Maybe instead of asking why Americans don't care about the Libor scandal, we should be asking whether they've even heard of it.
The scandal that has been not-crazily called the biggest financial scandal in history has gotten all of zero minutes' air time on the ABC and NBC nightly news broadcasts and only a little more time than that on CBS and the major cable news channels, according to a report by the progressive media watchdog Media Matters.
Who cares, you might be thinking, who watches TV news any more? Not as many, any more, but most people still consider TV their primary news source.
Media Matters did a Nexis search for all the times Libor and Barclays and other search terms related to the scandal got mentioned on prime-time broadcasts since the scandal broke in June and found next to bupkus:
After spending roughly six and a half minutes combined covering the scandal on their evening newscasts and opinion programming between June 27 and July 12, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News devoted less than 32 minutes to stories related to the controversy from July 13 to July 28, with more than two-thirds of that coverage coming from CNN.
So, to recap, the major TV outlet covering Libor the most is the one that nobody watches, CNN.
Our major TV news outlets realize that this story is, like Bennet Brauer, not camera- friendly. Americans prefer watching stuff about shark attacks and TomKat more than they like learning about the manipulation of an obscure interest rate. That is as George Washington wanted it.
But it does seem possible, just maybe, that viewers might be interested to know that an interest rate that affects their daily lives is a completely made-up fraud that may have cost them billions. Somehow The Daily Show managed to make good TV out of it.
The TV news people do owe it to their viewers to try, at least. Instead of punting, which is what they have mostly done.
And it's not like there's nothing's going on in the Libor scandal. Every day there's something new, including the rare joy of watching Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner get grilled on Capitol Hill.
Maybe it will take some U.S. banks paying mammoth fines to get American news outlets to notice. So far, it's been only the boring European banks (which nevertheless employ thousands of Americans). Maybe we'll need to see some people frog-marched out of their banks in handcuffs, which does make for sexier TV.
Barclays allegedly began manipulating the Libor rate in 2005 and allegedly stopped manipulating Libor in 2009, <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-07-11/barclays-u-dot-s-dot-say-libor-probe-doesn-t-affect-2010-case" target="_hplink">according to <em>Businessweek</em>.</a> But other reports indicate that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/libor-scandal-manipulation-spanned-decades_n_1658696.html" target="_hplink">Libor fixing may have spanned decades.</a>
A Barclays employee told an analyst from the New York Fed's Markets Group that Barclays was indeed using false information to set the interest rate on April 11, 2008, according to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/geithner-libor_n_1671211.html" target="_hplink">recently released Federal Reserve documents</a>. "We know that we're not posting, um, an honest LIBOR," the Barclays employee told the New York Fed's Fabiola Ravazzolo, according to a <a href="http://www.newyorkfed.org/newsevents/news/markets/2012/libor/April_11_2008_transcript.pdf" target="_hplink">transcript of the phone conversation.</a>
In June 2008, then-president of the New York Federal Reserve Timothy Geithner sent a memo to British banking authorities expressing concern over the "integrity and transparency" of the key interest rate. Geithner did not inform British regulators that a Barclays employee admitted that Libor was being rigged, <a href="http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/07/25/geithner-libor-idINL4E8IP17720120725" target="_hplink">according to Reuters.</a>
During the 2008 Financial Crisis, the U.S. government lent money to cash strapped banks and AIG using Libor to determine interest, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-gongloff/timothy-geithner-libor_b_1701904.html" target="_hplink">Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told Congress on July 25, 2012.</a> The artificially low rate saved the banks and AIG billions, while costing tax payers the same amount.
In April 2010, then-UK Business Secretary Peter Mandelson told the<em>Times of London</em> that then-CEO of Barclays, Robert Diamond, was "the unacceptable face of banking" after the bank announced that its CEO would receive a bonus of 63 million pounds, <a href="http://news.sky.com/story/771318/mandelson-attacks-bank-boss-for-63m-salary" target="_hplink">Sky News reports.</a> Mandelson also told <em>the Times</em> that banking bosses were expected to act with "a bit more modesty, a bit more humility" than Diamond's behavior.
On June 27, Barclays disclosed to its shareholders that it would be fined $450 million by U.S. and U.K. regulators for conspiring to manipulate the Libor rate between 2005 and 2009, <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/9374118/Barclays-libor-fixing-scandal-timeline.html" target="_hplink"><em>The Telegraph</em> reports</a>.
On July 2, <a href="http://group.barclays.com/news/news-article/1329925915887/navigation-1330349038798" target="_hplink">Barclays announced</a> that it's Chairman, Marcus Agius, would be resigning in the wake of the Libor rigging scandal. In the official resignation letter, Mr. Agius stated that the Libor rigging constituted "unacceptable standards of behaviour within the bank." He went on to say: <blockquote>As Chairman, I am the ultimate guardian of the bank's reputation. Accordingly, the buck stops with me and I must acknowledge responsibility by standing aside."</blockquote>
On July 3, Robert Diamond resigned as Barclays CEO, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/barclays-boss-diamond-quits-with-immediate-effect-latest-scalp-of-price-fixing-scandal/2012/07/03/gJQAFeDxJW_story.html" target="_hplink"><em>The Washington Post</em> reports.</a>
On July 3, <a href="http://www.newsroom.barclays.com/Press-releases/Board-changes-907.aspx" target="_hplink">Barclays announced</a> that Marcus Agius would be reappointed as the bank's full-time Chairman following the resignation of Robert Diamond.
On July 3, Barclays released phone records between CEO Robert Diamond and the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Paul Tucker, that indicate that the BoE executive encouraged Barclays to manipulate the Libor rate, <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304141204577506602345146644.html" target="_hplink"><em>The Wall Street Journal </em>reported.</a>
On July 4, Bob Diamond told a U.K. parliamentary panel that he believes other major banks were involved in Libor rigging, <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304141204577506602345146644.html" target="_hplink"><em>The Wall Street Journal</em> reports.</a> He also stated that fear of being nationalized during the 2008 Financial Crisis contributed to its actions.
Barclays CEO Bob Diamond agreed to forgo an extra $31 million bonus, the bank announced on July 10, according to the <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303343404577518263465180508.html" target="_hplink">reports <em> Wall Street Journal</em>.</a> Diamond will still net his salary and pension for a year, which is worth about 2 million pounds.
At least 16 banks were reportedly under investigation for Libor rigging as of July 11, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/11/libor-rate-scandal_n_1664737.html#slide=1212066" target="_hplink">according to Reuters.</a> In an internal bank memo circulated on July 13, Barclays executive committee told employees that, "As other banks settle with authorities, and their details become public, and various governments' inquiries shed more light, our situation will eventually be put in perspective," <a href="http://business.time.com/2012/07/16/libor-rigging-what-the-regulators-saw-but-didnt-shut-down/" target="_hplink"><em>TIME Magazine</em> reports.</a>
On July 25, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/25/eu-criminalizing-rate-rigging_n_1701248.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_hplink">the European Union proposed making the rigging of international interest rates a criminal offense.</a>