This is a copy of an email I sent to CNN to correct an error regarding their report on China's ownership of US public debt. I know this is an old issue that I wrote about last year, but they messed up the definitions again and misled viewers.
Regarding your story on China's ownership of US public debt on 8/17/2011 (5pm):
Again, you do not have the correct numbers or definitions of US government debt and are misleading viewers for the sake of a sensationalized report. US public debt is $9.95 tril - not $4.5 tril as reported. What you reported is the portion of the public debt owned by foreign countries. Of the debt owned by foreign countries, China owns $1.2 tril, about 25% - but only 11% of the "public debt"... and just slightly more than Japan's share of our public debt at just under 10% (which they have owned for many years without even a mention from your crack team of journalists). China IS NOT the "largest owner of US public debt". They are the largest owners of US public debt held by foreign countries.
When you say "public debt" on the air, most listeners, viewers, and maybe some TV journalists, don't know that this definition is different from the "national debt" and is really the portion of the national debt net of intergovernmental holdings. What YOU actually reported on earlier this evening was the national debt minus intergovernmental holdings... minus publicly owned debt held by US citizens, governments, and corporations which leaves you with the portion of the national debt held by foreign nations. Since most people think you are talking about the entire national debt, to then say that China owns 25% is very irresponsible and given that this information is easily available and verifiable, you should be called out and sanctioned for what seems like a purposefully misleading attempt to sensationalize the issue.
This information and the correct definitions are available at http://www.treasurydirect.gov
Please, please, please do your job and correct the report. Help this country by educating viewers!
I will be reprinting this email in a post on my blog www.dismalscientists.com
Mike Gumpper, PhD
Professor of Economics