The big bankers who enriched themselves while wiping out many blameless peoples’ life savings have been the focus of substantive inquiries, but the people advocating jail time for the bankers’ criminal behavior have been repeatedly ridiculed by corporate news outlets as irrational and vengeful. As Janine Jackson of Extra! reports, “While there have been substantive inquiries into the wrongdoing of investment banks and auditors, those calling for jail time are often dismissed as irrational, driven by “blood lust” (Washington Post, 9/12/13), “anger” (Chicago Tribune, 11/30/13) or “vengeance” (Washington Post, 11/18/13).
Various media outlets have explained that, while bad business decisions are not crimes, knowingly selling fraudulent mortgages and other dubious financial products is punishable by jail time. People have pointed to multiple reasons for the lack of prosecutions, such as regulatory agencies stopping key functions and non-deterrent settlements from government watchdogs. Media outlets have also made the case that imprisonment and increased liability would be ineffective, and many press accounts appear to be arguing for the legality of CEO actions. As Jackson reports, “Many press accounts seem more intent on explaining why what CEOs did wasn’t a crime than on asking whether it should be.”
However, outlets acknowledging the human victims of Wall Street wrongdoing have been less dismissive of imprisonment. Calls for jail time can be seen as demands for equal treatment under law. For example, in February 2013, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone argued against the emerging distinction between “an arrestable class and an unarrestable class.”
As of December 6, 2013, the closest thing to corporate coverage of the story is a Washington Post article with less detail, and an article in Forbes, which has a relatively small audience.
Janine Jackson, “Why Aren’t Big Bankers in Jail?” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Extra!, January 1, 2014, http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/why-arent-big-bankers-in-jail/.
Matt Taibbi, “Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail,” Rolling Stone, February 14, 2013, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/gangster-bankers-too-big-to-jail-20130214.
Student Researchers: Noah Tenney and Tania Sanchez (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)