Consulting a 'Crook' and Ordinary People, CNN Beats Up the Street

     Perhaps CNN should change its moniker from “the most trusted name in news” to the most envious name in news.

     The network stoked the anger and jealousy of ordinary citizens with an outrageous hour-long set-up called “Fall of the Fat Cats,” which aired Oct. 18 and 19. The name of the program was derogatory, but the insults didn’t end there.

     The program tainted all of Wall Street by association by devoting 14 minutes to self-proclaimed “crook” Jordan Belfort, author of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Compare that to the 20 seconds two current Wall Street employees were given. In fact, Belfort’s tale of wrongdoing was given more time on the program than anyone else’s remarks during the special.

     Belfort, who served 22 months for his crimes and wrote his memoir after leaving prison, accused Wall Streeters of fraud, telling CNN “What you see right now – you know, all these so-called, these huge bonuses that people took out over the years were really based on fraud. They weren’t making the sorts of money you know, that they, that they claimed. And now there’s this evaporation of wealth and while money should be going to social programs and doing things that you know, could help the world, the economy and so on and so forth right now we have to bail out the banks.”

     CNN toured a Wall Street party where finely dressed men and women puffed on cigars and the liquor flowed freely. To really give viewers distaste for the extravagancy the camera zoomed in on at least 10 cigars and four drinks during a minute-and-a-half voiceover by correspondent Abbie Boudreau.

     “And if the guests at this party, hosted by a magazine called The Cigar Report, are a little tone deaf about how this kind of event might be perceived, they don’t seem to be especially concerned,” Boudreau said.

     CNN anchor and contributor Rick Sanchez teased the party scene asking, “When is enough, enough.”

     Neither Boudreau or Sanchez – or any guests of the program – mentioned that the lavish Wall Street party benefited many people including the hair stylists and manicurists, masseuses and shoe shiners shown at the party – all employed for the event. Boudreau didn’t include any of their opinions in the program.

     Later in the program menacing black and white photographs of “fallen” Wall Street CEOs filled the screen with a backdrop of $100 bills as Boudreau said the amount of each “stratospheric” executive compensation packages.

     Two of the CEOs mentioned made roughly $11 and $12 million in 2007 – but Boudreau didn’t mention that news anchor Katie Couric makes more than that at roughly $15 million a year. Rarely do people call Couric’s salary stratospheric even in the wake of her falling ratings. CNN’s own Lou Dobbs and Wolf Blitzer also make millions each year, according to

     The special also brought in a panel to discuss issues of CEO pay, lavish lifestyles and Wall Street fraud – but no Wall Street representatives were included on the panel. Sanchez told viewers that repeated requests for interviews of the mentioned CEOs were turned down, but CNN could have included other people – since Wall Street CEOs aren’t the only people who work in the financial sector. The program also didn’t mention if CEOs who turned down CNN were aware of the obvious anti-industry spin of a show entitled “Fall of the Fat Cats.”

     Instead, the panelists were “people just like you,” including a man who just lost his job as a plant manager, a realtor and a former Lehman Bros. intern.

     Yes, Brandon Lawrence, the former Lehman Bros. intern, turned out to be one of only three defenders of Wall Street included during the entire program. The two others were quoted for a mere 20 seconds total in one of Boudreau’s stories.

     Opening a panel discussion regarding CEO compensation, Sanchez asked, “Dick Fuld, CEO Lehman – some would say former CEO, made almost half a billion dollars during his tenure. Can you, can you put your mind around a half a billion dollars?” None of the panelists could.

     “What do you think, what do you say? You, you just lost your job?” Sanchez asked directly to Joel Hynson, a former plant manager. Hynson replied, “He’s just way over the top. He – to me half a billion dollars would mean a lot. Why should he be making that kind of money?” There was no panelist to argue the opposite: why shouldn’t he be allowed to make that money?

     In populist fashion, Sanchez turned to Twitter and Myspace throughout the program for more non-expert analysis from people like “Madartists,” who said Fuld and other CEOs’ pay made them “FURIOUS.”

     As in many class warfare arguments, putting a price tag on things many people cannot afford fuels envy – which is exactly what the Special Investigations Unit did. Boudreau reported a second time from the Wall Street party where people were enjoying caviar and expensive cigars to provide viewers with a glimpse of the wealthy “lifestyle.” Sanchez referred to the second segment as “Fat Cats in their element.” Boudreau also toured an $11.5 million condo in the Plaza Hotel.

     Boudreau’s report quoted Robert Frank, the author of “Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich.”

     “These guys were spending more than $250 billion a year. They bought mansions in Greenwich and Palm Beach. They bought art for a million dollars a painting. The waiting list for Ferarris is more than a year long,” Frank said. Again, Boudreau failed to point out that all that consumption provides jobs for car salesmen, realtors and art dealers, just to name a few, and contributes to the economy.

     Several well-known liberals were also quoted in the program.

     “The Shock Doctrine” author Naomi Klein who has “liberal views” was interviewed as well as filmmaker Oliver Stone, the director and co-writer of “Wall Street.” Stone told CNN, “I thought the Gordon Gekko’s would die out. But they got worse.” Gekko was the villain of “Wall Street” – a broker who proclaimed that “Greed is good.” Sanchez also quoted Warren Buffett’s criticism of Wall Street hedge funds.