StephensJoseph EpsteinDave WeigelChristopher HayesChris AndersonLewis LaphamReihan SalamPeggy NoonanJoe RandazzoJay RosenNeetzan ZimmermanClay Shirky and many more here.

Want to add to this story? Comment below or send the author of this post, John Hudson, an email. Have a hot tip or story idea? Let us know on the Open Wire.

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