Those stories ran in September 2008. AIG only officially released the names of its beneficiaries in March 2009. And does anyone have any confidence that the counterparties would have been revealed even then had not virtually all the relevant information already been in public domain, thanks to journalistic efforts?

And it was only through the historic lawsuit brought by Bloomberg (with Pittman as named plaintiff)—at great effort and expense—that taxpayers were even allowed to know even, again, the identities of the recipients of emergency lending programs that numbered in the trillions.

Of course, the government has arguments to make to defend such secrecy. Concealing Citi’s settlement might strengthen the government’s position versus the other banks, we’re told. The fragility of the financial system, the fact that it is based on confidence, makes disclosing recipients of government aid problematic.

But it should go without saying that in a democracy, that’s just too bad. You have to disclose it anyway.

But of course, even the massive secrecy surrounding the financial crisis is part of a larger and widening shroud of secrecy that increasingly is becoming the new normal in Washington, just one symptom of a weakened press corps

As Steve Coll says in another context, the First Amemdment is based “the self-evident truth that secrecy and concentrated power are inherently corrupting.”

Nowhere is that more true than in secrecy that still surrounds the financial crisis

 

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014).

Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.