By Robert Scheer
Funny, he doesn’t look like Marie Antoinette. But when former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller asks his readers if they are “bored by the soggy sleep-ins and warmed-over anarchism of Occupy Wall Street,” it displays the arrogance of disoriented royal privilege.
Perhaps his contempt for anti-corporate protesters was honed by the example of his father, once the chairman of Chevron. In any case, it is revealing, given the cheerleading support that the Times gave to the radical deregulation of Wall Street that occurred when Keller was the managing editor of the newspaper.
As the Times reported on its news pages in 1998, heralding the merger that created Citigroup as the world’s largest financial conglomerate: “In a single day, with a bold merger, pending legislation in Congress to sweep away Depression-era restrictions on the financial services industry has been given a sudden, and unexpected, new chance of passage.”
The report all too breathlessly continued, “Indeed, within 24 hours of the deal’s announcement, lobbyists for insurers, banks and Wall Street firms were huddling with Congressional banking committee staff members to fine-tune a measure that would update the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial banking from Wall Street and insurance. …”
The “fine-tuned” law, combined with another one similarly drafted by congressional Republicans and also signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, exempted trading in collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps from government regulation. That was the very action that enabled the banking crisis that has brought the nation’s economy to its knees and protesters to Wall Street. Citigroup, where Clinton’s treasury secretary and deregulation advocate Robert Rubin ended up as chairman, specialized in what proved to be toxic mortgage-backed securities and had to be bailed out with massive taxpayer credits.
One would think that the failure of The New York Times to cover this sorry tale as it was unfolding would leave Keller with some humble understanding of why protesters, undeterred by rain, should be celebrated rather than scorned. But such accountability has hardly been a hallmark of those in the media or in business and political circles, who with few exceptions got it so wrong.
Just how wrong was laid out in the Tuesday night Republican debate by Ron Paul, whose consistent libertarian critique has been refreshing throughout the banking meltdown. Other presidential candidates stumbled over their earlier support of the TARP banking bailout. One of them, Herman Cain, responding to a question about Occupy Wall Street, stuck by his statement, “Don’t blame Wall Street. Don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”
Paul took him on with a clarity that plainly endorsed the main point of the Wall Street demonstrators: “Well, I think that Mr. Cain has blamed the victims.” Paul pointed to the true culprits, those on Wall Street and their partners in crime in the government and the Federal Reserve, who bailed out the banks but not the people they victimized.
“The bailouts came from both parties,” Paul observed, adding, “Guess who they bailed out? The big corporations, the people who were ripping off the people in the derivatives market. … But who got stuck? The middle class got stuck … they lost their jobs, and they lost their houses. If you had to give money out, you should have given it to the people who were losing it in their mortgages, not to the banks.”
It was heartening that many in the Republican crowd cheered Paul’s statement, as it was earlier this week when the respected Quinnipiac poll found that two-thirds of New York City voters agree with the views of the Wall Street protesters. And despite the inconvenience of the protests to New Yorkers, the poll showed that nearly three-quarters of the voters of that city say the protesters should be allowed to stay at their Wall Street location “as long as they wish.”
That’s an admirable sentiment on the part of New Yorkers, which was echoed by Times readers who directed a torrent of criticism at Keller. He pointed out on his blog that they took issue with what he referred to as “my slightly snarky reference to Occupy Wall Street. Okay, maybe not ‘slightly.’ ” He now claims he didn’t intend to show contempt for the protesters, but that is exactly what he did.
AP / Andrew Burton
A protester marches toward Wall Street in New York.