My colleague Curtis Brainard has written about the media’s inclination to offer loose psychological evaluations of high profile meltdown types with, often, zero evidence and less expertise. Well, those lucky fancy-car-driving expensive-suit-wearing folks who tuned into MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning were treated to a roundtable of psychobabble when New York Times reporter Diana Henriques joined Joe and Mika and Willie, Jonathan Capehart, and Jeffrey Sachs
Jeffrey Canada to hawk her new book, The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust.
Henriques, a solid and sure financial reporter, offered some interesting views on Madoff’s frame of mind—and, to be fair, she’s been covering him for years, is the only reporter to interview Madoff in his North Carolina prison (twice), and made a point of acknowledging her lack of expertise. In one interesting moment, Henriques spoke of a significant change in the once-cocksure Madoff between her visit to see him in August 2010, where he had appeared confident and still “dapper,” and her visit in February this year, where he was noticeably depleted. “I think his son’s suicide certainly began to give him a sense of contrition,” offered Henriques, “but he’s focused his mind on the compensation issues, making this case that his victims may eventually even be made whole, which is ludicrous. And I think that’s protecting him.”
She thankfully preempted those comments with this one: “Just to play armchair psychologist for a minute, and my credentials are slim ”
There was no such self-awareness from Morning Joe’s most affable co-host, the surely-soon-to-be-the-next-Matt-Lauer Willie Geist. Early on in the segment, he preempted a question with this very assured diagnosis of Madoff: “He’s been described as a sociopath and probably rightly so, having no concern for ripping off charities and ripping off guys he’d played golf with all his life.” Probably rightly so, Dr. Geist, though our sympathies are more strongly swayed by the former victims more than the latter.
But that was mild compared to Mika Brzezinski’s diagnosis. Chiming in after Henriques’s comments about Madoff clinging to the compensation issues, Brzenski offered this very dramatic point: “Right, I was going to say, it’s probably a shield. Not that I’m a psy but I mean if he came to terms with what he did, I don’t know if he’d be able to go on another day.”
Alas, the most relevant sentence among those was the one left unfinished.