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CNBC Misses Penny Pritzker-NSA Scoop at Davos

CNBC has been hanging out all week with all the cool kids at Davos. I happened to see bits and pieces of their coverage, and found like much like watching the E! network reporting on the Golden Globes, albeit without Joan Rivers. Even the CNBC folks cop to this comparison, given the headline to their roundup of links to a bunch of their interviews.

Felix Salmon at Reuters captured the Davos mentality perfectly:

Why do these CEOs come to Davos? It’s not to reflect painfully on their failure to live up to the Pope’s calling. Instead, Occam’s razor absolutely applies, here: the simplest explanation is absolutely the correct one. They come because they are invited; because they can get their companies to pay for it; because it’s generally considered a hot ticket that lots of people want; and because they get to rub shoulders with heads of state and global celebrities.

Shorter Felix: Davos is driven by CEO FOMO. [Fear Of Missing Out]

This also applies to why CNBC traveled to Davos, as their coverage demonstrated time and time again. As CNBC said at the link to their site above, Davos is “a perfect venue for “Squawk Box”—a who’s who of corporate leaders, megabankers, policymakers, Hollywood A-listers, hedge fund honchos, billionaire financiers and, of course, our intrepid co-hosts Joe Kernen, Becky Quick and Andrew Ross Sorkin.”

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the fanboi mentality of Kernen, Quick, and Sorkin blinded them to the real scoop that fell into their laps.

On Thursday morning, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker sat down with the “Squawk Box” folks, and much of the interview went as one might expect from any secretary of commerce of either party (business=good, regulation=bad, the market holds all the answers, etc.). In the course of the conversation, the topic turned to Target and the hacking of their credit card system. One of the exchanges was this (starts at 0:45):

Quick: Does it make sense, do you think, to move to the credit cards that have the chip technology? Is that a safer platform?

Pritzker: Well, I’m not an expert in the specific technologies, but what I would say it that, you know, companies are going to have to find more and more ways that they’re confident that someone’s information is protected.

On Thursday afternoon, Penny “I’m not an expert” Pritzker figured prominently in a White House press release from John Podesta about the new panel to review the government’s handling of NSA databases:

Last Friday, the President spoke to the American people, and the international community, about how to keep us safe from terrorism in a changing world while upholding America’s commitment to liberty and privacy that our values and Constitution require. Our national security challenges are real, but that is surely not the only space where changes in technology are altering the landscape and challenging conceptions of privacy.

That’s why in his speech, the President asked me to lead a comprehensive review of the way that “big data” will affect the way we live and work; the relationship between government and citizens; and how public and private sectors can spur innovation and maximize the opportunities and free flow of this information while minimizing the risks to privacy. I will be joined in this effort by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, the President’s Science Advisor John Holdren, the President’s Economic Advisor Gene Sperling and other senior government officials.

OK, so there’s a non-expert in privacy protection technology like Pritzker on this panel. What’s the big deal? Shouldn’t a committee like this have a bunch of folks with different kinds of expertise?

As Marcy Wheeler noted in her reaction to this press release, Pritzker’s not alone in her non-expertise:

As I said in my annotations to Obama’s speech, effectively Obama responded ”to a review by calling for another review,” but at least it would be a welcome first time he reached out to technologists.

[snip — Marcy quotes the same Podesta press release given above]

I’ll outsource judging whether this amounts to reaching out to technologists to Chris Soghoian:

None of the big names named in the president’s “big data” review announcement are technologists. DC at its finest.

And no one in the traditional media seemed to notice. Not then, and not since. Not even CNBC, who had one of the principals sitting with their reporters and admitting to her lack of relevant expertise on the task of this review panel.

Oh well. I’ll bet the ulta-elite cocktail weenies made up for missing the scoop.

But it does raise an interesting question: If a scoop falls in your lap and no one notices, does it make a sound?


h/t to the Department of Commerce for the photo of Secretary Pritzker on CNBC’s Davos set with the Squawk Box crew. Because the US taxpayers paid for this photo, it is in the public domain. Its use here is not meant to imply that Secretary Pritzker, the Department of Commerce, or anyone else in the US government or at CNBC agrees with the sentiments expressed in this post. Indeed, I think that their agreement with my thoughts here would be highly unlikely.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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