Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekend edition: Firing Rosa Parks for not giving up her seat on the bus

The woman holding up the so-called "Abacus sign" at the Occupy Wall Street demo has been identified. Her name is Caitlin Curran and here (again) is the famous picture of her holding her sign.



As readers will know I thought this sign was misleading in that it was inaccurate about the nature of the Abacus transaction. Still - as written - and as one of my readers has observed - the statement is pure motherhood. If you think it is not wrong to create a mortgage-backed security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn't aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleadingly rated loans most likely to be defaulted upon then let me know. (I will find you a job in investment banking!)

The picture has had career adverse impacts on Caitlin. She was a journalist at The Takeaway and the picture got her fired. There is currently a tendency of non-right-wing news outlets to enforce a rigorous non-advocacy position on their staff - and they will fire them for any political donation or any political involvement. Caitlin wrote about this in Gawker.

The right-wing news outlets don't enforce that - just look at the roster of Fox News.

This is ridiculous. The managing director Mark Effron is enforcing a standard that is philosophically indefensible but he is too brain-dead to see it.

So let me put it simply for Mark Effron's benefit. Had Rosa Parks been an employee of yours - and had she chosen to not stand up on the bus because a white person wanted that seat would you have fired her? (Rosa Park's action was clearly political protest...)

If you would have then you are evil and you should resign for the benefit of society. Go on Mark - do it now.

If you would not have fired Rosa Parks you are admitting that your standards are nuanced and your action in firing Caitlin is somewhat more sophisticated than Caitlin suggests in her article.

So spell it out. Spell out why Caitlin's offense is a firing offense and Rosa Park's offense is not?

If you don't have the intellectual nous to do that at least give Caitlin her job back.



John

38 comments:

Absalon said...

Here here.

Greg Hao said...

Great point, John! Whoever said America was the land of the free is obviously flipping over in his grave.

Wilfried said...

Under the Nazis, expressing dissent brought people into concentration camps or into the Gulag under the communists. Nowadays in a democracy we are much better off, it only costs our job and the means to earn a living. But what can we reasonably expect from a system that touts human rights but simultaneously runs Guantanamo?

BobM said...

Disagree John.
She is a journalist.
Her job is to report the news not make it.
It goes to the heart of modern journalism. Where can you get an honest opinion; when all journalists think they have a licence to change society?

Anonymous said...

as you mention, the fantastical part of it is that the right wing has no such qualms. Which is not a small advantage.

Finster said...

Obviously the editor and publisher are redundant in this new interconnected society and not the woman they made redundant.

More power to her and may she find her audience directly on the web and the means to earn her livelyhood.

rwcg said...

If you think it is not wrong to create a mortgage-backed security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn't aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleadingly rated loans most likely to be defaulted upon then let me know.

I think this is not 'wrong'. Some points.

1. You can 'create' any sort of mortgage-backed or other security you like. That doesn't mean someone is going to buy it.

2. There's no such thing (under ordinary circumstances) as 'knowing' the pool of loans 'are going to fail'. You can know historical statistics about them and make projections, etc., but that's not the same thing.

3. 'Misleadingly rated loans' - is not a thing. Individual mortgage loans do not typically receive ratings. (She may have meant, misleadingly rated MBS.)

4. Whether the client is or isn't aware that you or someone 'sabotaged' the portfolio, he can still LOOK AT THE PORTFOLIO and do his own analysis on it. This renders who 'picked' it, and on what basis, quite moot. Just look at the freaking portfolio and price it yourself.

The people who keep complaining about 'sabotage' and who 'picked' a portfolio sound to me like people who don't know very much about this product: in particular, who aren't aware that (a) the portfolio is written down right there in the actual security documents and that (b) prospective buyers can, and typically do, look at it. Not only look at it, but it's the primary factor on which they base their bid.

At least, it should be. May not have been the case with IKB, but, that's their fault.

Anonymous said...

Ummm... Sounds like she was fired because the whole thing was bogus. She and her bf made the sign to give her something to write about as a journalist. Also she plagiarized the sign.

Anonymous said...

Heh, John, I'm considering taking you to your word here: don't think it's wrong.

Well, I'm kinds shizophrenic actually: i can see how it's "wrong" for the environment and for "terpila" (that's a russian cop/criminal slang world from "terpet' " - to endure/to suffer - terpila being a derogatory "victim"). But as a bank's representative, as long as I'm positive it's legal, I don't see anything wrong with that - i earn my company money, and we actually thought it through that any conceivable consequences (incl face loss/no repeat business/whatever) are below earnings.
My conscience will also remain more or less intact as I honestly believe it's not inherently sustainable to *demand* transaction parties to drop some of theirs in favor of the other side - that's what "neutral parties" are here for, and bank selling securities isn't that, audit/rating agencies are.

Damn, working in business service companies (my case of consulting, also audit, law etc) really warps one's psyche. So how's about the job :)))?

Regards,
Dmitry.

Absalon said...

rwcq

You are wrong.

Depending on what occupation you are in you may be on the fast track to prison if you apply those standards at work.

Anonymous said...

As a journalist, her job is to report the news, not make it. SOP. I think you may be getting your opinion-givers on Fox confused with actual news reporters.

Or did Brit Hume suddenly start showing up at protests as a *protestor* and I missed it.

And G. Hao [who thinks remembrances of 9/11 are 'over the top.'] is clearly ignorant of what 'land of the free' means. She has a constitutionally protected right to lobby for redress of grievances and I fully support that as do the Courts. She has the constitutional right to speak her mind and not be punished by the Federal Gov't.

No one in this country [just like the Chinese or UK] gets to say or write *whatever* they want and still be *guaranteed employment*.

In fact, many WallSt firms like GS or JPM have a blanket policy that if you are quoted in an article without pre-clearance, you're fired effective immediately -- examples too numerous to mention.

Anonymous said...

I just wish the Macquarie Radio Network would apply the same standards to Alan Jones.

Anonymous said...

A few comments:

She still claims that she was just holding the sign while her boyfriend took a rest. She is still pretending that she was the disinterested observer. The picture itself shows a cute girl at a protest holding a sign up as high as she can. Her words do not align with her image.

Also, in addition to her and the other reporter she mentions, there was a New York Times blogger and contributed by-liner who was taking part in the protest, and wrote as if she were another disinterested reporter.

For the conservative side, do you have a reference for the reporters taking part in the Tea Party protests? I know that the top guys give donations to Republicans, of course. But I'd be surprised if the on-the-ground reporters do the same.

For the record, I fully support Reason editor Tin Cavanaugh's opintion here: http://reason.com/blog/2011/10/24/concealing-bias-causes-more-jo
"Journalistic objectivity is about concealing the truth, not revealing it."

Anonymous said...

And since I didn't answer the question: Spell out why Caitlin's offense is a firing offense and Rosa Park's offense is not?

Caitlin's offense was that the was supposed to be there as an objective reporter, and began taking part. Her boss can no longer trust her about her intentions (whether she planned to participate) or objectivity. To his standards, she is no longer fit for the job.

Rosa Parks' violation had nothing to do with her job. Maybe she could have been fired for not getting to work on time, but that's pretty harsh for me to defend.

Bruschettaboy said...

For the conservative side, do you have a reference for the reporters taking part in the Tea Party protests?

Here's a clue; the "Tea Party" is called the "Tea Party" because Rick Santelli, a reporter for CNBC, in a discussion of the Homeowners Afforidability and Stablility Plan on CNBC, said (among other things) "We need a Chicago Tea Party".

This is not exactly an obscure fact.

Anonymous said...

Re: Santelli and the Tea Party

You're right on that point. But I feel like there are differences between an on-air rant that was the impetus for a movement, and trying to report on a movement that you're actively involved in.

Detlef Guertler said...

caitlin-bashing Anonymous: Unless you know more about the story than we do you are thrice wrong:
1. "Caitlin's offense was that the was supposed to be there as an objective reporter, and began taking part." Caitlin participated (following her own words) as a CITIZEN, not as a journalist.
2. "She is still pretending that she was the disinterested observer. The picture itself shows a cute girl at a protest holding a sign up as high as she can. Her words do not align with her image." She nowhere claims to have been a disinterested observer. She and her boyfriend have been in this together, and the story she tells about how the picture was made perfectly aligns with the picture.
3. "As a journalist, her job is to report the news, not make it." If you have become, for which reason ever, part of the news, you're of course allowed to report on that (some kind of making-of story), as long as you disclose your part in the story. If you are a journalist and save a drowning child - should you be banned of writing about that?
Maybe Caitlin's problem, or even fault, was not to disclose her participation when proposing (afterwards) doing a story about the event. But then, she did that in an e-mailed pitch. If the media start firing journalists for mistakes in e-mailed pitches, there won't be many of them left.

Mark T said...

re RWCG's point, perhaps the sign should say, "if you are either too lazy or too stupid to do the due dilligence on the assets you were supposed to be investing other people's savings in, then you are respsonsible for the loss of capital. It is not acceptable to blame it on Wall Street alone"

CurmudgeonlyTroll said...

She's not a reporter, she's a freelance Web producer.

That's not determining content as a writer or editor. It's more like doing layout and traffic copping other people's content.

Where do you draw the line?

Quelle scandale it would be, if O'Reilly's makeup man took a stand.

C said...

That there is such debate over journalistic access to free expression, and wildly ranging interpretations of "objectivity" versus impartiality, demonstrates that free press is a myth and for-profit press massaging one's favoured perspective of reality is the way to go. The Fox News model works because it is no different from neighbourhood gossip. Just reflect on equivalent "objective" journalism behaviour in a non-professional, social setting, e.g. BBQ, might have been taken by your peers.

wunsacon said...

I changed my mind about donating to NPR, this year and for good. I'd rather donate to TruthOut, RawStory, Wikileaks, and any other reporting agency that packs more hard truth in their output.

Anonymous said...

Not only does News Corp not prohibit political advocacy on the part of its employees, but it sets the example by donating generously to right wing causes. Last year, alone, News Corp donated to $1 million, each, to the Republican Party and the American Chamber of Commerce.

Anonymous said...

All this business about journalists doing disinteresting reporting is laughable.

Anonymous said...

I think it is fascinating that people can still put forth the proposition that journalists are anything but marketing and public relations people for the publications they work for. Did we forget all about Hearst and yellow journalism?
It only takes a moment's reading by a critical mind to determine that in America, the press represents corporate and government interests. Certainly the Murdoch empire is prima facie evidence of this. In the US our media is controlled with an iron fist no less than Winston Smith saw. Ask Gary Webb.

Cas said...

""if you are either too lazy or too stupid to do the due dilligence on the assets you were supposed to be investing other people's savings in, then you are respsonsible for the loss of capital. It is not acceptable to blame it on Wall Street alone""
I think that delong's comment on this seems pretty reasonable,--if what one is doing is gambling, then it doesn't actually seem to be an actually productive use of one's money, though striking it rich is always great.

As Bronte showed us, you can be right, but be off in timing. And you can get it wrong as well. If one wishes to speculate, OK. But its a game of poker for really big stakes.

Anonymous said...

Similar case - Lisa Simeone, the producer and announcer of an opera radio program, sacked when her boss saw a pic of her protesting.

So in the land of the free now your obligations as a drone outweigh your rights as a free citizen in that crumbling democracy. This is a country now where you can be harrassed by police for trying to close your bank account.

And the media's specious and elite-friendly pursuit of 'balance' even with a clear cut right/wrong issue, takes precedence over a championing of the truth.

I wrote something to that effect on the Gawker thread. They didn't publish it.

Glenn in Coogee

Anonymous said...

BobM has an old fashioned idea of virtue:

She is a journalist.
Her job is to report the news not make it.
It goes to the heart of modern journalism. Where can you get an honest opinion; when all journalists think they have a licence to change society?


Prior to the 1950s women who taught in public schools had to sign "morality clauses" in their contract vowing to not date (if single) or get pregnant (if married) because the tender minds of the kiddies would be adversely affected by such a teacher.

Today we respect the right of a teacher to have a private life and the demands of the job cannot extend into their private life. But BobM wants to bring back the 1950s (or even the 19th century) with its more "values" oriented ethics.

Caitlin shouldn't be forced to give up her rights as a citizen in order to secure a job. A consumer of the media won't be "tainted" by a person in the media who has a private life with political ideals.

What "taints" the media consumer is corporate media that suppress news of use to the 99% because it would upset the advertisers who represent the 1%. But I don't hear BobM calling for a reform of media to remove this blight on contemporary media which is pretty well all bought-and-sold to corporate interests.

James B. Shearer said...

I don't really understand rwcg's point of view (comment 7). The buyer of course was relying on the rating which the dealer knew was wrong.

If you are a dealer in gold bars and you start selling bars with a certificate from an assayer (which you selected and paid) claiming the bars are 99% pure gold while knowing the true gold content is less than 10% you will get in trouble. And claiming it is the buyer's fault for not getting his own assay will not be much of a defense. The same applies for dealers in other products from diamonds to collectible comic books. I don't see why dealers in financial products should be exempt from the normal rules against fraud.

Shawn said...

"Anonymous said...
As a journalist, her job is to report the news, not make it. SOP. "

Very naive thinking.

So as every US citizens entitled to free speech, you are saying she is not allowed to speak up and demonstrate?

That's the same dilema occur to every elected local official. And the acceptable practice is this -- when you are performing your work as a reporter ROLE, do not engage in demonstration but to view it as a reporter.

But once your job is done, hey, BE-MY-GUEST and go protest and demonstrate whatever you want as a private citizen.


NO job can over-ride your personal life and roles.

Anonymous said...

I wish you would concentrate on blogging about companies and leave blatant politics out of your posts. Perhaps a majority of your readers desires to know your political views on everything, but not me.

Also by picking on Fox and ignoring MSNBC, CNN, and the 90%+ of journalists who vote democrat in the USA, you betray your claims of doing any type of in-depth work.

In the year or so i've been browsing your blog, definitely a low point.

Greg Hao said...

@anon @November 2, 2011 4:21 AM -

Um, Hempton was actually PRAISING Fox News because unlike the wishy washy MSNBC, CNN, et al, Fox News doesn't care a bit about what their commentators do when they aren't commentating on Fox News! Way to miss the point entirely ;)

Anonymous said...

Pretty girls should be able to hold up signs stating any old nonsense they wish, without negative career impact.

"Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
Do noble things, not dream them, all day long:
And so make life, death, and that vast for-ever
One grand, sweet song"

rwcg said...

James B. Shearer,

I don't really understand rwcg's point of view ...The buyer of course was relying on the rating

I agree with you, the buyer of this CDO was indeed probably 'relying on the rating'. However, 'rating' is not, in fact, a good way to price CDOs (or anything else, really). Buying a CDO 'based on the rating', and not looking at the portfolio, is like agreeing to buy 'Some Stocks for $900 million' without knowing which stocks or anything about them. The portfolio (and tranche) is the CDO, it's the main property of the trade someone buying it is supposed to be looking at.

Do you understand yet?

If you are a dealer in gold bars and you start selling bars with a certificate from an assayer (which you selected and paid) claiming the bars are 99% pure gold while knowing the true gold content is less than 10% you will get in trouble.


This analogy doesn't work. It's not Goldman who 'claimed' this security was "AAA", it's the rating agencies who make that call. And they labeled it "AAA" because it was "AAA". What is the definition of "AAA" in this context? Answer: a security that rating agency models label "AAA". (It is unlike '99% pure' in that the latter is an objective, quantifiable metric that exists independently; "AAA" is not, it is a made-up label slapped on securities by rating agencies.)

If you say Goldman probably optimized the security to be the worst security it could cook up and still surpass the "AAA" hurdle, well duh, but that's not fraud. If you think the rating models creating the "AAA" label were flawed, I'd be the first to agree. But this all just takes us back to my point: it is truly dumb to price a security 'based on the rating' and no one should ever do so. Goldman found someone dumb enough to do so, I guess, but I don't know what I'm supposed to take away from that observation, other than, dumb buyer.

Anonymous said...

Listen to NPR or watch PBS. They are drawing huge "sponsorship" from the biggest of the right wing think tanks. They admit it.

Koch family foundation, Ford foundation, Macarthur foundation.

All of those tax deductible "donations" have now allowed them to turn "public" media into private, advertiser sponsored media. At the same time some of these same groups are lobbying to remove what little public funding remains.

Public Media indeed. The first taste is free, but the second will cost you.

Anonymous said...

Complete BS-

"on-air rant that was the impetus for a movement, and trying to report on a movement that you're actively involved in."

Like Glen Beck's Rally? But he's not news? Neither was the opera progammer.

How about the playboy piece that "disappeared" at the start of the tea party? Astroturf.

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/02/rick-santellis-faux-rant/

James B. Shearer said...

... It's not Goldman who 'claimed' this security was "AAA", it's the rating agencies who make that call. ...

Goldman paid for the rating. They knew it was misleading. They attached it to the security. Sounds wrong to me.

rwcg said...

They knew it [the rating] was misleading. They attached it to the security.

This is basically just two incorrect statements in a row. First, issuers don't 'attach' a rating to a security. There are things called rating agencies that do that. If you have a problem with their output your beef is with them. Second, on the idea that the rating was 'misleading', I don't know what that means. If Moody's (or whoever) rated this security 'AAA', that's because it met their 'AAA' criteria, no more no less. What's 'misleading' about that exactly?

All this gets you to (at most) is back to the point I already made: pricing and bidding on a security based on its 'rating' is stupid.

Random Blowhard said...

ABACUS may be legal but would you be willing to do business with a financial institution that uses the "Greater Fool Theory" to monetise "shitty deals" at it's clients expense?

Expecially considering Goldman is TBTF and as such has NO incentive to act ethically or even within the law.

After all, TBTF means you get the bill when my luck goes stale (or the court ruling goes against me).

General disclaimer

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Hempton. Mr. Hempton may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Hempton's recommendations. The commentary in this blog in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. In fact, it should not be relied upon in making investment decisions, ever. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.  In particular this blog is not directed for investment purposes at US Persons.