The bigger picture is, as all business writers know and most of the rest of us are learning, we are living on a precipice right now. We don’t know how far we as a nation will fall, but fall we will. What is more, it is becoming apparent to many that this crisis, in particular, is to some large degree the result of serious systemic and basic business-integrity issues on Wall Street, and that’s putting it mildly.

Is Wall Street the evil empire? No. But without Wall Street, there is no Countrywide, Ameriquest, New Century, or any of the other now-defunct mortgage boiler rooms. There are no out-of-control mortgage brokerage and appraisal businesses, no compromised ratings agencies. No exploding CDO’s and CMO’s around around the world. None of this.

Moreover, a serious case can be made that if any single individual is responsible for the subprime crisis, it is Sandy Weill.

On the other hand, Spitzer, along with forty-eight other state attorneys general, tried to fight reckless lending practices at nationally chartered banks, only to be blocked at every turn by the Bush administration.


The business press, generally speaking, is only beginning to understand and internalize Wall Street’s central role in causing this calamity, a very basic fact. There are many exceptions, of course, including Gretchen Morgenson of the Times and Jesse Eisinger of Portfolio, to name two.

It’s telling that columnists far from Wall Street, including the Providence Journal’s Froma Harrop and
and Jay Hancock of the Baltimore Sun, understand the big picture, which is most of America’s view:

In short, while other regulators played pinochle during the worst wave of corporate sleaze in decades, Spitzer had the guts and—yes—the overweening ambition to expose it at its headquarters. Now the guy is humiliated and disgraced. But schadenfreude often says more about the people feeling it than those it is directed against.

Eliot Spitzer recognized, investigated, and brought to an end corrupt practices in the insurance, mutual-fund, music, and most certainly, the securities industries. Of this, there can be no serious debate.

Because of this record, Spitzer became a hero to the millions of Americans who do not work on Wall Street, and it was based on this record that Spitzer was elected governor of New York with 69 percent of the vote.

I have no problem with stories about Wall Street taking pleasure from the misfortune of an enemy. The topic is a natural.

But there must be a German word that is the opposite of schadenfreude, that means feeling sad about a friend’s fall, especially one caused by his own actions.

How about a story for the rest of us?

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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.