I want to direct your attention to a fascinating piece of journalistic theater: Bankers Join Billionaires to Debunk ‘Imbecile’ Attack on Top 1%. It was the most popular piece on Bloomberg.com yesterday.
After reading the full piece, you may conclude that the quote in the headline was misplaced; it should have been around the word “Debunk” and not imbecile.
Indeed, that was the first a clue that something interesting was afoot. The author is Max Abelson, formerly of the New York Observer — that was your 2nd clue. At the Observer, Abelson’s vicious wit, leavened with a sarcastic streak, was on full display. Outside of opinion pieces, the machinery at the Bloomberg factory tends to squeeze away anything that is not the 5 Ws: Just the facts, gives us the data, leave the commentary to the opinion pages.
However, those familiar with Max Abelson’s prior work can squint and see the embedded sarcasm and wit hidden in the text. But in the Billionaires piece, it is not hidden at all — it practically leaps off of the page. Abelson somehow managed to talk several billionaires into making asses of themselves in public. Their sincerity is both palpable and amusing; to say they are out of touch is to be generous in your criticism.
The column is an exercise in meta-journalism: Each billionaire quote is followed by a specific fact that makes their protestations laughable. The level of contextual sarcasm is in the plain words themselves. I wonder how many people read this yesterday and completely missed the snark . . .
One-percenters who “debunk” the 99%
• “Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it” -JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. (2010 compensation: $23 million).
• “If successful businesspeople don’t go public to share their stories and talk about their troubles, they deserve what they’re going to get. Who gives a crap about some imbecile? Are you kidding me?” -Home Depot Inc. (HD) co-founder Bernard Marcus (billionaire)
• “Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let’s call it an attack on the very productive. This attack is destructive . . . It still feels lonely, but the chorus is definitely increased.” -John A. Allison IV, a director of BB&T Corp.
• “If I hear a politician use the term ‘paying your fair share’ one more time, I’m going to vomit.” -Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex (billionaire)
• “I am a fat cat, I’m not ashamed. If you mean by fat cat that I’ve succeeded, yeah, then I’m a fat cat. I stand guilty of being a fat cat.” -Ken Langone, Home Depot co-founder (billionaire)
• “My taxes are more than a medieval lord would have taken from a serf” -Peter Schiff, CEO Pacific Capital (net worth $64.7 million)
• “Capitalists are not the scourge that they are too often made out to be . . . wealthy aren’t a monolithic, selfish and unfeeling lot . . . [they] fill store shelves at Christmas, provide health care to millions.” -Leon Cooperman, hedge-fund manager of Omega (Cooperman can “barely get through the dining room of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton Advisors without being thanked” by fellow 1%-ers).
To put that into some context, Abelson used paragraphs such as this:
The top 1 percent of taxpayers in the U.S. made at least $343,927 in 2009, the last year data is available, according to the Internal Revenue Service. While average household income increased 62 percent from 1979 through 2007, the top 1 percent’s more than tripled, an October Congressional Budget Office report showed. As a result, the U.S. had greater income inequality in 2007 than China or Iran, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.
Nicely done, Max, hilarious stuff. Good luck getting these folks to talk to you in the future.
Dear Jamie Dimon, We Don’t Hate The Rich, We Hate You (Josh Brown, Reformed Broker)
Bankers Join Billionaires to Debunk ‘Imbecile’ Attack on Top 1%
Bloomberg, Dec 20, 2011