In a TV Preview in the Style section yesterday, a guest on "Face the Nation" was misidentified. The guest was Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. (Published 6/26/90)
CNN is celebrating its 10th anniversary of gathering news by trying to uncover some. The maiden season of the network's Special Assignment investigative unit continues this week with a five-part series on the savings and loan catastrophe called "S&L's: The Full Story."
Each of the five reports will air on CNN four times daily -- at 7 a.m., noon, 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. -- starting today with "A Fiscal Vietnam," an introductory chapter that attempts to size up the crisis. And with a crisis this size, that's not easy.
It is, says reporter Brooks Jackson, "the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression," one that will take an entire generation to pay off. Ken Bode, the former NBC News reporter also assigned to the story, warns that effects of the scandal "could begin to ripple through the economy," perhaps contributing to a recession.
Only Parts 1, 4 and 5 of the series were available for preview. Part 4, to be seen Thursday, lays much of the blame for the crisis right on the doorstep of George Bush, the "S&L President" for whom "no new taxes" are words virtually doomed to be eaten.
"The S&L crisis could be this administration's Achilles' heel," says Bode, noting that "George Bush was in on the takeoff" during the Reagan administration "and he's certainly in on the crash landing."
To deal with the crisis, Bode says, Bush has created a "bureaucratic nightmare" in the Resolution Trust Corp., an "almost unfathomably complicated" bureaucracy set up -- ironically perhaps -- to unravel the mess. Reforms proposed by the Bush administration are inadequate, Bode says, and the administration continues to try to deal with the problem by understating it.
This CNN report keeps plastering on-screen the number of convictions that have been achieved since the scandal began, but it fails to put that number in perspective. Yesterday, on the CBS News program "Face the Nation," Lesley Stahl all but begged Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady to say how many convictions the Justice Department has won since Bush took office. Brady stonewalled.
L. William Seidman, the plain-talking Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman, is being forced out of office because he's been too frank on detailing the disaster, Bode says in CNN's report. Edwin Gray, the former Home Loan Bank Board chairman, tried to alert the Reagan White House to the growing problem back in the '80s, he says. His reward: Reagan hatchet man Don Regan "tried to get me fired."
As satisfying as it may be to blame the big S&L blowout on the grimacing Bush and the grinning Reagan, Part 5 of the series chronicles the shameful record of Congress in helping the S&L industry commit what Jackson calls "the biggest bank robbery in history." Senators and representatives reined in federal regulators on behalf of S&L owners who'd made campaign contributions.
What a tangled web they wove, and what a price tag the untangling carries with it!
"S&L's: The Full Story" may not indeed be the full story, but it looks to be rigorous, comprehensive and hard-hitting, a heavy dose of cold water in the face, now that the party is calamitously over.
TV newcomer Jackson is not comfortable on camera -- his gestures are stiff, his delivery mechanical -- and he isn't helped by being poorly shot in a dull-looking committee room. But Bode, a real loss to the NBC News bench (the weakest bench of any of the big three networks), comes across as a solid pro. He brings an authority and energy sorely needed at CNN. The network, churlishly or just amateurishly, failed to provide any of the production credits for the series or the investigative unit.
It's worth noting, also, that there are two industries whose reckless deregulation has meant a living hell for the American consumer. One is the S&L business. The other is cable television. Don't expect CNN to investigate the latter any time soon. Or ever.