Weidner: Wall Street, Still Wayward

David Weidner has a great column today on WSJ.com, but not in the newspaper apparently. Too bad. It deserves wider play.

All business journalists ought to read this as they prepare their inevitable somber-toned, cautious-yet-hopeful coverage of the anniversary of the crash of last September. Don’t buy the spin, people.

Weidner sagely predicts that the press will, that the stories and columns will say that:

Wall Street has somehow changed… that it’s a less risky place today, more regulated and humbled…

We will be told, as we have been, that Wall Street as we know it ended in September 2008.

Yes we will, and it’s not true. As Weidner says, “not only has Wall Street survived, but it is essentially unchanged. The casino ethos is alive and well.

Weidner runs through a list of examples of Wall Street just not getting it, including the preparation to pay themselves near-record bonuses at the end of the year—something likely to cause an explosion of public anger that’ll make the AIG bonus hubbub look like the good old days.

He calls out leading lights like Jamie Dimon and analyst Dick Bove, who had this to say recently:

“There is a movement in this country to fine, tax, and regulate success in the financial industry,” Mr. Bove wrote. “I do not like it.”

Mr. Bove’s got a funny, short-sighted definition of “success.”

Let’s back this up and put things in perspective: Without the hundreds of billions of dollars in direct subsidies and the trillions of dollars in guarantees and other indirect subsidies required to prop up your screwed-up business, these guys are out on their rears hawking apples for a quarter.

Humility is required here. Maybe a request for forgiveness. A little groveling would be nice, while you’re at it.

But that’s not going to happen, and Weidner, fortunately, is here to remind us:

… nothing has really changed. The thing about the government-run death panel is not that it put some of these firms out of their misery, it’s that it let those carrying the disease live.

The financial press needs to keep this idea front and center.

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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 rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.