Danny Schechter Dissects Wall Street Fraud: ‘Plunder: The Crime of Our Time’

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men, they create for themselves in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it, and a moral code that glorifies it.”
– Political economist Frederic Bastiat, The Law (1850)

“I used to think of Wall Street as a financial center.
I now think of it as a crime scene.”
– Filmmaker Danny Schechter, Plunder (2009)

I am an old-fashioned “follow-the-money” journalist. As I’m writing this, most economists have learned to downplay fear and panic and up-play the “resilience” of the market. It’s a belief that all we need is confidence and then, all will be right with the world. Sadly, journalism has gone along with this charade by first denying the crisis and then avoiding investigating its architects and beneficiaries.

Three years ago, by choosing to be an “investigative” journalist, I made the film In Debt We Trust, with the idea in mind that I was examining “America before the Bubble bursts” (the subtitle of that film). My hope was I could transcend any political, partisan quibbles over the issue by warning of a credit crisis that would hurt people regardless of their politics. My effort was to examine how our economy had been restructured away from one that “makes things” into a service culture where credit card companies and mortgage firms finance our lifestyles—even when we can not afford them.

I did discover and illustrate in this film how subprime loans were ensnaring poor people, resulting in displacement and massive foreclosures. I even turned my continuing concern into a book called Plunder: Investigating Our Economic Calamity. In this, I warned of greater trouble ahead. The book came out in 2008, a week before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

After the so-called [stuff] hit the fan, what really tormented me was how poorly and superficially these issues were being covered by the mainstream media. Today more people, myself included, can confidently argue that Big Media was complicit in the crisis—by not reporting on what was really going on, and more so, taking billions in advertising revenues from dodgy lenders and greedy credit-card companies. The media was, without question, part of the problem.

And lately, the greatest media insult to inquiry came from Time magazine, by honoring Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as 2009′s “Man of the Year”—not for bringing the crisis to an end but for ensuring it didn’t get as bad as it might have been. Never mind Bernanke’s refusal to act on the subprime, or rather “subcrime,” crisis when he had the chance to.

As I continued to re-examine my own view of this crisis, I asked myself and others informed on the subject—how could this happen?!? I began looking at the possibility that it was really a crime story, not just a business problem.

Not too long after I took this approach, “Ponzi King” Bernie Madoff surfaced as a bona-fide, white-collar criminal running a $65 billion-dollar scam. Madoff’s crimes started decades before our current global financial crisis, but his admission that “I knew what I was doing was wrong, indeed criminal” helped to foster my belief that this was crime, and not some “natural” economic event.

It was at this point I had enough conviction to start working on a documentary titled Plunder: The Crime Of Our Time—to make the case that our media and even our legal system are both ignoring. My approach is not to go after “bad men,” but a rotten system of fraudulent mortgages that first ripped off homeowners and then were bundled, securitized and resold with false values to banks and financial institutions. In the end, this gigantic complicated mess was insured by companies like AIG for the sole reason that they could be leveraged and borrowed against (in other words, to make tons of money).

This whole Three-Card Monte game ended up costing trillions of dollars to hundreds of millions of Americans who had no say in how this corrupt system really worked. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter aptly charged: “Never before have so few done so much to so many.” This is why I describe my current documentary as the “Crime of Our Time.”

My partners at GlobalVision and I have almost finished the film, and I’m very thrilled that The Disinformation Company is going to release Plunder in stores and online in April 2009. But before that can happens I need your help…

Plunder desperately needs a sound mix, color correction, the creation of DVD extras and authoring, all of which costs real money. The Disinformation Company is kicking in some of the funds, but with $3,000 more, we will be able to deliver the project, as we’d like to, for release.

If the guilty parties on Wall Street and in Washington are to be brought to justice and serve jail time, we must put maximum pressure on lawmakers, regulators, and attorney generals while the paper trail of evidence is still hot.

The recession may have been artificially-shortened and sweetened by the stimulus package, but thousands of people are still losing their jobs and their homes as a result of the fraudulent bailout, every day.

Please join me in pushing for a JAILOUT, not another bailout, for these criminals.

With as little as $20 you can really make a difference. Depending on your pledge I’ll give you anything from a free DVD of the finished film, to lunch with me on Wall Street (where I will gladly share my experience of making this film).

Thank you for your support,

Danny Schechter
News Dissector, Mediachannel.org

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