Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Loser Goes to the Press

Details now leaking out suggest that, at the heart of the Tim Geithner-AIG bonus story, lies a political stratagem explained to me years ago by a master news manipulator when I was a very green journalist: never go to the press, unless you lose behind closed doors.

AIG paid the bonuses on Friday. News leaked out during the weekend, with The Washington Post apparently breaking the story. Now we know that Geithner was on the horn to New York all week trying to stop the bonuses.

Why not announce an outrage that was about to happen rather than a fait accompli? Because if you're a wheeler dealer you're most powerful behind closed doors, when you and those in the room are the only ones with the knowledge to act. Information is, after all, power.

If Geithner had gone public and pointed his finger, and à la Èmile Zola cried out "j'accuse," his power of persuasion over AIG would have vanished instantly. Naturally, once that power had been lost behind closed doors, Geithner -- and President Obama -- were free rend their garments in public.

This is how the power game is played. Reporters know to look for the disgruntled for their leaks. Never ask why the news was leaked, merely ask who the leaker was in order to understand what happened in a power struggle waged behind closed doors.

1 comment:

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Very interesting observation. For some reason, the image of a shark tank kept flashing before my eyes.

I am disgusted by the bonuses, and I think that taxing them 90% is a lot like locking the barn door after the horse has fled. It is small consolation when the system that allowed such deformed use of power needs to be changed drastically. Addressing only this particular symptom does nothing to ensure that something else equally grotesque won't happen next time.