TVO now bought PR not journalism?

TVO has long styled itself as a model of journalistic integrity and public education. From its website the mission statement is noble:

For over four decades, TVO has built a reputation based on trust, quality and depth.

We are focused on delivering the best in digital education, current affairs and documentaries, helping to build strong communities with engaged citizens. We are committed to providing access to educational experiences that help all Ontarians realize their potential through learning. Donor support is essential to TVO. By becoming a donor, you are helping to create a better world through the power of learning.

But as government support has been scaled back in recent years the dependency on corporate sponsorship has grown and the perils of this model appear brutally apparent in its recent production, “The Forecaster” based on financial newsletter writer, Martin Armstrong. Here is the direct video link.

Journalism this is not.  The production is long on cinematic license, dramatic pauses and close-ups and shockingly short on verified facts or evidence.  Lots of odd scenes of people sitting at desks and walking or watching a fluffy dog.  All information presented is as alleged by Armstrong, his friends, family and supporters. No investigators, police, prosecutors or the previous clients who lost money are interviewed in the film.  The piece is incredibly one-sided and at times, almost a darkly comical, presentation.

The film promotion summary sets the tone with the opaque and misleading opening statement, “MARTIN ARMSTRONG, once a US based trillion dollar financial advisor.” But the film offers no objective evidence to explain how Armstrong was “a trillion dollar” anything.  We know from the public transcript of his 2009 SEC conviction, that Armstrong was not registered as a financial advisor.  The SEC order sets out its own independent investigation and findings and bans Armstrong from any future association with investment advisors.  The transcript can be read here for those interested in this case.

The SEC order also quotes from the official transcript of Armstrong’s guilty plea to conspiracy to commit securities fraud, wire fraud, and commodities fraud.  The actual transcript of Armstrong’s guilty plea before District Court Judge Kennan can and should be read here in full.  It’s relevant to note what Armstrong actually pled guilty to in the criminal proceeding, as these acts were not defined or explained in the TVO presentation.  From the SEC summary, to wit:

“According to Armstrong’s allocution, after he suffered “some millions of dollars of trading losses,” he decided “not to disclose to investors that . . . substantial losses had been experienced in this trading of futures. And we did not disclose it.” Armstrong also admitted that his concealment of his losses went beyond non-disclosure: “letters were sent by my company to investors concerning how much money was in fact in the accounts assigned to them. I . . . did send out those letters, even though . . . I knew the amounts in the accounts were less than the letters stated.”

I do not profess to have personal knowledge of these events. But it is highly suspect that a self-promoted ‘documentary’ on the case offers no explanation or examination of what are admitted and objectively verifiable events should one wish to discover truth here.

Lastly, I have no problem with the idea that one can make big picture assessments of macro-economic cycles and formulate helpful theories on how human behavior and events repeat through time. Useful financial experts must do this constantly.  But it is preposterous to suggest that one can use these observations to predict with perfection the timing of future events.  Have we learned nothing here folks?   To state that putting this past cycle info into a computer allows algorithms to precisely predict the future including dates and the level of markets, is perhaps even more outrageous and should be an insult to thinking people everywhere.

Clearly humans love to believe the future can be predicted in advance, I get that, but this key assertion in the Armstrong story is just plain embarrassing.

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