UPDATE: Taibbi responds to critics; details below.
I just got done reading Matt Taibbi’s rant in Rolling Stone in which Taibbi tries to support a reasonable, basically unarguable premise — that Wall Street has gotten a free ride from the Obama administration, that the same corporate interests that created the economic crisis are being rewarded instead of held accountable, and that Pres. Obama has done little, if anything, to make the relationship between the financial markets and the White House more adversarial — with loads of conspiracy theorizing, shoddy fact-checking, vitriolic language — and really not much more.
Tim Fernholz is right: It’s a “nightmare of a story.” Among the inaccuracies and outright errors Fernholz caught:
- He mixes up two government officials with the same name.
- He claims that Obama cut Austan Goolsbee out of his post-election transition team when in fact Goolsbee was advanced past the transition team to start work at the National Economic Council and the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
- He accuses Obama of forming his transition team out of people who all had worked with James P. Rubin (whom Taibbi confused with James S. Rubin) based on no evidence other than that they had all had various roles in the Clinton administration.
These are only a few from a long list of things Fernholz says Taibbi got wrong. At the end of his piece, Fernholz writes:
Is it disconcerting that employees of the financial industry make a ton of money? Yes. Is it the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street problematic? Yes. Does the Administration take it too easy on the banks? Absolutely. Are White House advisers too centrist for progressive tastes? Sure. But when you try and tell that story with a lot of lies and innuendo, and misunderstand the basic policies that these people are producing, you don’t hurt them. Now anyone who criticizes the Administration will just be lumped in with Taibbi’s meandering conspiracy. … The problems Taibbi tries to describe aren’t some kind of ridiculous cabal. They come from group-think and structural influences and as a result of a complex interplay of interests and institutions; the policies they produce aren’t either good or evil, they’re in need of analysis to determine which help regular people, which hurt them and how to change the latter into the former.
Ben Smith points out that Taibbi’s attack on Obama relies on the assumption that he presented himself as an economic progressive during the campaign (indeed, at one point in the Rolling Stone piece, he uses the term “bait and switch”), which is not accurate:
The whole thing is, as usual with Taibbi (who’s been a must-read since his Moscow days), worth the click. But Taibbi’s coverage of Obama — like much of the coveage of his policy — also works a little [too] hard to establish that he was ever anything other than an establishment figure. He says Obama “ran for president as a man of the people” — well, who doesn’t? — and “stood up to Wall Street” during the campaign. Which was true, rhetorically, but at the pivotal moment, Obama worked closely with Hank Paulson to support the bailout.
A Daily Kos diarist with the handle “Tax problems” further notes that Taibbi’s argument that Barack Obama dumped all or most of his more liberal economic advisers from the election campaign “is silly and wrong.”
- Larry Summers was Obama’s chief economic adviser for the entire general election campaign. He did not suddenly spring out of nowhere to become Obama’s “economic czar.” (It’s interesting that Taibbi vacillates betweening blaming everything on Summers and listing all the other powerful Rubenites.)
- Austan Goolsbee is not a progressive economist. He is a centrist from the University of Chicago. In fact, he was the one who told the Canadians that Obama didn’t really mean he was going to back out of NAFTA.
- Jared Bernstein [very liberal–kk] is a key economic adviser. Despite his formal role under the VP, he is in on every meeting of the economic principals and has made several official WH blog posting and speeches.
- Melody Barnes (not mentioned in Taibbi) is the President’s Domestic Policy Adviser and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council. She is very liberal and a former key staffer for Ted Kennedy. She joined the team after the election.
- Peter Orszag in addition to having been mentored by Robert Rubin was also earlier mentored by Joe Stiglitz (a very progressive economist to the left of Krugman). …
UPDATE: Matt Taibbi’s response to Tim Fernholz’s critique of Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece is here. Taibbi acknowledges and apologizes (quite graciously, I think) for his factual error about the identity of James Rubin. Apart from that, Taibbi’s position seems to be that Fernholz’s (whom he never names, but just refers to The American Prospect piece) criticisms have more to do with tone and interpretation than with factual error. I think it’s a fair argument. See what you think.