How the pro-bankster financial media will speed the next crisis

Wall Street hasn’t learned from 2008. And the media hasn't either

Topics: Financial Crisis, Wall Street, JPMorgan Chase, Media, financial journalism, financial media bubble, ,

This article originally appeared on Alternet.


If you take a tour through the pre-crisis world of the financial media, you will be greeted with eye-popping examples of journalism gone wrong. Over and over, the American public was told that the doomsayers were wrong about the economy, that the titans of Wall Street were national heroes, and that everything would be fine if we just let Mr. Market do his magical thing. (There were notable exceptions, and those bold journalists deserve our thanks). In that upside-down world, exotic financial products were the best thing since sliced bread and subprime mortgages were no biggie.

In the years leading up to 2008, the financial media was so far up the butt of Wall Street that not only was it unable to warn the public about the impending crisis, it arguably helped bring on the disaster.

Wall Street, we know, has learned almost nothing from the crisis, and continues its crime spree, from money laundering and market manipulation to reckless speculation and bogus fees.

But what about the financial media? Have they learned anything?

If you watch CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, the answer is a resounding no. Bartiromo is the lively, fast-talking host of CNBC’s “Closing Bell,” which covers the financial topics of the day. She is also a glaring example of what happens when the financial media talk from the confines of an airtight bubble of delusion.

Case in point: Last week, the talk of the hour was JPMorgan Chase, which, if you’ve been following the headlines, has managed to assemble a list of frauds and shady deals long enough to fill a phonebook. There was the $7.1 billion “London Whale” trading disaster, which JPMorgan executives lied to regulators about, and the manipulation of energy markets by one of its subsidiaries. Then there’s the SEC investigation into whether or not the bank committed bribery by hiring the children of Chinese officials. Right now, the bank is looking at a fine to the tune of $11 billion for issuing crap residential mortgage-backed securities between 2005 and 2007.

Watching Bartiromo’s show in the face of all these developments was like time-warping back to a pre-financial crisis world in which bankers could do no wrong and their CEOs were elevated to deities. Apparently Bartiromo and CNBC have not gotten the memo that horrible economic calamity has been inflicted on Americans by big banks, and polls show that said Americans are not only aware of it, but keen to see the hustlers pay for their crimes.

Bartiromo airily dismissed the idea that JPMorgan deserved any criticism by actually voicing the notion that as long as the corporation is making money, everything is just fine and the CEO is doing his job right. That’s what she told Salon’s Alex Pareene, who was invited on to discuss his view that CEO Jamie Dimon, once the golden boy of Wall Street, ought to be dismissed as head of the megabank for his failed management.

Pareene, as someone willing to criticize a too-big-to-fail bank and its honchos, was treated as an emissary from Crazy Town. Bartiromo pulled out just about every trick a media host will deploy to discredit a guest, including gotcha quizzes, scoffing at sources, and the old Bill O’Reilly “we stick with the facts on this show” routine in the face of, well, facts.

“Legal problems aside,” Bartiromo explained to Pareene, “JPMorgan remains one of the best, if not the best performing major bank in the world today.” (That’s kind of like saying that nuclear disaster aside, Tokyo Electric Power is a great energy company.) Bartiromo emphasized that “the company continues to churn out tens of billions of dollars in earnings and hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. How do you criticize that?”

In other words, shareholders are happy, so what the hell is your problem?

First of all, what? Enron was profitable. The Mafia, for that matter, is profitable. What kind of moral illiterate do you have to be to suggest that profitability precludes criticism?

Bartiromo’s argument was so noxious it got the attention of Felix Salmon over at Reuters, who pointed out the obvious fact that “there are licit and illicit ways of making money, and surely if your profits fall into the latter category, you should not be able to remain comfortably ensconced as a celebrated captain of industry.” Salmon also called out Bartiromo on her assumption that shareholders are the only constituency of a corporation that matters, a ridiculous position that has been pushed in business schools since the 1980s, but has been discredited by economists like William Lazonick who point out that taxpayers, for one example, and employees, for another, are clearly key corporate stakeholders. Activity that harms them actually matters. A lot.

Yet in the financial media bubble, being critical of Wall Street means that you are a wild-eyed radical from the far left, a view which is particularly surprising given the rush of even conservative Republicans like Sen. David Vitter to brandish their bank-taming credentials.

The official inquiries into JPMorgan’s activities may indicate a shift toward a more aggressive stance by the U.S. government in trying to prevent American banks from ripping off the public and their investors, and that’s a good thing. Of that $11 billion JPMorgan may have to pay for its mortgage shenanigans, $4 billion could go to consumer relief for struggling homeowners. That’s something, though clearly a fine that only adds up to two quarters of JPMorgan’s profits isn’t nearly enough.

But financial media personalities like Maria Bartiromo are standing in the way of this process by continuing to act as the marketing arm of Wall Street and apologists for people like Dimon. In her brain, Eliot Spitzer is a demon for going after AIG, public employees are responsible for state budget problems, and banks are being unfairly assaulted. And unicorns are producing her show.

If the Bartiromos have their way, we may never adequately prosecute fraud, hold executives accountable, or get giant banks like JPMorgan under control so they don’t go on to wreck the entire economy and cause even more damage than they did the last go-round. Wall Street cheerleading from the business press could help bring on yet another financial crisis when one of these banks implodes.

Maybe Bartiromo, like Jamie Dimon, should be looking for another job.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...