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Halfway There!

I guess the LA Times business section is no longer to be trusted—not in its choice of headlines, at least.

Reading “Banks have repaid outstanding bailout balance and then some, Treasury says,” you might be forgiven for thinking the TARP bailout has been repaid, with interest. What the headline means, however, is that banks have repaid an amount on their loans roughly equal to the amount they have not yet repaid. The headline should read “Banks have repaid HALF the bailout.”

Well, no, it shouldn’t read that, either. See, the TARP bailout came to $700 billion, by the article’s now suspect reckoning. $194 billion in loans repaid and $190 billion in loans outstanding comes to $384 billion in loans. What, then, of the remaining $316 billion? Well, that wasn’t a loan at all; that doesn’t have to be repaid. So the headline should read “Banks have repaid a little over a QUARTER of the TARP bailout, with no obligation to repay nearly half of it.”

I guess the business section prefers a version that sounds more upbeat, informative content be damned.

The really sad part? The headline quoted above is already the corrected version; an insert reads that the original headline said banks had repaid the TARP debt in its entirety. Taking the time to correct the error, the Times has nobly confessed its error and substituted a slightly less misleading one. But only slightly, and the confusion a false correction causes isn’t any better than the confusion of the original statement may have caused.

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