Merrill Lynch Bonus Scandal Exposes Inefficacy of US Media

My hat is off to AFP for bringing this news of American ethics abuse nearly THREE FULL WEEKS before the US Newsrooms got a hold of it.

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Way to go Frenchies.

It seems that the first article that Google indexed on the $3.6 billion in (TARP funded) bonuses paid out to Merrill Lynch employees was published by none other than the Agence France-Presse. Merrill Lynch paid out nearly 22 times as much as AIG did and yet until now avoided almost any of the damning feedback AIG has experienced recently.  My hat is off to AFP for bringing this news of American taxpayer abuse before even a mention in the illustrious New York Times.  Has American reporting really slipped this much since Woodward & Bernstein took down Nixon?

The Internet is not the reason US newspaper readership is down- newspapers have ceased to be relevant and so Americans have stopped buying them.  The failure of the press in not making a big news item out of the Merrill Lynch story before a foreign news agency (and again, hats off to AFP!) demonstrates this perfectly.

Here’s the journalistic failure timeline:

AFP: US officials seek BofA, Merrill Lynch bonus detailsMar 9, 2009

The French news agency AFP is the first major media outlet to report the $3.6 billion in bonuses, as indexed by Google.


Andrew Little’s Speech to the National Press Club – Mar 10, 2009

Next, Andrew Little, the national secretary of New Zealand’s largest trade union, brings up bonus abuse in a speech to the New Zealand National Press Club:

“Failing their way to success:
senior executive pay for performance – but performance of what?”

“There has never been a better time to closely examine the culture of high salaries and performance bonuses endemic in many large corporations and merchant banks around the world…and the examination should be not just of the economic justification for these rewards but of the moral case for them and the social implications.”

“As a mark of gratitude for this spectacular performance, the heads of Merrill Lynch awarded bonuses throughout the organisation of $US3.6 billion.”

Economic Outlook: The ripple effect – United Press International, March 16, 2009

UPI describes “…the furor over $3.6 billion in bonuses pay given to Merrill Lynch executives in spite of huge losses…”.  Furor?  Really?  Wouldn’t that warrant a major US reporting effort?

Phillip Martin: Why The Obama Administration Underestimated Public Outrage Over AIG? – March 18, 2009

In his blog for the Huffington Post, Martin contradicts the furor assessment:

“Take for example the 3.6 billion in questionable bonuses to Merrill Lynch executives a few months ago as the bailed out financial management firm was being taken over by Bank of America. That payout makes the AIG reward for failure look like a tip at McDonalds. Seven Merrill Lynch executives each received a bonus of more than $10m for 2008. But compared to the current AIG debacle the public response at the time amounted to slight irritation, not fury.”

(Right on Phillip, but nobody’s going to get all furored if they don’t even know about the $3.6b…)

SIDEBAR: AIG’s not the only company to pay bail-out bonusesMar 18, 2009

Monsters & Critics cited yet another foreign news agency, Deutsche Presse-Agenteur of Germany in this post:

“In another bail-out bonus situation, Merrill Lynch, acquired by Bank of America in a government-backed rescue measure last year, reportedly had a 3.6 billion-dollar bonus pool in December, the New York Times reported, citing a court transcript.”

What NY Times report???” I shrugged and asked Google The Almighty:

search: Merrill Lynch Bonus December site:nytimes.com

And there it was.

Cuomo Says Merrill Deceived Congress on Bonuses – NYTimes.com – March 11, 2009

After reading it, I quickly saw why I had missed this article.  NYT reporter Louise Story failed to even mention the amount of the Merrill Lynch bonus pool, and so adding ‘3.6’ to my search string missed it.  Either way, AFP beats NYT to the punch by two days.  Story wrote:

“Andrew M. Cuomo, the attorney general of New York, claimed on Wednesday that Merrill Lynch misled Congress over the timing of its plans to award billions of dollars in bonuses last December.”

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – NBC – March 18th 2009

Senator Byron Dorgan was a guest on NBC’s ‘1600 Pennsylvannia Ave and had this to say during the discussion:

“You know what, the American people need to know this information. We need this transparency. The president is angry about this. This isn‘t his fault. He wasn‘t—this wasn‘t on his watch. And listen, the other thing is, these are relatively small compared to the Merrill Lynch bonuses made in December. That was a company that lost 27 billion dollars and gave 3.6 billion dollars in bonuses. They paid 694 people, each of them more than one million dollars in bonuses for a company that lost 27 billion.”

“And then Bank of America took them over and got 20 billion dollars in Tarp Funds. I‘m just telling you, this is a culture of corruption. I‘m glad the thing has boiled over. People are furious and so am I. We need to put a stop to all of this.”

In Defense of (Some) Bonus Babies – The Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com – March 20th, 2009

Now here’s where it gets even more absurd to me.  If the NYT was supposed to have broken this story, then why was NYT blogger Eric Etheridge referring to yet another blog as the source here, rather than his parent company?

“John Hempton at Bronte Capital wonders why no one is mad about the bonuses at Merrill:

‘The bonuses paid at Merrill Lynch were 3.6 billion — 22 times the AIG bonuses.

They were paid by a firm that would not have survived without a bailout by the US Government through Bank of America. Moreover they were sometimes large – the 30 million variety – not the 1.5 million variety.

We should be at least 20 times as outraged over the Merrill Lynch bonuses than the AIG bonuses. But as a society we are not. . .'”

Again John…the people have to know about these things before the outrage/torch/pitchfork stuff gets going.

WTF are the American press covering instead of the real news we need to function as a democracy?  If you want to know who’s stealing from you this week, look to the foreign press or sharpen those search string skills.

6 thoughts on “Merrill Lynch Bonus Scandal Exposes Inefficacy of US Media”

  1. Ok – but I live in Austalia and I was perfectly aware of the bonus issue…

    But then I read bank accounts for a living.

    John H

  2. why ae the shareholders not screaming for Merrill blood.
    they have surely screwed their owners.

    as for retention bonus surely its a responsibility of the CEO and board to ensure no ransom is paid to those executives who know where the bodies are burried.

  3. Sen. Byron Dorgan, “The president is angry about this. This isn‘t his fault. He wasn‘t—this wasn‘t on his watch.” Dorgon goes on to say, “I‘m just telling you, this is a culture of corruption. I‘m glad the thing has boiled over. People are furious and so am I. We need to put a stop to all of this.”

    Mr. Dorgan, If Obama isn’t in bed with the financial elite, then why hire an accomplice as your treasury secretary? This is outright FRAUD. Obama needs to fire Geithner, Panetta and any other crook(s) working within his administration. Fraud is a crime and anyone involved in this scam needs to be locked up.

    Personally, I’m more inclined to believe what William K. Black stated in this Bill Moyers interview. See:

    http://www.freedomfromthepress.net/wordpress/2009/04/15/us-federal-government-a-total-fraud-freedom-from-the-press/

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