Let Them Eat Keller
By Robert Scheer
October 20, 2011
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
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
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, and one of them, Herman Cain, responding to a
statement "don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big
banks, if you don't have a job, 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 "By a
67-23 percent margin,
the views of the Wall Street protesters." Despite the
inconvenience of the protests to New Yorkers, the poll
showed that by a 72-24 percent margin 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
Okay, maybe not `slightly.' " He now claims he didn't
intend to show contempt for the protesters, but that is
exactly what he did.