But our libel laws are a lot tougher than yours. There are serious legal risks. It’s harder.
And maybe journalists have gotten too obsessed with five-act tragedies. One I thing I thought was just sensationally good was the  series—[Walt Bogdanich et al.] won a Pulitzer for it—in the New York Times on why there were so many deaths on railway crossings. Just amazing. And this is something which I’d love to do and clearly will have an impact, calling people to account, and what you’ve done, and other people have done on corruption. That, I don’t know whether we would do that, but I tip my hat to it, we do some of it in the U.K., and in America, it’s on another level. And it would be a very sad day if we saw the end of it.
TA: Our pre-crisis press study found a big gap: the financial press had trouble confronting Wells Fargo, Ameriquest, Bear, Lehman, etc. Is that a fair critique?
LB: [While] we would not really do Countrywide, what we should have done, we should have followed through on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The level of leverage, and Greenspan had said it on the record, in terms of their statuses as GSEs, half-private, half-public, de facto government guarantee, the remuneration, the links with Congress. Steve Shurr, he was constantly going on about Fannie Mae, [as well as] John Dizard, he’s a columnist, and he was right. The great message I think for us to learn, and as an editor you should learn, is people have short memories. You may have to say things more than once. That may not mean you have to do three, 5,000-word stories; it means you have to stay with the story and not move on with the caravan.
TA: Reading backwards over what the press said before the crisis, the FT stood out for its coverage the mortgage aftermarket. The Tett stuff was a revelation because, just covering a beat, she was saying “CDOs are through the roof right now; boy, there’s lots of them.” But we noticed there were very few mentions of the word “subprime.” One major gripe about the business press is a lack of connection to the “real world.” If people knew what a subprime borrower was, and how strapped they actually were, all of this derivative stuff would have become a lot more interesting.
LB: I think that’s an entirely legitimate criticism of the press. There are two faults here, one of which I alluded to in the Yale speech. We got a piece of this, a piece of the puzzle, just as the economists did. Some of them talked about global imbalances, but they didn’t talk enough about leverages. Some of them talked about leverages, but didn’t pay enough attention to global imbalances. Some talked about failures in regulation, but then they didn’t think about the other bits.
Reporters, you have somebody talking about CDOs, but then they’re working in their channel. And that’s again when great editors…say, “If this is working there, trace it back.” The other point is, for us, here in America, we are concentrated. We cover the machinery of government in Washington, and we cover the big banks. We don’t tend to go grassroots up. That’s a lesson for us. That’s an important lesson for all of us. I don’t think there was a malicious dereliction of duty. It’s just that we tend to work with the institutions covering what the manager is doing, strategy. [Now] we have, actually, particularly during this recession, a reporter assigned to covering what is happening at the bottom end, unemployment.
TA: Looking forward, how are you going to cover this brave new world of finance?