Bloomberg goes too far on Geithner

Without any evidence, the news service reports that a Goldman Sachs job awaits the Treasury secretary

By Andrew Leonard
Published January 26, 2010 6:51PM (EST)

It is probably safe to say that as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner prepares for Wednesday's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on AIG, his stock has never been lower.

But that's still no excuse for some really shoddy journalism from Bloomberg News, in the form of a column by regular commentator Caroline Baum, "Goldman Parachute Awaits Geithner to Ease Fall."

You might be excused for imagining that a story with such a title would have some evidence to support its inflammatory report. Caroline Baum is an opinion columnist, which can cover an awful lot of ground, but still, that headline seems to contain a pretty straightforward factual assertion, does it not? A nice big fat pile of money is supposedly waiting for Geithner at Goldman, once his public service career is over. But I've read the column three times, and Baum cites absolutely nothing to back up the accusation. We can't just blame an overzealous headline writer, either, because here is Baum's last paragraph:

Axing Geithner might be good for president and Treasury secretary alike. Obama would be seen as an ally of the people. Geithner would be free to claim his just reward: that plum offer from Goldman Sachs. The circle would be squared. Obama would have his man on the inside.

That plum offer? What plum offer? That closing paragraph is the first time in the entire column that any mention of potential Geithner Goldman employment is even mentioned. It's complete speculation.

Unlike previous Treasury secretaries who arrived in Washington fresh from running Goldman as CEO, Tim Geithner has never worked for the private sector. But the revolving door between Goldman and the Treasury department is well documented, so it is certainly not inconceivable to think of Geithner and Goldman together -- or at least during any previous administration it wouldn't have been too hard to imagine it. But times are a little bit different now. Goldman has never been as widely reviled as it is now. Given the current widespread hostility directed at Goldman from left and right, such a move would be a dramatic in-your-face to the American public that doesn't seem to jibe with what we do know about Geithner. And the idea that it would be in any way advantageous to Obama to have a "man on the inside" is also ludicrous. Obama's Wall Street public relations problem would only get worse if a fired Geithner immediately popped up at Goldman.

Everyone who publishes on the Web is guilty of devising headlines that push the provocative envelope, but in this case Bloomberg has really gone too far. Why trust another headline from the news service ever again?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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