Friday, June 27, 2008

Oprah's puppets are taking over the country



I was recently watching the Today Show (there goes any shred of credibility I had left) and a Q&A piece with Today Financial Editor, Jean Chatzky, caught my attention. It involved viewers e-mailing questions to Ms. Chatzky and her responding to those questions on the air. Below is a question from one of the viewers followed by Ms. Chatzky's response:

Q: We are in so much debt — first and second mortgages credit card debt, son going to private high school. We are so overwhelmed, it is taking its toll on our relationship, kids and life. Any help would be appreciated. — Marie, Malden, Mass.

A: Marie, we talk a lot on this show about making small choices — cutting out things like lattes and premium cable — in order to find money to pay off your debts. But sometimes small choices aren't enough and you need to make some larger, tougher ones. This may mean moving from a larger house to a smaller one; it may mean selling a car or taking on a second job; or it may mean either finding enough financial aid for your son's tuition or pulling him out of private school and putting him in public school. I'm not saying that this is an easy decision, because it's not. But think about it this way: If you are unable to support your family when he is in high school, there is no way you'll be able to contribute to college. I also think you should share with your son enough about your situation so that he understands the pressure you're under, and how hard you have tried to make this work for him. Teenagers can be tough, but yours may surprise you with how he steps up to try to contribute to the family.

I was struck first by the stupidity of the question and second by the stupidity of the response. Let me get this straight. Marie from Mass is buried up to her eyeballs in debt, her husband is curled up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor rocking back and forth, and she decides to turn to The Today Show for help? Are you kidding me Marie? What, do you think Jean Chatzky has some enchanted wand she can wave to make all your debt magically disappear? I'm sorry to be the one to break this to you Marie but that's not how reality works. What followed (Jean Chatzky's on air response) was equally brilliant in its ineptitude. She basically advised Marie to (drum roll please) cut back on her spending. Simply profound - now I see why Jean Chatzky landed this on air gig in the first place. If she had more time the next piece of ground breaking advice she probably would have doled out to Marie would be to (wait for it) make more money. Unbelievable. And I'm guessing all the while Marie was sitting at home on the couch she can't afford watching the television she can't afford listening proudly as Jean Chatzky so eloquently delivered her pearls of financial wisdom. I understand the stupidity of Marie's question because the general public is generally stupid. But I have a hard time understanding the stupidity of Jean Chatzky's response because after all she is on TV and you have to be smart to be on TV right? So this got me thinking.

I started to wonder if this was an isolated incident or if the advice of all financial experts is as ridiculous as Jean Chatzky's. And to be fair I have nothing against Jean Chatzky. I'm sure she's a very nice lady. My intention was not to single her out but unfortunately she's the lightning rod that started this rant. So I google "financial experts" and three names immediately pop up: Jean Chatzky (of course), Ric Edelman, and Suze Orman. Hmmm... that's strange. Just three names. I wonder what these three people could possibly have in common that has led them to the forefront of financial advising? So I do a bit more research and soon discover the common thread behind each of these financial giants. Any guesses? Yup that's right, Oprah f-ing Winfrey. Why am I not surprised? Just like Dr. Phil they each gained celebrity status following appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show. So there you have it. In order to be an expert in any field (finance, psychology, fitness, interior design, rocket science, whatever) you don't necessarily need an education, or experience, or even intelligence. Those things can't hurt but it turns out what you really need is something that can't be learned in a University, or earned through a life of hard work, or even given to you by God. No, the thing that matters more than anything else is Oprah Winfrey's stamp of approval. Barack Obama -welcome to the White House. It seriously keeps me up at night thinking about how much power that woman wields. If Oprah's people read this I will likely be smothered in the night so this could very well be my last post. Good health and God speed.

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