The Goldman Settlement Coverage is Mostly On-Target

The press does a pretty good job of handling the SEC’s settlement with Goldman Sachs (an Audit funder).

It seems everybody has a good second paragraph. What’s with that? The first graph is the news. The second graph is the context.

Here are the second paragraphs of several major pubs:

The Wall Street Journal’s A1 story:

But the agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission ends a showdown that had deeply shaken America’s most powerful financial firm at a cost that outside observers deemed a bargain.

The New York Times’s page-one effort:

If approved by a federal judge in Manhattan, the settlement would rank among the largest in the 76-year history of the Securities and Exchange Commission, but it would represent only a small financial dent for Goldman, which reported $13.39 billion in profit last year.


Investors welcomed the deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying the company won key points: The cost was below some analysts’ estimates of at least $1 billion; no management changes were required; and Goldman Sachs said the SEC indicated it doesn’t plan claims related to other mortgage- linked securities it examined. The stock’s late surge on anticipation of a settlement yesterday added more than $3 billion to the company’s market value, and it climbed further after New York trading closed.

The Financial Times’s page one:

Although the penalty is the biggest levied on a Wall Street bank, it amounts to around a week’s worth of trading revenues for Goldman and is below the $1bn fraud the Securities and Exchange Commission had alleged in its complaint in April.

But there are some quibbles with the coverage:

The Times plays this up a bit much:

Though Goldman did not formally admit to the S.E.C.’s allegations, it agreed to a judicial order barring it from committing intentional fraud in the future under federal securities laws.

Well, blow me down! I’ll tell you what, I’ll agree to not commit intentional fraud in the future under federal securities laws, and the SEC doesn’t even have to get a judicial order for me.

NPR, as Dean Baker points out, says Goldman “survived” the crisis, which is true, but only because it was rescued by you and me, not because “it emerged” on its own, as NPR implies.

And the WSJ is confusing here (emphasis mine):

The SEC said the Goldman settlement represents the largest penalty it has ever extracted from a Wall Street firm. In 1988, Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. agreed to pay $650 million in fines and restitution, but about half the total went to satisfy civil claims of investors and clients defrauded by Drexel

The settlement includes a $535 million civil penalty and the handover of $15 million in profits Goldman made on the Abacus deal. Goldman will pay $250 million to investors in the Abacus deal, including $150 million to IKB Deutsche Industriebank AG, a German bank that invested the same amount in a slice of the mortgage securities.

So what’s the difference? And that Drexel settlement would be $1.2 billion in real dollars.

But the biggest problem is that while everyone reports that Goldman has to cough up $15 million in profits on the Abacus deal, nobody notes that contradicts its self-serving, false claims that it lost $100 million on it.

The press did a good job of digging out the story that Goldman wasn’t telling the truth on that “loss,” so it gets something of a pass. But it would still have been nice to point out this confirmation of the firm’s forked tongue.

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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.