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Be wary of media's financial reporting

Financial advice is easily available. Problem is, there's a lot of bad advice. WFAE commentator Martha Catt says that's especially true with the advice proliferated in the media.

I've had the same conversation a thousand times since September. It starts with the client saying: "I know you must be inundated, but . . . . And ends with the client saying "Oh, thank you, I feel soooo much better now."

A good financial advisor is never too busy to talk a client off the ledge. So what put that client on the ledge in the first place? A so-called news story. No matter the source (newspaper, magazine, radio, television or the internet), everyone has jumped on the economic bandwagon, only most of the people producing this content forgot to pack any financial acumen before they boarded.

Would you believe that I've had clients ask me to confirm a snippet they heard on Rush Limbaugh? Okay, Suzie Orman, I understand, but since when did Rush Limbaugh become a financial expert? For the record, he's not.

Then there are the CNBC devotees. Now, Jim Cramer of Mad Money did work as a trader on Wall Street, but look at the first two definitions of "mad" in the dictionary: 1.) 'angry' 2.) 'insane.' Do you really want to trust your financial future to a raving lunatic banging gongs and bouncing around a set that looks like a reject from Pee Wee's Playhouse? And yet there are people who rely on these purveyors of infotainment.

As both a financial advisor and a contributor to the media, let me offer a word of warning: beware of the agenda behind the content. Regardless of the source there is always a slant, perhaps not in the story itself, but certainly in the purported experts quoted. For example: NPR frequently includes public policy experts in its stories, and while they identify the organization they do not label the think-tank's political philosophy like the libertarian Cato Institute.

Cato refers to the ancient philosopher's letters, but for me the letters stand for: Calcified, Atrophied, Torpid Opinion-makers. Just so you know where I'm coming from.

Be especially wary of the 'blamer.' This person makes you think he has all the answers, and it may even sound plausible, but don't believe it. Why? Because we all contributed to the market crash. A market is simply a place where people come together to decide on a price for a good or service. If everyone comes to the market with the intent of selling and no one is buying, then guess what happens to the price? It crashes.

So what's a person to do? Very simple: just stop and think. Before you act wonder: Is this person speaking from a place of calm and reason, or do they have an agenda contrary to my own? Beyond that, demand reforms from your elected leaders.

Even Nature needs a little help regulating itself, so what made Congress think the economy wouldn't need a little moderation from time to time? An astute senator once said: "Regulation is a little like sex, if you think it's sinful, you're probably not very good at it."

Perhaps it is time for all of us to embrace a classic.

Commentator Martha Catt is a financial advisor, and a community columnist for the Charlotte Observer.