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Jon Schwarz

Jon Schwarz is editor of MichaelMoore.com and was research producer for 'Capitalism: A Love Story.' He's also contributed to the New Yorker, New York Times, Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Slate, Saturday Night Live and NPR.

November 17th, 2013 3:11 PM

As I.F. Stone Said, All Timothy Geithners Lie

Here's Timonthy Geithner last January, at the end of his time in office as Treasury Secretary:

Another fiction that has plagued Geithner is the idea that he is a creature of Wall Street...Geithner says it’s “extremely unlikely” he will take a job in the world of finance, but the idea that he is somehow, secretly, working hand in hand with that community persists...

Here's Timothy Geithner now:

Former U.S. Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who played a central role in the government’s response to the financial crisis of 2008-2009, is joining private equity firm Warburg Pincus... The firm declined to comment on Geithner’s compensation.

Of course, this is as surprising as the sun rising in the morning. It was inevitable that Geithner would cash in. As a prominent Wall Street banker said in 2009:

"For Washington to not demand anything when it saved us, even stuff we know is good for our long term good was one of the stupidest moves in modern times. ... I feel like I should go over and hug Tim. It's a shame we can't pay him, 'cause that's a guy who really earned a big time bonus."

Nevertheless, Geithner apparently feels the need to explain the yawning chasm between what he said ten months ago and what he's saying now. Here's the best he could do:

Mr. Geithner has long considered a career in investing once his days in Washington ended. He has been reluctant to take a job with any banks, which he once regulated, and views private-equity firms and other investment managers as different from the institutions he oversaw as New York Fed chief.

Of course, even on its own terms this makes no sense whatsoever. Geithner wasn't just head of the New York Fed – he went on to be Secretary of the Treasury, which does regulate private equity. (Some more detail from Ryan Grim is here.)

But leaving that aside, Geither's statement from last January was a perfect validation of I.F. Stone's claims about governments. "All governments lie," as Stone said, but they prefer to lie in a particular way:

Now, governments lie. But they don't like to lie literally, because a literal, flat, obvious lie tends to be caught.

So what they do is, they become masters of the disingenuous statement, of phrasing something in such a way that the honest, normal, unwary reader gets one impression, what he's supposed to get.

Then three months later he discovers it's not true and goes back to complain. And they say, well, that's not what we said – look at it carefully. And you look at it carefully and sure enough, it was really doubletalk and didn't say exactly what they said.

I've asked the reporters from New York Magazine (the Geithner article from January) and the Wall Street Journal (the current Geithner article) if they have anything to add to this, and will update it if I hear back from them.

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