Remember the early rush of press scrutiny that followed the surprise announcement of John McCain's veep choice? The virtually unknown Sarah Palin was the subject of intense media interest in those first days. As the Alaskan governor prepared for her new national role, the media became more and more heated in their demands for a "press conference." Even after interviews with individual journalists, including Charlie Gibson of ABC and Katie Couric of CBS, the press corps continued to demand a formal conference.
Well, Sarah came and went and, to my knowledge, the press conference never happened. The press failed to get their man -- or, in this case, woman. But, lordy, it's all we heard about for three weeks of the campaign. It's worth noting that her Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden, who went on to victory, received only a fraction of the coverage that Palin did. Could it be that the press was more interested in catching a gaffe-prone beauty queen on video than hearing from the real newsmakers?
If you already have a jaded opinion about the press, then you won't be surprised to hear that there's another incredibly important world figure, one who's influence on the global financial stage touches literally every power center in this financial crisis, who the press has virtually ignored: Citigroup adviser and former Clinton Treasury secretary Robert Rubin.
If the press did have the stones to interview Rubin, perhaps they'd ask him about his final days as Treasury secretary, where he played an instrumental role in helping to repeal the Glass-Steagall act, which cleared the way for creating the highly leveraged mega-financial institutions we're struggling to unravel today. Or what he had in mind when he took a job immediately after the Clinton administration with the very monster he helped to bring to life, Citigroup, to advise them on how to maximize the opportunity he'd helped create during his tenure in Washington.
Maybe they'd ask him about his role within the globe's most powerful private financial institution, and how he failed to provide good guidance regarding their financial positions at every level, creating a more than $300 billion liability that they still haven't come fully clean on. Or they'd ask him why he thinks he still hasn't been called to testify in front of Congress about what happened at Citi during his tenure. Perhaps he, or someone else, can explain to me why heads are supposed to roll whenever a financial institution dips into to the $700 billion TARP fund, including calls for the dismissal of the second Citi CEO in as many years, but no one ever suggests that Rubin has any culpability in this.
In fact, Rubin is the last man standing at Citi. The former CEO, the senior risk management, and the senior derivatives traders have all been let go because of their role in nearly crippling Citi. Meanwhile Rubin hasn't even offered up one shred of explanation as to his role at the center of a global financial meltdown. Why should he? He's only the chairman of the bank, after all.
When asked, he says he doesn't have day-to-day responsibility of Citi, and therefore, he's not responsible for the actions of the firm. Does that sound reasonable? According to New York Post, the bank's paid him $107 million since joining Citi in 1999. Chairman, a nine-figure pay package, and no responsibility? Where do I find that job?
Yes, Citi is a mess, and yes, Rubin's at the center of it, and yes, the taxpayers are going to have to dig them out of the mess he and the rest of them created. Sounds like every other story these days on Wall Street. What's so different about this one? Why should Rubin have to submit to a press conference while other Masters of the Universe don't?
Because Rubin is also at the center of the Obama administration's new financial staff. He's got close ties to virtually every important figure now being considered for a finance-related position in Obama's White House, from National Economic Council leader Lawrence Summers to Treasury secretary-designate Tim Geithner. Rubin has these guys on speed dial and they, along with other key Obama picks, are considered "Rubinistas."
Now, don't get me wrong: Robert Rubin is smart. He's an asset to our collective financial intelligence. But why, oh why, hasn't the press or the Congress asked -- strike that, insisted -- that he explain his role, one that began more than 10 years ago while a government official, and continued straight through the Bush era (enriching him fabulously) leading him right into the seat of both financial and political power, without ever having been elected, ever having been questioned, ever having been threatened with losing his job, even though he's presided over the most spectacular financial failure since the Depression?
Why did the press demand access to a half-baked vice presidential candidate but has given a free pass to a genuine Wizard of Oz? And where's the U.S. Congress in all of this?
To the press, I have a question:
Why is Robert Rubin getting a such kid gloves treatment?
And my follow up question:
What the #*&% is going on?
LEWIS SCHIFF | Inc. Business Owners Council
Lewis Schiff is the executive director of the Inc. Business Owners Council. His latest book is Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons From the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons.