Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why Taibbi's brand of linkbait works

Perhaps by now you've heard that Matt Taibbi went on Democracy Now to promote his latest book and gin up that old emo meme about how President Obama is worse than Bush - this time its about not holding Wall Street accountable for the crimes that led to the Great Recession. So he managed to get our attention and probably sold a lot more of his books.

Taibbi and his pals at Democracy Now trot out all the inflammatory reasons for why the Obama administration didn't go after the perpetrators.
So, I mean, it’s—you have a whole bunch of people sort of at the top of the regulatory agencies, whether it’s Justice, the SEC, the CFTC, maybe the Enforcement Division of the SEC, who all came from these big banks or from law firms that represented these big banks. And it’s a very incestuous a result of this kind of merry-go-round of people who all work for the same companies—and they’re going to go to government for a while, then they’re going to go back to the corporate defense community after they leave and make millions of dollars—they’re very, very reluctant to be aggressive against these companies, because it’s their—culturally, they’re the same people as their targets...
Easy peasy argument to make, isn't it? Our government is in bed with Wall Street and that's why they let them off. Doesn't take much thought to connect the dots and goes right to our rage. Now we can all rail at how bad our government is and feed our cynicism.

In stark contrast to this approach is a long article by Jed Rakoff, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York (someone who knows a thing or two about securities law and white collar crime). He thoroughly reviews every argument made for the lack of prosecutions (including the one made by Taibbi), discarding them all. Then he speculates about three of his own. The reason you probably haven't heard about it is that he makes intelligent and nuanced arguments. He's writing to educate, not inflame.

In case you are intrigued by what Rakoff has to say, here are his three reasons for the lack of prosecutions:
  1. After 2001, the FBI had reduced the number of prosecutors assigned to securities fraud and prioritized counter-terrosim, while the SEC was focused on Madoff-like ponzi schemes,
  2. The government was complicit in setting the stage for the securities fraud that led to the Great Recession (red meat for defense attorneys to exploit),
  3. For the past 30 years or more, there has been a shift away from prosecuting individuals and towards plea bargaining with corporations in an attempt to alter the culture of corruption that led to the crimes.
Whether or not Rakoff is right about any of these, I am much smarter for having read what he has to say. But there is no singular focus I can point to in blame and rage. IOW, no linkbait. 

Contrasting these two styles tells us a lot - not only about what is wrong with our media - but how we drive those failures. If we want it to change, we're going to have to start paying more attention to the kind of writing Rakoff has provided and less to Taibbi. 


  1. Thanks for this, Smartypants. Taibbi is now working for Greenwald, so who knows what he'll say next.

    Hello, Taibbi!!! The sad fact is that so much of what the Wall Street jackals did was legal (thanks to deregulation - point number 2 in the above article) and just as Rakoff explained, plea bargaining is preferred especially as the FBI went after counter-terrorism instead (LOL-LOL-LOL - points 1 and 3 of the above article).

    Taibbi is a confused individual. He was paying close attention to the Bush Administration, but stopped that with Obama. Bush and Obama are not the same people and he's too stupid to see that.

  2. Selling sensationalism seems to be the name of the game for Taibbi and others associated with VOX. You used the correct term, Ms. Smartypants, link bait. It's all about the money and not about truth-telling or journalistic integrity.


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