Journalist Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone visited Boston College as the first speaker for the 2014 Lowell Humanities Series on October 1. He came to speak about his new book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, which deals with the lack of action to penalize the perpetrators of the 2008 financial crisis.
Comparing his childhood to the plot of Anchorman, Taibbi said he grew up in the newsroom where his father worked, shaping his future career. However, the crux of his points was to decry changes in the field of journalism from its heyday exposing the atrocities of the Vietnam War to what the profession is today.
Journalism today, Taibbi said, is made of “people like me”: those who were born into a place of privilege and money who sought “glamor” rather than a traditional career in banking or law. The old journalists venerated their “exalted purpose to act as a check for the rich and powerful,” and hated all politicians on principle. He went so far as to call them a “venerated priesthood.”
“Current media doesn’t catch things or really have a point of at all,” Taibbi insists. He gave an anecdote of his time in the press room covering Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech for the vice presidential nomination as the financial crisis began to enter the public eye. Lacking any experience in economics, he asked his fellows who had more expertise exactly what was happening to the world economy.
The silence, he said, was “like a cartoon with the crickets chirping… We knew nothing and we pretended that it didn’t matter.”
Taibbi set out for himself to understand the causes of the financial crisis, eventually likening the scamming of the American citizens into buying bad stocks to the vendor selling “fake Prada bags on the street.” Even when the big bankers responsible became public knowledge, the only news stories being pumped out were about why no one was being indicted or sent to jail.
This brings Taibbi to the class divide of his title. While we see the police and the government ready and willing to bring out “militarized justice for one class of criminal,” (namely the non-white street criminal) white collar criminals are considered too sensitive for arrest. When Taibbi asked an unnamed Washington prosecutor why none of the bankers were sent to jail, the man told him that they couldn’t go because jails were “dangerous” — a true statement, but apparently one that only matters when a rich white man might have to go there.
The death of the “skeptical journalist” has resulted in the failure of this double-standard to be exposed and reversed.
“There is a reverence and fear for people in power with money,” Taibbi insists, and until the old disdain for these people is brought back they can continue to act unchecked.
Taibbi has previously spoken derisively about the Catholic Church, the Pope and organized religion in general, prompting some to question as to whether a Jesuit institution should have him as a speaker; however, no comment was made on these topics during his talk or in the question and answer session afterward.