Note to CNN: If you're going to demonize Wall Streeters for causing the country's economic collapse, at least demonize the right Wall Streeters.
The cable network last week brought us "Fall of the Fat Cats," in which it promised to examine how the big money on Wall Street "was made and how it's been spent," with the emphasis on the latter, of course. Indeed, the hourlong report by "CNN Special Investigations Unit" boasted of bringing its viewers "fat cats in their element," of taking "you to a place that you normally wouldn't be able to go, to see things you normally wouldn't be able to see." It's "the place" CNN teased, where people who own mansions and airplanes "come together." It's a "real Wall Street party."
So, pray tell, CNN, where are you taking us? Did Steve Schwarzman's wife throw him another birthday bash?
Well, not exactly. The soiree CNN is so proud to have crashed was sponsored by Cigar Report, a magazine published by Doubledown Media LLC, the same people behind those two other purveyors of luxury porn, Trader Monthly and Dealmaker. Exclusive, it wasn't. Once inside, reporter Abbie Boudreau is shocked -- shocked! -- to find attendees smoking cigars, getting manicures and having their hair cut. After witnessing this bacchanalia of grooming, "you would have no idea that there actually is a crisis on Wall Street right now," Boudreau tells viewers.
And who are these alleged fat cats, partying and primping while the market crashes? There doesn't appear to be a banker, trader, Wall Street exec, even a mortgage broker in the bunch.
In fact, among the party-goers Boudreau talked to on camera, two work in commercial real estate, one for a hedge fund research firm based in New Jersey. Not exactly perpetrators of the meltdown. But for CNN, they're close enough. Indeed, the report goes from showing these folks with sort-of-finance-related jobs smoking cigars -- the nerve of them! -- to telling us about 24-year-olds driving Ferraris and helicoptering to the Hamptons to--who else? -- Dick Fuld. Soon enough, we're gawking at a photo of Fuld's estate in Greenwich, Conn., and hearing about his luxurious homes on Park Avenue and Jupiter Island, Fla. And just when we think this can't get any weirder or less relevant -- what does Fuld have to do with a party thrown by Cigar Report? -- we're introduced to Jordan Belfort, a boiler-room scamster who spent 22 months in jail for pumping and dumping in the 1990s.
"I was a crook," he tells the camera.
Yes, he was. But like the cigar party revelers, he doesn't have anything to do with the current crisis--or with Fuld, apparently the real villain of CNN's piece. But again, for CNN, he's close enough. Belfort is offered as a prime example of old-fashioned Wall Street greed--cue the usual clip of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko. And unlike Fuld--who earlier in the report is shown striding away from Boudreau as she chases him down the hallways of Congress shouting, "Is it greed?"-- Belfort, whose book, "The Wolf of Wall Street," is reportedly being optioned for a movie, is more than happy to discuss it.
"It was like ancient Rome," Belfort tells viewers about his days on Wall Street. "You're like, this is like the Coliseum. Acts of depravity. There was midget tossing. People's heads were being shaved. Goldfish were being eaten alive. People were hooking themselves up to car batteries. It was almost like adult Disneyland for dysfunctional people."
For the media, this is manna from heaven. A real live Wall Streeter explaining, in detail, his profligate, even decadent ways: mansions! planes! parties! dwarfs! We have officially entered the stage of Wall Street crisis reporting where assigning blame is not enough; we're now into cataloguing the guilty's ill-gotten stuff--and we'll resort to the guilty lowlife from a decade ago, if we must. Forget the media's fascination with luxury porn; it's time for luxury scorn.
So our advice to you, Mr. Fuld: If you own a $6,000 shower curtain or an animal-themed umbrella stand, dispose of them right now. And whatever you do, do not go to any parties, especially if they're giving away manicures
Follow Yvette Kantrow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MediaManeuvers