‘Cryptocurrency Will Not Die’: Mainstream Media on Bitcoin in 2019
As the year comes to a close, it is time to look back at mainstream media’s coverage of cryptocurrencies in 2019.
In late 2017, Bitcoin piqued the interest of millions of people hoping to capitalize on the ongoing frenzy and, as a result, drew the attention of various traditional media outlets. The press seemed largely skeptical about the concept of decentralization but proceeded to report on Bitcoin’s erratic price movement.
This year, as the space has become more regulated, cryptocurrencies saw a notably different kind of coverage. The industry’s Wild West days are over, and media outlets — most of whom were quick to bury Bitcoin at least once over that period — are now focusing on how cryptocurrencies are entering the agenda of Big Tech and, for instance, the People’s Bank of China.
Still, many spectators remain unconvinced — as illustrated by United States President Donald Trump’s tweet earlier this year that summarized the most popular concerns about cryptocurrencies in under 280 characters and was covered by most mainstream media outlets (with diametrically opposed views regarding the critique’s potential impact on Bitcoin’s value). The president’s tweet read:
“I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air. Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity….”
Here are the main highlights of 2019’s Bitcoin and blockchain coverage gathered from mainstream media.
Title: Crypto Crazy
Airing date: Sept. 9–Sept. 13
Back in August, Julia Chatterley — the anchor for CNN’s daily global business program First Move — announced she would host a week-long series called “Crypto Crazy” the following month, signaling that her audience was interested in hearing more on digital money. The show’s main objective was to “debunk some of the most popular misconceptions” about cryptocurrencies. Notably, in the first episode, Chatterley asked the guest expert to explain some not-so-basic concepts, especially for a TV audience — such as fake volume reports, whales and cold wallets. In the following episodes, the anchor focused on this year’s most mainstream crypto events, including Libra and the Winklevoss twins’ attempts to take digital assets to Wall Street.
Title: Bitcoin’s Wild Ride
Airing date: May 19
Earlier this year, CBS devoted so much as “60 Minutes” to cover Bitcoin’s many swings that happened over 10 years. To get a first-person perspective, the channel’s correspondent, Anderson Cooper, interviewed a handful of industry participants — including, among others, the guy who infamously bought two pizzas for 10,000 Bitcoin, marking the first time the preeminent crypto was used as a currency. “Sorry, let me just get this straight,” Cooper asked, as would any person hearing this story for the first time. “You spent about $80 million on pizza?”
The New York Times
Title: Bitcoin Has Saved My Family
Date of publication: Feb. 23
In this op-ed, the Times’ audience was presented with a curious case of how Bitcoin — often depicted as a tax cheating tool for radical libertarians or even terrorists — can actually help those living in poverty-stricken countries. Penned by Carlos Hernández, a Venezuelan economist, the essay explains how keeping money in bolívars — the local soverign currency — is seen as “financial suicide” due to the overwhelmingly high inflation rates. The annual inflation rate in Venezuela was almost 1.7 million percent last year.
The author, who had gone grocery shopping after changing his Bitcoin into bolívars, could not find any milk in about 20 shops nearby due to extreme food shortages. Still, he had to buy something that day — otherwise, his bolívars would lose value — so he opted for cheese, the closest thing to milk he could find.
Hernández, who keeps all his money in Bitcoin, says that he is not the only Venezuelian relying on digital assets — in fact, as much as $1 million worth of bolívars was traded for Bitcoin in a single day in April via LocalBitcoins.com, a peer-to-peer exchange.
On page 9 of the Times, Hernández wrote:
“You could say that cryptocurrencies have saved our family. I now cover our household’s expenses on my own. My father is a government employee — in a printing department with no paper — and earns about $6 a month. My mother is a stay-at-home mom with no income. And cryptocurrencies helped my brother Juan, 28, escape Venezuela last summer.”
Date of publication: Nov. 11
Earlier this year, the Guardian selected Kenneth Rogoff — a professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University, who worked as a chief economist at the International Monetary Fund in the early 2000s — to write a piece on cryptocurrencies.
Rogoff focused on an important trend: digital, state-run currencies that employ blockchain. China has advanced more than others in that regard, the economist argued, comparing the country’s efforts to Facebook’s Libra, which is by far a much more well-known project. Indeed, Zuckerberg himself made this analogy during a hearing before Congress. “China is moving quickly to launch a similar idea in the coming months,” the Facebook CEO said at the time. “We can’t sit here and assume that because America is today the leader that it will always get to be the leader if we don’t innovate.”
“A widely used, state-backed Chinese digital currency could certainly have an impact, especially in areas where China’s interests do not coincide with those of the west,” Rogoff wrote, stressing that China’s currency will most likely be “permissioned” and hence have strict control over all transactions that it entails. Ironically, that would entirely contradict the anonymous, pro-decentralization agenda that Bitcoin is famous for — and average readers are starting to realize that cryptocurrencies are not just some internet coins, but a global technology that can change financial systems forever.
Department of Justice
Title: The Mueller Report
Date of publication: April 19
In April, the Department of Justice released special counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailing his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. One of its major points was that Russian agents allegedly used cryptocurrency at numerous stages in their online efforts to disrupt the election, hoping to “capitalize on the perceived anonymity of cryptocurrencies.” Specifically, Mueller’s report revealed that the “systems used in the hacking of the Democratic Party” were paid for with Bitcoin, as were online hosting services used by websites that published the hacked materials and participated in “the targeting of disinformation at American voters.”
Indeed, while cryptocurrencies are known for the anonymity they provide, there is another side to the coin: All Bitcoin transactions are posted to the publicly accessible blockchain, therefore making it possible to identify the sender’s wallet address and track their entire transaction history.
Nevertheless, Bitcoin allowed Russians to “avoid direct relationships with traditional financial institutions, allowing them to evade greater scrutiny of their identities and sources of funds,” Mueller’s investigation concluded.
Business media reports
Date of publication: Oct. 1
Bloomberg is by no means an apprentice in the crypto world, as the publication has been closely following digital assets for the past few years. Despite being regularly criticized by biased community members for spreading FUD, Bloomberg often offers quality insights into the space.
In October, the magazine moved focus from Bitcoin to Tether (USDT) — the popular but controversial stablecoin that is designed to maintain a one-to-one ratio with the U.S. dollar in terms of value. Tether’s trading volume surpassed that of Bitcoin’s for the first time in April and had been consistently exceeding it since early August at about $21 billion per day, Bloomberg noted.
But why Tether of all stablecoins? people familiar with the company’s scandalous lawsuit might ask. The answer is simple, yet not so obvious: According to Bloomberg’s source, some traders don’t even realize they are holding Tether.
“I don’t think people actually trust Tether — I think people use Tether without realizing that they are using it, and instead think they have actual dollars in a bank account somewhere,” Thaddeus Dryja, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the magazine. Some exchanges even mislabel their pages to convey the impression that customers are holding actual dollars instead of Tethers, he argued.
Date of publication: June 25
Back in June, when Bitcoin was in the midst of a long-awaited bull rally (which would soon end), CNBC tried to pinpoint the reason behind the positive price movement. The publication suggested that it wasn’t Facebook’s arrival into the space, as many believed, but something more niche — an event called the Bitcoin halving, when the rewards to miners are cut in half every four years. The next one is scheduled for May 2020, and the tightening of supply had forced the price upward, the article opined.
Perhaps CNBC was too early to take the Bitcoin halving into consideration, but the fact that a major news source is covering the technology’s complexities for a mainstream audience is a sign that Bitcoin is not as underground as we used to think.
The Wall Street Journal
Date of publication: Dec. 6
The Wall Street Journal has kept its overall conversvative stance toward cryptocurrencies.
“The energy that drove bitcoin and the cryptocurrency industry through much of the early years has been replaced by the sobering reality that creating new global monetary standards requires more than computer code,” the publication wrote, citing data from research firm Flipside Crypto. Apparently, in the last week of November, only about 14% of the 18 million outstanding Bitcoin was actively traded.
Now, with the number of daily Bitcoin transactions falling, the journal continued, “hopes rest with institutional investors, and there have been signs of progress on this front,” citing Bakkt as an example.
Date of publication: Nov. 14
According to the Financial Times, if global economic decline and uncertainty about the future of U.S.–China trade lead the U.S. into recession, cryptocurrencies could serve as a financial safe haven and even experience another bull run. However, that would be followed by another price bust, the publication argued:
“The last bust made clear that gains not linked to adoption by ‘real world’ users do not last. While the underlying digital technology continues to hold promise, it has yet to find a significant user base beyond enthusiastic techies.”
The New Yorker
Date of publication: Dec. 2
The New Yorker published a story of Carlos Acevado — a public school teacher in Morrisania, the poorest congressional district in the U.S. — who shares his cryptocurrency knowledge as someone who got into Bitcoin back in 2014 with a group of his former students.
“When we first talked about Bitcoin in your class, I thought, Criminals,” one of Acevado’s students said. “I’m not talking about machine guns on the street,” the teacher replied. “It’s not ‘Mad Max’ out there.”
To Acevado, cryptocurrencies are more about helping “the unbanked” — which is why he created the Crypto Community Project, with the goal of building a cryptocurrency economy in the South Bronx.
“After these two days, you’re going to be the one per cent,” he told the 25 young people who had attended his class. “You’re going to know more about cryptocurrency and blockchain than ninety-nine per cent of people out there. You have the opportunity to get in on the industry right now.”
Title: Cryptocurrency Will Not Die
Date of publication: Nov. 26
GQ’s Rosecrans Baldwin interviews some of the people who were lucky enough to get in early (and some who, in their own words, “were late to the party of crypto” but still enjoyed nice gains during the crazy days of late 2017) — most of them got burned, but their morale remained unshaken. “You know, honestly, if I had a better car, I’d sell it and get back in,” said one of the interviewees. The other one admitted to selling his old car to pay some bills and get back in the game. Needless to say, that kind of devotion surprised Baldwin.
He too tried to get a hang of crypto trading, investing $100 that he borrowed from his magazine. “I spent about $10 worth of Bitcoin on 20 coins of IOTA — because I didn’t have one ‘iota’ of knowledge about trading crypto,” he writes, describing a shameless, unenlightened attempt at getting rich that might recall some early memories for most cryptocurrency holders out there.
“What is crypto?” the author ponders in his column. “A couple years ago, crypto was the future, according to your cousin at Thanksgiving.” Closer to the end of the article, he develops this idea further:
“Only crypto didn’t disappear, it just went quiet. And this Thanksgiving, the evangelists will tell you it’s bigger, more relevant than ever, only they’re not just your cousin anymore. They’re the People’s Bank of China. They’re Mark Zuckerberg. Talking about crypto today is more like talking about the climate crisis. Forget real or unreal. It’s ‘how soon,’ and ‘oh crap.’”