Balance in the Washington Post


Lawmakers from both parties have been eager to excoriate Wall Street. But industry lobbyists warn that populist proposals to shrink, break up or otherwise shackle some of the giants of the financial world could do more harm than good to the economy. These advocates say that stiff regulation could stifle the flow of credit, undermine American competitiveness in global markets and cost jobs.

Among the terms that lobbyists used to describe elements of the legislation: "Draconian." "Crazy." "Insanely unproductive."

via Lobbyists fret over legislation to reshape financial system.

Not sure if anyone saw this piece, but the Washington Post's Brady Dennis fired off one of the weirder pieces of journalism I've seen of late in a news daily on the financial crisis.

The essence of his piece was that Wall Street lobbyists had been banking on the Financial Regulatory Reform bill getting pared down behind closed doors as it got closer to a vote. Over the course of 900 words or so Dennis quoted one lobbyist after another talking about how politicians were getting too emotional about this whole ruined-economy thing, and were proceeding with "crazy" and "insanely unproductive" proposals.

Dennis does this, but he never explains what's so "crazy" about any of these proposals, and in fact only vaguely even hints at what they are. We get that proposals to cap the size of banks and limit prop trading desks are among the things he's talking about, but we're apparently supposed to assume automatically that we understand why those things are "crazy" and "unproductive," which is very odd given the events of the last two years.

The other thing he doesn't do is ask anyone on the other side of the deal to comment on the rank silliness of these lobbyists' claims. Maybe that's because he couldn't find anyone on the other side. There are about 1800 financial lobbyists wandering DC these days — I was physically bumping into these guys in DC this week in the halls of Hart and Dirksen — while the leading reform groups (like Americans for Financial Reform) have few if any. (AFR, as far as I understand, has no paid lobbyists and just a few dozen volunteers).

This kind of rhetoric is something you normally see a lot of in campaign journalism. You'll see whole pieces about how X or Y candidate is "strong on immigration" or "has a good record on defense issues" or "frightens voters with his radical stance on the environment," but the writer won't elaborate on what those positions actually are/were. You're supposed to move straight past the details and just swallow the reporter's characterizations. It makes it easier to cartoonize stories, which is a big plus especially during campaign season and is also proving useful during a detail-laden behemoth of a story like this FinReg bill.

I suppose there's a way to read this piece that's just a bust on all these overpaid lobbyists whining about how much harder than usual it suddenly is to bribe the congress away from real action — that was my first reaction to it — but to a reader who doesn't know the particulars of this story it still comes across like the Post is saying that the politicians proposing reforms might be out of control and getting carried away by emotion. Which is odd. In general, the amount of rhetoric against this bill that sidesteps its actual content is growing to the point of absurdity.

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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