Audit Roundup: The Sun Breaks One, etc.

Crisis brings more scrutiny for the SEC; getting beyond false balance

The New York Sun ain’t dead yet, and reports an ex Securities and Exchange Commission official says a boneheaded SEC rule change in 2004 let the investment banks load up on much more debt (twice as much) and is to blame for their downfall.

What happened to AIG? The Journal’s behind-the-scenes experts Monica Langley, Deborah Solomon, and Matthew Karnitschnig tell us in an excellent first draft of history, as do the Times’s Eric Dash and Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Roger Cohen in the NYT writes one of the best step-back columns we’ve seen on the crisis (even if he does quote Coldplay). It’s part of the growing perception (a correct one) that too many of our best talents have been tied up shuffling money around instead of creating stuff.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz puts aside false balance and notes correctly that anti-regulation McCain has a big problem with the deepening of the financial crisis, which clearly calls out for more and better regulation.

Presidential leadership in a (financial) hurricane? Bloomberg writes, astonishingly, that President Bush has “publicly uttered 160 words about the worst Wall Street crisis since the Great Depression.” Its headline also avoids false balance: “Bush Absent on Financial Crisis as Paulson Leads.”

The Post’s Steven Pearlstein blames the bust on Americans living far beyond their means and financing it with foreign investment, the removal of which pulled the bottom out of the house of cards. He calls the crisis the “greatest destruction of financial wealth that the world has ever seen—paper losses measured in the trillions of dollars. Corporate wealth. Oil wealth. Real estate wealth. Bank wealth. Private-equity wealth. Hedge fund wealth. Pension wealth.”

The NYT looks at Fed Inc., the unprecedented transformation of the central bank into the “investor of last resort.” We might call it the “nationalizer of last resort.”

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.