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Economics Food Fight

Matt Taibbi

Finally we have something fun to talk about. This could save us from wallowing in the horrors of Obama’s health insurance company bailout bill all weekend long. Matt Taibbi’s latest piece came out in Rolling Stone weeks ago, but was only available to subscribers until recently. Suddenly there is a fascinating back and forth going on between Taibbi and Obama apologist Tim Fernholtz at American Prospect. Fernholz nitpicked Taibbi’s article in a much-discussed critique. Then Felix Salmon stepped in to add his two cents to war of words. Then, Taibbi put his own response to Fernholz up on his blog. And finally, the latest: Fernholz has a new response to Taibbi’s response and he includes a couple of digs at Salmon too!

Here are links to all the relevant articles with some highlights:

Taibbi’s original RS story: Obama’s Big Sellout

Taibbi’s main argument is that Bob Rubin and people closely connected with him are running Obama’s economic policy–ensuring that deregulation and free-trade will continue to be the order of the day, rather than efforts to control an out-of-control Wall Street.

It is bad enough that one of Bob Rubin’s former protégés from the Clinton years, the New York Fed chief Geithner, is intimately involved in the negotiations, which unsurprisingly leave the Federal Reserve massively exposed to future Citi losses. But the real stunner comes only hours after the bailout deal is struck, when the Obama transition team makes a cheerful announcement: Timothy Geithner is going to be Barack Obama’s Treasury secretary!

Geithner, in other words, is hired to head the U.S. Treasury by an executive from Citigroup — Michael Froman — before the ink is even dry on a massive government giveaway to Citigroup that Geithner himself was instrumental in delivering. In the annals of brazen political swindles, this one has to go in the all-time Fuck-the-Optics Hall of Fame.

Wall Street loved the Citi bailout and the Geithner nomination so much that the Dow immediately posted its biggest two-day jump since 1987, rising 11.8 percent. Citi shares jumped 58 percent in a single day, and JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley soared more than 20 percent, as Wall Street embraced the news that the government’s bailout generosity would not die with George W. Bush and Hank Paulson.

Fernholz’s critique: The Errors of Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi has done it again — written a nightmare of a story for Rolling Stone on Obama’s economic sell-out of his campaign. The piece is a factual mess, a conspiracy theorist’s dream, doesn’t even indict Obama for his real failures (which I’ll discuss in a post later today) and of course invokes the cold hands of Bob Rubin like a bogeyman at every turn. This is pernicious for a lot of journalistic reasons, but politically it’s bad for progressives beacuse conspiracy theories stand in the way of good policy analysis and good activism, replacing them with apathy and fear.

Salmon’s critique of Fernholtz’s critique: Fernholtz vs. Taibbi

Tim Fernholz’s intemperate attack on Matt Taibbi and his latest article is getting a lot of attention in the Twittersphere. It turns out that a lot of journalists don’t like Taibbi, and love it when he gets taken down a peg.

But Fernholz’s attack is weaker than it looks at first glance; a lot of it is simply a matter of slant and opinion.

Taibbi’s response to Fernholz: On Obama’s Big Sellout

So I fucked up with that line — “a former Clinton diplomat” — and for that I certainly am sorry, among other things because Rolling Stone’s fact-checkers are the most rigorous in the business (much more so than any other newspaper or magazine I’ve worked for) and I think actually this was my error and not theirs, a late-stage mixup near press time.

Now, that said, it was indeed Bob Rubin’s son Jamie who worked with Michael Froman in the Obama transition team. Had it not been Bob Rubin’s son, that would certainly have qualified as a serious error, because then we’d be making an argument based upon a factual error.

But the basic argument of the article was that an enormous number of people with ties to Bob Rubin and/or other Wall Street insiders had assumed positions of responsibility in the Obama transition and White House. And Jamie Rubin is Bob Rubin’s son, and he was a headhunter for Obama’s economic hires from the first days of the transition. So the meaning here is really not significantly different. The fact that this heads the Prospect’s list of complaints says a lot about the substance of this criticism.

Fernholz’s response to Taibbi’s response and Salmon’s critique of his critique of Taibbi: Lighting Round

So yesterday’s post on Matt Taibbi’s latest in Rolling Stone got a bit more attention than I had anticipated, including a response from Felix Salmon that I thought was worth addressing. Salmon defends Taibbi — I’d accuse him of some logrolling in our time thanks to his appearance in the piece, but Salmon is better than that — but it’s not a very strong defense….

Here’s my point: Taibbi has written an article arguing that Obama has sold out his campaign-era economic populism by surrounding himself with Bob Rubin’s lackeys and giving away the farm to the bankers — “one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history.” Only it turns out, though, that many of the Rubinites he identifies don’t work on the things he says they work on, or don’t take the positions he applies to them, or aren’t as influential as he thinks they are. The people he says were “banished” from Obama’s inner circle, like Austan Goolsbee, weren’t. He manages not to mention any of the populist decisions Obama has made.

And Andrew Leonard at Salon is threatening to get involved–he sounds like another Obama apologist.

Is it my imagination, or does the attribution “spent 12 years as an executive at Goldman Sachs” now carry with it the stain of the scarlet letter? Nothing more need be said.

I will return to this theme later today when I tackle Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone assault on President Barack Obama but let’s note here for the record that this is yet another case of the White House proposing a sensible piece of regulatory reform — anything that quacks like a financial services banking duck should be regulated like a financial services banking duck — that has been watered down by Congress.

Back and forth–who will be heard from next and will they come to blows?


UPDATE I:

Here is the promised attack on Taibbi by Andrew Leonard: Matt Taibbi goes Obama scalp hunting

And, another voice pipes up from the peanut gallery, Big Media Matt, king of the apologists, Blame Obama First h/t MABlue


UPDATE II:

Salmon returns Leonard’s serve: Don’t Ask Taibbi to be Krugman

But where does Salmon get the idea that we have a “left-leaning government now?” What is he smoking?

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