By William K. Black
I have concluded that the journalists who write for the New York Times’ “Deal Book” are incapable of embarrassment or introspection. I have waited in vain for Andrew Ross Sorkin to make a New Year’s resolution to make 2014 a fresh start. There are scores of Deal Book article that drive a white-collar criminologist and a (real) financial regulator to despair. I focus here on one article by Sorkin on October 14, 2013 entitled “The Bloodlust of Pundits Swirls Around Jamie Dimon” that exemplifies how much harm Deal Book does because of its pandering to the elite financial CEOs who became wealthy from the frauds that drove the crisis, its ethics-free approach to financial fraud, and its analytical ennui. Deal Book could be a national asset, but it is a net liability. This first installment discussing their “Bloodlust” article analyzes Sorkin’s use of the world “bloodlust.”
As his title indicates, Sorkin writes to discredit “pundits” who criticize Dimon (CEO and Chairman of the Board of JPMorgan, the largest bank in America). Note that the spin begins in the title. The critics could be described as “independent experts,” but they are labelled dismissively as “pundits.” Far worse, they are supposedly driven by “bloodlust.” That compound noun has two obvious root meanings, both inappropriate and both designed to prejudice the reader against Dimon’s critics. As one reads the column it becomes clear that Sorkin presents no evidence that the critics seek Dimon’s “blood” – they think he should be fired. The column presents no evidence that the critics even want Dimon to be held accountable for JPMorgan’s epic fraud spree by being sued or prosecuted.
The column offers no evidence that the critics “lust” to have Dimon held accountable for his failures. “Lust” was meant to imply an irrational, all-consuming passion to harm Dimon unrelated to the merits of Dimon’s conduct.
Sorkin presents quotations from a single critic that he interviewed. Please read with me now that critic’s crazed tone. I know you will share my horror at the extent of the critic’s bloodlust.
“By any objective measure, Jamie Dimon should be fired. The compliance failures are egregious and systemic.”
We can all agree with Sorkin that “bloodlust” is the only word appropriate to capture the depravity, the sheer madness of that statement made by the vile “Dennis Kelleher, president of BetterMarkets, a nonprofit Wall Street watchdog.” Please do not allow your children to read Kelleher’s shocking language lest they suffer night terrors.
I know readers join me in my prayers for Sorkin. He must have been in terror for his life while he was interviewing Kelleher, fearing that the madman might harm Sorkin in his “lust” to rush out to Wall Street to wreak his bloody vendetta against Dimon. I know we all pray that Sorkin will soon recover from the PTSD he suffers as a result of the trauma of interviewing Kelleher and witnessing his shocking “bloodlust.” Sadly, Sorkin was so brutalized by the experience that he still dives under tables and curls up into a fetal position when a car backfires or he hears the word “compliance.”
To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Holmes’ famous phrase, Kelleher’s right to free speech ends when he creates a “clear and present danger” of “bloodlust” by “falsely shouting ‘compliance’ in a bank and causing a panic.” As Sorkin knows, compliance is the grave threat to many Wall Street leaders.
“Bloodlust” has a third, more subtle, implication for many readers, particularly in the context of Wall Street. It invokes the fears of “blood libels” against Jewish financial leaders. For all these reasons, it would have been hard for Sorkin to choose a more dishonest and biased title for his article.
Sorkin’s signaled his solidarity with Wall Street CEOs by adopting the “bloodlust” meme
“Bloodlust” was also a silly title because it did not provide even a fig leaf of cover that Sorkin had any regard for journalistic professionalism. As we will see in the next installment, Sorkin’s title arose from him giving another financial CEO, Daniel Loeb the most favorable media terrain from which to launch his latest attack on President Obama. Kelleher, and the truth, were simply collateral damage arising from that attack.
Sorkin used his “Bloodlust” column like Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate for President, used his August 3, 1980 address to the Neshoba County Fair (chosen for its proximity to the infamous killing ground of Philadelphia, Mississippi) to make his infamous signal to Southern whites: “I believe in state’s rights.” Reagan’s cynical, ethics-free purpose was to signal that he was with Southern whites no matter how grave their crimes, how much privilege the perpetrators obtained from those crimes, and how much harm those crimes caused. Sorkin’s “Bloodlust” column signaled to Wall Street CEOs that he was their guy (and Deal Book would remain their champion) no matter how many crimes they committed and how much harm they caused to the public.
Worse, Sorkin and Deal Book would savage anyone trying to hold the privileged criminals accountable. Southern whites and their media servants condemned the NAACP and the SCLC as “outside agitators” and no white was ever convicted of lynching a black person for over a century before the federal government began enforcing the law. The powerful could commit crime with impunity against the politically and economically weak and be praised in their hometown press while anyone who sought to hold the criminals accountable was vilified by the local press (and even the clergy – the context of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” responding to the letter from eight white clergy urging Birmingham black’s to refuse to support “outsiders” like King and to stop protesting).
Fortunately, the press learned that lesson and would never repeat its greatest betrayal of its professional and ethical responsibilities that persisted for over a century. There is no way that Deal Book would seek to savage an NGO dedicated to good governance because it had the temerity to state that Dimon should be fired for running a bank that commits an epic crime spree (that takes pages to tersely describe on Deal Book’s graphics). I know that the New York Times is Wall Street’s local paper, but it purports to be our national paper of record and it needs to act like it.
The fantasy conclusion to my column
Those of us of Irish descent are often incurable romantics. While we expect the worst we continue to hope for the best. Sorkin could write a column tomorrow calling on Dimon to resign and urging a national priority effort to prosecute the financial officers who grew wealth through the frauds that drove the crisis. Deal Book could devote a month to presenting the views of regulators with a track record of success on the changes we need to make to end our current pattern of suffering recurrent, intensifying financial crises. Instead of religiously avoiding any discussion of the ethical crisis in American business Deal Book could begin a weekly series of articles on the nature of that ethical crisis and specific proposals to remedy it. Deal Book could be a national asset instead of a national and professional embarrassment. In short, Sorkin could grow a “P” and emulate (Stanley) Sporkin. (Hey, I admitted it was fantasy.)
Of course, any of these steps would cause Sorkin to lose his ability to lunch with Loeb, but I can personally assure him that he will learn more about finance’s pathologies, and how to address them, by noshing with Mike Patriarca for 30 minutes than he would learn in a lifetime of lunches with Loeb. I’m also willing to bet that Sorkin has never written a word about Patriarca, which proves my point. Here’s a hint, Patriarca is an important part of the reason that the Savings and Loan debacle was did not become a trillion dollar plus disaster and did not cause a financial crisis. He’s also the guy that led our successful effort to drive liar’s loans out of the S&L industry in 1990-1991. If he had been the Chairman of the Federal Reserve rather than Alan Greenspan there would have been no financial crisis in the United States.