The Big Lie (Previews & Edits)

Whenever I go off on a rant when writing some critical polemic screed, I try not to edit myself. Just get it all out in print, and we can worry about editing down for style and clarity later. That works especially well if you, as a writer, have a some idea of where you want to go and what you want to say with a piece.

It also helps if you work with a top notch editor, and I have been fortunate to work with several: Aaron Task, my editor on Bailout Nation as well as at TheStreet.com; Thom Donlan at Barron’s; and my  editor at the Washington Post, Kelly Johnson.

Its freeing to blather out 2,000 words and let the professionals focus and tighten it up. But every now and again, something interesting ends up on the cutting room floor. In Bailout Nation, a delightfully vicious comment about Greenspan’s relationship with Ayn Rand was edited out (It was so obnoxiously clever I may have to publish it posthumously).

My column for this Sunday’s Washington Post, What Caused the Financial Crisis? The Big Lie Goes Viral, looks at the false crisis narratives pushed by people for various reasons. Its not unusual to see this from the usual suspects, but it is a big surprise when it comes out of NYC’s pragmatic technocrat Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

KJ slashed my blather in half, cutting out the flabby digressions and distractions. The finished piece just hums.

But as I alluded to earlier, some of the more interesting parts got lost in the process. What follows are some of the trimmings from two earlier versions of The Big Lie, none of which made it to the final piece.

First up: The original draft was all over the place, kinda randomly calling out people; the early version had the following text:

Peter Wallison, FCIC member: Before joining the financial commission, Wallison was the Co-Director of co-director of the American Enterprise Institute Financial Deregulation Project. Since the crisis occurred, the AEI changed the project’s name to the more benign “program on financial policy studies.” They also scrubbed Wallison’s bio from any mention of the Financial Deregulation Project.

Joe Kernan, CNBC Anchor: Viewers who tune in each morning expecting to get a quick update on the news instead see Squawkbox Anchor and former Merrill Lynch Broker Kernan shilling for the Street. He never seems to pass up an opportunity to exonerate banks and blame the wrong players for the financial collapse. Whether it was the Community Reinvestment Act or Fannie & Freddie, apparently anyone but Wall Street was at fault. Perhaps the tiresome repetition of the same discredited memes helps to explain the CNBC’s softening ratings.

Investor’s Business Daily: IBD published not an opinion piece, but an article laying fault for the entire crisis on a 1994 HUD statement against bank redlining. Of course, if that was the cause of the crisis, then the bank redlined areas of the country – inner cities like Harlem and the worst parts of Philly and Chicago and Detroit and Washington DC was were the lending boom and bust would have taken place. But we know it was the tony suburbs of California and Arizona, as well as the Condos in Florida and the Exurbs in Nevada that boomed the most.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg: Embarrassed himself this week, blindly repeating the discredited talking points. He exonerated Wall Street, stating “It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.” What made Bloomberg’s erroneous comments so stunning is that he built his Bloomberg Data Service business on the notion that data is what ultimately matters most to investors. He ignored his own principles to repeat statements he knew (or should have known) were false.

I thought about the pieces to this as KJ and I edited it down to a more reasonable size. “Man bites Dog” is really the story here, mostly because Mayor Bloomberg is not just another wingnut. So the mid version of the column focused more on Bloomberg, and downgraded the usual Financial Crisis Denialists to a mere sentence apiece.

Cleaned up a bit, and notably better than the series above, it looked like this:

Mayor Mike Bloomberg: Embarrassed himself this week, blindly repeating the discredited talking points. He exonerated Wall Street, stating “It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.” What made Bloomberg’s erroneous comments so stunning is that he built his Bloomberg Data Service business on the notion that data is what ultimately matters most to investors. He ignored his own principles to repeat statements he knew (or should have known) were false.

Its not just Mayor Bloomberg – you can see the Big Lie in action everywhere. Perhaps the Mayor saw a recent The Investor’s Business Daily article that blamed the crisis on a 1994 Housing and Urban Development memo (Smoking-Gun Document Ties Policy To Housing Crisis, by PAUL SPERRY 10/31/2011). Maybe he read FCIC member Peter Wallison’s dissent; of course, Wallison was co-director of the American Enterprise Institute “Financial Deregulation Project” so its no surprise he dissented from the report laying blame on radical deregulation of the finance sector. Perhaps the Mayor watches CNBC’s morning program, Squawkbox. Viewers are treated to a regular repetition of the Big Lie, as anchor Joe Kernan exonerates banks and blames Congress for the crisis on a near daily basis.

The final version is even more compact. It dispatched all of the goofballs — Wallison, Kernan, IBD are totally dropped from the finished product. The focus is partly on why Bloomberg went off the reservation, but mostly on what actually caused the finacial crisis.

I’ll tweet it as soon as soon as its out online @ritholtz

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