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Inside The Economic Meltdown

This evening, PBS’ Frontline will air a documentary on the economic meltdown. The previews are blunt, painful, and a needed step in parsing self-serving spin from ugly realities.

From the advance description:

…Paulson pushed Lehman’s CEO Dick Fuld to find a buyer for his ailing company. But no company would buy Lehman unless the government offered a deal similar to the one Bear Stearns had received. Paulson refused, and Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.

FRONTLINE then chronicles the disaster that followed. Within 24 hours, the stock market crashed, and credit markets around the world froze. “We’re no longer talking about mortgages,” says economist Gertler. “We’re talking about car loans, loans to small businesses, commercial paper borrowing by large banks. This is like a disease spreading.”

“I think that the secretary of the Treasury could not fully comprehend what that linkage was and the extent to which this would materialize into problems,” says former Lehman board member Henry Kaufman.

Paulson was thunderstruck. “This is the utter nightmare of an economic policy-maker,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman tells FRONTLINE. “You may have just made the decision that destroyed the world. Absolutely terrifying moment.”…

It can be awfully comfortable to look backward and second-guess someone else’s decision made amidst an advancing storm. Especially from the outside.

But to have an opportunity to dissect how decisions were made this close in time, discussing amongst people either consulted or immediately impacted? And, better yet, to learn from those mistakes as you try to stave off yet another gathering storm to the extent humanly possible?

You have an obligation to the generations to come to learn those lessons.  No matter how shattering or how much they may alter the landscape ahead.

Which is why CNBC’s offering, "House of Cards," which began playing this month as well, is puzzling in its attempt to shield diva pundit Larry Kudlow from critique:

The CNBC documentary closely follows Mr. Bass’s line of thought, but for perhaps obvious reasons it does not cite a letter of warning he wrote to investors in July 2007. “Consequently, when I hear people like Kudlow on CNBC tell their viewers that the subprime problem is ‘contained,’ I can hardly bear to watch,” Mr. Bass wrote, referring to Larry Kudlow, host of CNBC’s “Kudlow & Company.”

I’ll watch them both, warts and all. Recorded CNBC’s last night and have TIVO set for PBS tonight.

Call me cynical, but I’d prefer that television journalism concentrate more on the warts, and less on polishing turds up for public consumption.  Sort of the I.F. Stone model of questioning everyone’s motives and actions, because people close to power tend to lie.

You can check your local listings here for Frontline.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com