On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke held the first press conference in the history of the central bank. Bernanke did not deviate much from the cautious "Fedspeak" typically used by the nation's top bankers — he expounded on the need to generate faster economic growth and create more jobs while keeping inflation in check — but he made news simply by fielding questions, peeling back the curtain at least a bit on an institution that, for much of its history, has been shrouded in secrecy. "He mostly retraced familiar ground, and the markets rose only slightly as he spoke, suggesting that investors learned little of consequence," says Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times. If that's the case, did the Fed chairman really accomplish anything by speaking with the press?
Yes. This was a public-relations win: In PR terms, Bernanke holding a press conference could only be topped by "the Pope guest-hosting Saturday Night Live," says Gregg Easterbrook at Reuters. The Fed chairman seems to believe that he should be "more accountable to the public," and "more power to him" for answering questions with humility and "admirable honesty." Given the tricky policy questions facing the central bank, it's good to "finally have a Federal Reserve chairman willing to explain himself to the public."
"Bernanke raises the curtain on the Federal Reserve"
Yes. Bernanke revealed his priorities: The Fed chief may have made "the most important economic policy statement that Americans will hear this year," says Ezra Klein in The Washington Post. Bernanke made clear that the fear of inflation would take precedence over reducing unemployment in the minds of Fed bankers. So here's the message the public should take from his appearance: "Sucks to be you, unemployed Americans."
"Wonkbook: The Fed chooses a side"
No. Bernanke just ducked tough questions: His press conference may have been unprecedented, but Bernanke "predictably provided no substantive information," says Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), a longtime critic of the Fed, as quoted by USA Today. He just kept assuring us that inflation is "not a problem." Americans deserve real answers, and a "staged press conference will not be enough to stop the growing demand for real Fed transparency."
"Ron Paul: Bernanke had no substance in news conference"
No. The Fed is losing its gravitas: These new quarterly sessions are the Fed's "inside-the-Beltway response to its sagging popularity ratings," says Vincent R. Reinhardt at The New York Times. And the "sad fact" is that continuing these news conferences "could add to public cynicism," by making the Fed look like "just another Washington institution whose leader takes media training classes." By pursuing this "notion of openness, the Fed will have lost its mystique."
"Opacity has its uses"