Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize winner who exposed the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, wants to fix what’s wrong with American journalism. He asserts the press should be outsiders instead of access journalists:
“Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not to just say—here’s a debate, our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about the issues.”
American media often claims to be an unpopular defender of truth, when the opposite is often the reality. But U.S. journalism isn’t alone. The global media is often averse to the truth and blind to important issues.
If you were given the opportunity, how would you respond?
Here’s how Pope Francis, Glenn Greenwald, and I responded to adversarial media. These are three very different topics, three different types of interviews, and three different methods of responding to the press.
Every single person in this CNBC video except for me is either a CNBC anchor or a CNBC contributor. The fun begins around 4:20. Even the seemingly reasonable William (“Bill”) Isaac, former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, suggests banks weren’t a huge part of the problem.
Here are some examples: JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, Barclays, RBC, and Deutsche Bank all either had credit lines and/or securitized product for Countrywide, the largest subprime lender. Without banks’ credit lines, Countrywide couldn’t have done nearly as much damage. JPMorgan owns mortgage lender Chase Home Finance, and Wells Fargo owns mortgage lender Wells Fargo Financial, far from trouble free. Goldman Sachs ran Goldman Sachs Alternative Mortgage Products (GSAM), an entity that packaged suspect mortgages, so that GSAM also became known as “garbage sold at mythical prices.” In 2007, Goldman bought Litton Loan Servicing and sold it in 2011, yet in 2013, Goldman settled charges of “servicing errors” with the Fed and is still subject to potential litigation for foreclosure fraud.
After the 2008 crisis, JPMorgan Chase bought troubled Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns. Bank of America bought predatory lender Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. Wells Fargo bought troubled Wachovia. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, both in the top eight underwriters for mortgage backed securities in 2005 and 2006, were made bank holding companies. All of these entities enjoy taxpayer subsidized low funding costs.
After this video aired, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum took CNBC to task for its denial of facts: “CNBC Millionaires Don’t Believe in Predatory Lending,” and I wrote further comments for the Huffington Post: “CNBC Protects Bad Guys Who Took Huge Bailouts from Taxpayers.”
See also: See also: “Repairing the Damage of Fraud As a Business Model” – Presentation to the Federal Housing Agency’s Supervision Summit, December 8, 2010.
In this October 3, 2013, interview, Glenn Greenwald refuses to take the bait when invited to try to prove a negative. He never supposes or overreaches. He responds with his personal experience and casts doubt on the interviewer’s subtext. He doesn’t let BBC’s reporter create a false narrative. His method of responding with facts, nuance, tone of voice and admonishment to both questions and subtexts shows skill.
VIDEO: Greenwald on BBC Newsnight. Greenwald keeps the viewer aware that he is challenging the credibility of his opposition, the British government, seemingly represented by the reporter. The anchor seems to be repeating scripted talking points, and Greenwald devastates her.
Pope Francis appointed Monsignor Ricca to investigate the Vatican Bank. Apparently, someone else in the Vatican was concerned about the appointment. Leaked tales of Ricca allegedly breaking his vows in past homosexual activities fed the press’s appetite for scandals. During his flight to Brazil in July 2013, Pope Francis talked to the press about the lurid stories printed about Monsignor Ricca.
The Pope said he launched an immediate investigation as required under Canon Law, and the investigation revealed nothing. The Pope didn’t stop there. He let the press know that even if their stories had been true—even if the investigation missed something—he stands behind his appointee. His remarks captured by Rome Reports begin in the video at 3:11:
“But let me add something about this. So very often when we look at cases like this, we highlight the sins of youth and make them public. I’m not talking about crimes; that’s something different. Child abuse is a crime, but I’m talking about sins. But any person, lay, priests or nun, if any person commits a sin and then asks the Lord for forgiveness, they are forgiven. When the Lord forgives, He forgets. This is very important for our lives.”
In essence, Pope Francis said the press could print what it liked. It was their choice to be the source of an imaginary scandal. But he invited them to consider his words, and consider more important issues.
As for the investigation, after Pope Francis supported his appointee, the Vatican Bank issued its first third party (KPMG) audited annual report. The bank is closing down around 900 accounts including those held by the embassies of Iran, Iraq, and Indonesia citing either suspicious movement of funds or incomplete documentation.
Endnote: My financial fiction (fi-fi) thriller, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits, was published before Pope Benedict XVI resigned and the first Jesuit in the history of the Catholic Church was elected. It tracked actual events as they subsequently unfolded—and continue to unfold.