breaking the bank

photo of kenneth lewis and john thainphoto of moneyphoto of president obama
Where do your sympathies lie in this story, if anywhere...?

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Interesting story, by interesting I mean the complete story hasn't been told nor never will. The legislation passed to pressure lending institutions to loan money to people who couldn't afford a loan for a house and who probably wouldn't pay it back anyway. Let's get the truth if that's possible Name names whose bright idea this was. Who voted for it, names please and why all this legislation hasn't been repealed again names please

Bob Landes
Fair Grove, Mo.


I sent my feedback directly to Frontline and got a response to check out this forum, and I'm glad I did. Many, many viewers share my frustration about the lack of coverage of the larger picture of what happened in this meltdown.

Frontline is the best investigative news program that we have and we need you folks to dig into what happened. With a tip of the hat to W. Mark Felt, the simplest way I can put it is "Follow the Money." Where did the money go in this financial debacle? Every bank in the country knew the housing market was going to crash, it was just of matter of when and how much money could be made before that date.

The CEOs of the financial institutions need to be outed, as do the politicians who eliminated the controls over those institutions. The public needs a thorough, unfiltered view into how much these corporations profited, who pocketed those profits, where the money got stored, etc. If Congress won't do it, then Frontline needs to. Maybe the public outrage over the utter greed of a very few will motivate Congress to do its job and put those crooks on the stand.

Yes, it's a complicated story. The money supply is a theory about what's out there. But we're printing dollars as fast we can to catch up, so that's a pretty good start on how much flew out the door and into bank accounts around the world. We're paying for this mess, the least we deserve is a thorough accounting of where it all went.

Folks at Frontline, keep up the great work that you've been been providing for many years now, and keep digging into this story. The American public deserves no less.

Janis Hall
Minneapolis, MN


The story of our country's financial collapse is too large to tell in any hour long program. Frontline's title "Breaking the Bank," more than infers that the story will be about BofA's role in this disaster. I would like to encourage Frontline to continue this series and include chapters on how Congress, the SEC, and others were involved.

Fair Oaks, CA


Thanks for providing the program online since I don't have TV. I just finished watching and 3 things come to mind immediately:

Hugh McColl: "Grow or die" (I'm paraphrasing). Really?? Grow or die?? Sounds like the ravings of a macho lunatic, if you ask me.

Hank Paulsen thinking that arranging a shot-gun marriage over a weekend between Merrill Lynch and BofA would appease the markets. This is the investment banking kingpin from the venerable Goldman Sachs? To call him naive would be kind.

Elizabeth Warren melodramatically declaring that 'it's's over'. Really?? You sure about that? Why do I have the feeling that it's NOT over? Bet on business as usual sooner or later.

Steve Coyne
Seattle, Wa


This Frontline story was the worst I have ever seen. This was a story about the CEOs of two big financial firms, not a story of the financial crisis. Pure heat and no light. It would have been suited to CNBC as Sunday afternoon filler, not on one of the premiere investigative shows on TV.

First, how can you talk about Merrill Lynch and BOA without mentioning investment vs. commercial banks? Calling them both just banks is like calling the NY Yankees and Durham Bulls both pro baseball teams.

Second, you repeatedly state or imply that the government is calling all the shots to the bankers (nationalized). A minor, silent stake in a few big banks is nationalization? One instance you site to back up this claim is forcing BOA to go through with the purchase of Merrill. Does giving BOA several billion dollars and guaranteeing billions more in Merrill losses sound like force?

Third, at the end of the program, Elizabeth Warren says the current era is over. This is aspirational, not factual. She is trying very hard to make it so, but without success so far. It might have come just before air, but Obama's regulation plan is fairly week and the big banks will soon repay the TARP funds and go back to business as usual.

There is so much about the financial crisis that is worth talking about: repeal of Glass-Steagall, non-regulation of derivatives, off balance sheet transactions, rating agencies, capital requirements, non-transparent trades, et al. Why you wasted this production on Thain and Lewis is beyond me.

Mark Erickson
Saint Paul, MN


I thought the program was excellent. What I don't understand is the role of the Boards of Directors of the Banks. I thought they were there to protect the shareholders. How could the CEOs act so independently of the Boards. Would they not need the board's approval to make those decisions?I think the failure of corporate boards, not just the banks but other failed companies (ie AIG, GM, etc.) needs to brought forward and discussed.



This program filled in a lot of the blanks to a speech I attended at the Ronald Regan Library last year by then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. I'm sure at the time a lot of this was just not wise to say, but it all fits.

The fact is, there is plenty of blame to go around here. The banks, wall street, AIG, Investment brokers, politicians, loan brokers, real estate agents, real estate speculators, appraisers, the former president/s... and yes, the folks that bought the homes with these loans. One thing you cannot legislate away is greed, and ego. Everyone needs a basic civics lesson.

Well folks, now we all have to pay for it rather we like it or not. The uproar is that these guys at the top are running around with millions of $$ in a bank someplace on the planet, and the average person is not.

Loyd Champion
Camarillo, CA


I agree with the other correspondents who pointed out that the Congress is equally to blame for the financial meltdown. By 1999, all the legislation (except deposit insurance) put in place after the Crash of 1929, intended to protect the public from Wall Street greed and incompetence, had been repealed by the Congress. No organization based on money and power can function properly without strong regulation and oversight. Isn't it time Frontline examined the Congress' role in this economic disaster?

Lynne McGrath
Pasadena, CA


In general, I thought the Breaking the Bank was insightful, and that it makes a very constructive contribution to a broader understanding of what happened to Bank of America and the banking system last fall.

The greatest shortcoming in Breaking the Bank that I would point out is that the story leaves the impression that the bankers themselves are the primary (if not the singular) cause of the financial collapse that developed in the fall of 2008. Certainly, the banks and other financial institutions had a key role in their own demise. However, the primary cause of the financial debacle should fall squarely on those politicians in Washington who effectively created the subprime mortgage, made Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae into large conduits for securitizing these loans, and who effectively dismantled Glass Steagal and the other banking regulation while simultaneously blocking new regulatory controls on derivative markets. Democrats and Republicans share in this shameful story, and they should not be allowed to sneak away without notice. Your story hardly mentioned Phil Graham, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and all the others who deserve the whipping post a lot more than Ken Lewis and those other CEO's.

I take exception, also, to your unproven contention that the management of Bank of America engaged in a deliberate attempt to throw John Thain under the bus in order to mitigate criticism of themselves. Your view is substantiated only by those jounalists that were interviewed, and they presented no sources, credible or otherwise, to substantiate their claims. If you are going to make the claim, you need to prove it. The intuition or supposition of secondary sources is not enough.

WInston Way
Charlotte , NC


Although I am a longtime viewer of your excellent show, I felt there were many gaping holes in 'Breaking the Bank.' It was emphasized that the party is over, but did anyone tell the banks or the government? The same people who championed the merits and infallability of deregulation are still in power including Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. Much of Barack Obama's largest campaign contributions came from financial institutions. The politicians are in office to represent the bank's interests and if the public outcry grows too large, placate them with claims of reform. But what has really changed? It seems we've put a band aid on a bleeding jugular vein and sent the patient back out to play in the street again.

Joseph Wagner
Saratoga Springs, NY


Another comment claimed that the broadcast didn't "even mention the enormous protection the government has provided Bank of America for going through with the deal" with Merrill Lynch. That's wrong because it was hearing mention of that $118 billion in government guarantees against losses that made me wonder why no attention was paid to the obvious gift of public funds to the shareholders of Merrill Lynch. If Bank of America could have indeed legally pulled out of the deal based upon a Material Adverse Change (MAC), the size of the backstop against losses provided by the government suggests that the $50 billion dollar value of the original deal would have been effectively wiped out and that Merrill Lynch was essentially worthless or worse.

Beyond the question of the government guaranteeing the counterparty obligations of Merrill Lynch (and I don't see why they wouldn't deserve some fraction of the haircut that would come their way in a Merrill bankruptcy), the taxpayers have essentially paid off the shareholders of the company for the role their company played in destroying the economy and causing huge government debts and human suffering. I don't understand why Paulson wouldn't have expected Merrill Lynch to accept some small fraction of the original deal's price for what amounts to assuming bad bets that exceeded the value of Merrill's assets.

Jeff Sanders
Santa Cruz, california


I used to love Frontline because it was once a hard hitting investigative program. Over the last several years Frontline has become no different from corporate media. "Breaking the Bank" provides very little useful information regarding what happened in the fall of 2008 and early 2009. A lot could have been done with that hour of airtime.

If you want to "investigate," take a good thorough look into Goldman-Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. It's right there in this piece. Bank of America was out to get Wall Street and Wall Street nailed Bank of America (presumably via lobbying and inside dealing through Paulson's Treasury and Congress, both Republicans and Democrats).

The corruption in our society is utterly out of control and penetrates throughout the highest levels of government, industry, and finance. That is called "corporatocracy," which is just another word for fascism, according to Benito Mussolini who was much loved by Winston Churchill, Henry Ford, and a host of American financial and industrial titans at the time.

Ask why China, an avowedly totalitarian society, is doing so amazingly well financially. Seems to me capitalism and totalitarianism work hand in glove. They worked brilliantly for Hitler's Germany too.

Any chance you folks could examine the threat highly concentrated wealth poses to OUR democracy?

Seattle, WA


I love Frontline, you guys and gals have done a great job over many years. But lets get to the core on this one. The Democrat and Republican (and media) elite have sold us out. They are beholding to the ones that write the campaign contribution checks. The banking drama you described is a farce, it was all just a move to bail the theives of wall street out. The transfer of power from Democrat to Republican is a joke, its like watching the king frat house on campus conceding to the new king frat house on campus. They need each other to justify their existence. Most of the new crew Obama appointed were the same ones that ran/"regulated" the last robbery. The "leaders" of the ten or so investment banks that concocted CDS's should be in jail, not on Long Island enjoying themselves. Most of them are still running those companies!! The American public has been betrayed, there will be little or no prosecution, these crooks depend on the American public attention deficit disorder, they will wait till the outrage fades away, as we speak they are concocting new ways to screw us, under "new" regulations. There is no hope.

mark williamson
falmouth, ma


A fan of Frontline. In my opinion it is important to see the facts and opinions placed on the table for the viewer to make his or her own decisions. I think that the piece was well done, informative and insightful. As for some of the negative comments, there is only an alloted amount of time to report on the issue, perhaps viewers should comment on what they would like to see as opposed to pointing fingers at what was said and not said. The piece gave me a stronger understanding of what happened and how I can deal with it. Everyone must realize that when you have a dozen men making decisions for an entire nation there is the possibility that they will look like the bad guys, when THEY are the ones who sell us the american dream. We, the American public have learned our lesson, leaving beyond your means and the greed of the dream is dead. Now is the time to focus on building the country and our family values to the America we all love and respect.

Ernest Gonzalez
New York, NY


I think you had a difficult task when crafting this documentary.On the one hand, to convey the almost sociopathic greed of finance and investment titans while on the other, to outline some of the others responsible for this near-death experience of our economy. Indeed, I share the view that most of us in North America are responsible, to some degree. We have all bought into the lies we are taught every day by those who work to "sell" us something...Not just products, but lifestyles and yes, even ideologies are sold to us every day. The free market economy was one of those ideologies we were sold. Buyers' remorse has set in.

The government agencies (SEC etc.) failed to regulate financial transactions, and more importantly to ENFORCE those regulations.

The Fed implemented ridiculously lax monetary policy which served only to create another form of bubble.

The bankers kept making more and more exotic instruments, with more money, and less actual capital/cash.

The people kept buying, and borrowing, and mortgaging.

In my view, "Breaking the Bank" also tried to tell the personal stories of both Lewis and Thain-their dreams, their achievements.Finally, in the end, both of them seemed to learn almost a karmic or biblical lesson in life-Be careful what you wish for, for it may not turn out to be what you had expected.

Toronto, Canada


Excellent documentary, although I think you unfairly beat up Bank of America. From what your show provides, it looks as though they should be thanked for helping avoid Great Depression #2, regardless of whether they did it willingly or not!

Terre Haute, Indiana


posted june 16, 2009

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