pressroom Past Films
Tuesday, October 20, 2009, at 9P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings)
In the devastating aftermath of the economic meltdown, FRONTLINE sifts the ashes for clues about why it happened and examines critical moments when it might have gone much differently. Looking back into the 1990s, producer/director Michael Kirk (Inside the Meltdown, Breaking the Bank) discovers early warnings of the crash, reveals an intense battle among high-ranking members of the Clinton administration, and uncovers a concerted effort not to regulate the emerging, highly complex, and lucrative derivatives markets, which would become the ticking time-bomb within the American economy.
FRONTLINE INVESTIGATES THE ROOTS OF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS
"We didn't truly know the dangers of the market, because it was a dark market," says Brooksley Born, the head of an obscure federal regulatory agency-the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) -who not only warned of the potential for economic meltdown in the late 1990s, but also tried to convince the country's key economic powerbrokers to take actions that could have helped avert the crisis. "They were totally opposed to it," Born says. "That puzzled me. What was it that was in this market that had to be hidden?"
In The Warning, airing Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk (Inside the Meltdown, Breaking the Bank) unearths the hidden history of the nation's worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. At the center of it all, he finds Brooksley Born, who speaks for the first time on television about her failed campaign to regulate the secretive, multitrillion-dollar derivatives market whose crash helped trigger the financial collapse in the fall of 2008.
"I didn't know Brooksley Born," says former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, a member of President Clinton's powerful Working Group on Financial Markets. "I was told that she was irascible, difficult, stubborn, unreasonable." Levitt explains how the other principals of the Working Group-former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin-convinced him that Born's attempt to regulate the risky derivatives market could lead to financial turmoil, a conclusion he now believes was "clearly a mistake."
Born's battle behind closed doors was epic, Kirk finds. The members of the President's Working Group vehemently opposed regulation-especially when proposed by a Washington outsider like Born.
"I walk into Brooksley's office one day; the blood has drained from her face," says Michael Greenberger, a former top official at the CFTC who worked closely with Born. "She's hanging up the telephone; she says to me: 'That was [former Assistant Treasury Secretary] Larry Summers. He says, "You're going to cause the worst financial crisis since the end of World War II."... [He says he has] 13 bankers in his office who informed him of this. Stop, right away. No more.'"
Greenspan, Rubin and Summers ultimately prevailed on Congress to stop Born and limit future regulation of derivatives. "Born faced a formidable struggle pushing for regulation at a time when the stock market was booming," Kirk says. "Alan Greenspan was the maestro, and both parties in Washington were united in a belief that the markets would take care of themselves."
Now, with many of the same men who shut down Born in key positions in the Obama administration, The Warning reveals the complicated politics that led to this crisis and what it may say about current attempts to prevent the next one.
"It'll happen again if we don't take the appropriate steps," Born warns. "There will be significant financial downturns and disasters attributed to this regulatory gap over and over until we learn from experience."
The Warning is a FRONTLINE co-production with Kirk Documentary Group. The writer and director is Michael Kirk. The producers are Michael Kirk, Jim Gilmore and Mike Wiser. The reporter is Jim Gilmore. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation. FRONTLINE is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.