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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I'm a big fan of FRONTLINE But Breaking The Bank was a waste of time. It was old news and a plug for banker sympathy even though the ending denies it. Very disappointing.

Activist Motivator
San Jose, CA


Ken Lewis would not have done what he did unless he knew he too was going down, he later revealed this. I have read that Goldman Sachs was at those meetings but they are not represented here, why were they not shown here. As the documentary shows there is private money available, the government should have let them take these loses and created credit unions and small regional banks as public utilities not allow people to keep their private fortunes while millions are laid off work and millions more don't even have health insurance.

This is the largest fleecing of the American Public in history and the people got nothing in return for it, nothing at all. So what if the private enterprise system fails, create a new system, the market doesn't work anyway that is what needs to be learned from this story.

They say history repeats itself, the first time as a tragedy the second as a comedy. Well we had a Bush at the head of the S&L a Bush here. The majority of the people don't believe that it is necessary to maintain these institutions and would gladly accept single payer health care, free tuition to univesities, pollution free industries, modern transportation systems, clean air and water and are willing to pay the price for it, so tell me who does the government serve in America? The common man which makes up the majority or the finacial elites, who maintain their positons through graft and coruption?

Rocky Racoon
St Catharines, Ontario


Just finished watching the program. It seemed like an veiled attempt to generate sympathy for banking industry and Wall Street.

I don't think I've ever felt more frustrated with Frontline. There is a much bigger story out there that Frontline is neglecting to cover. The nitty gritty details of the greed that led to the whole debacle.

Ken Kordich
Santa Fe , NM


Thank you for the wonderful documentary. You really succeeded at demonstrating how close we came to a complete financial collapse and you clearly evidenced the historic role played by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in avoiding financial armageddon.

I still believe that capitalism provides the best path to prosperity but until corporate America re-examines its obsession with quarterly earnings the same mistakes are bound to happen again.

Albert Talamas
Miami Beach, FL


I have always been fascinated by documentaries and FrontLine is one of my favourites. I have followed the crisis carefully and commend FrontLine and PBS for trying to explain it to the rest of us.

I am wondering if you plan to tell the other side of this story if, in fact, the root causes can be found. I would look back to Alan Greenspan, Congress, George W. Bush and others to unwind this tale and show how the seeds planted by their actions led to the collapse of the world economy.

Kathy Leonard
Markham, Ontario


As a Charlotte, NC native, I never thought that I would feel sympathy for B of A or Ken Lewis. While not my over-riding sentiment-it is there none the less. Still, don't think my money is with them, as it hasn't been since 2002.

The larger impact of this episode for me is wondering how long after we survive this will Wall Street try to resurrect (read re-invent)itself and try to bring back the good old days of less (read no!) regulation and greed. What instrument or invention will become the mortgaged backed securities and credit default swaps of our future?

We did this to ourselves- (through our own greed and lack of oversight)and shouldn't ever allow the system to return the former status quo. Having said all that, given the nature of what we revere in this country it would not surprise me if this all happens again.

Kevin Jochems
Alexandria, Virginia


Frontline is Superb in thier coverage! I definitely agree that the banks have been effectively "nationalized" without publicly admitting it since in the U.S. the "n word" is considered a four letter word. The "Lehman Lesson" was learned quickly by both Paulson and Bernanke in that effectively Wall Street ceased to exist as it was known prior to the crisis, and has found a new home in Washington, at least for now. When we eventually get out of our fear mode the punch bowl will come out again filled with greed as always and a new cycle will begin. Already there is an increase in the number of hedge funds created as was reported by Bloomberg news!

New York, New York


I watched the "Breaking the Bank" program and came away with a distinct feeling of those dirty banks and evil New York financiers. Then I thought about it. The program was extremely one sided. You might have been talking about Bank of America but you decidedly and deliberately failed to vilify the chief co-culprits in this fiasco - Congress and the Government. The abandonment of the Glass Steagell Act under Clinton, the demands of a socially and politically motivated congress driven to blindly demand housing lending to unqualified people by using groups like ACORN to threaten destruction of banks if they refused to lend, made me realize your show was political in nature. You had the audacity to show Barney Frank as a pillar of congressional virtue when he and Chris Dodd were the villains of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's failure. The congress forced a lowering of standards. The banks and the brokerages, realizing that congress said go out and make money any way you can its o.k. with us, went and did it. I suppose you are going to insist that predatory lending was the reason that the public overspend on their credit cards for immediate gratification, bought houses they never could afford and then asked the media to put on shows such as "flip this house" to teach how easy making money in real estate is. Your program has some valid criticism. However, you never intended "Breaking the Bank" to be fair or unbiased.

Boynton , Fl


As a resident of Charlotte, who lived through the McColl years of Bank of America and all that the bank has done to develop and lead this community, I was not impressed with Ken Lewis as the new leader of the bank. He did not appear to be the dynamic and personable leader that Hugh McColl was. However, this program raises that there is a patriot and real human being in Ken Lewis that I was not aware of before. I think clearly the government made him an offer he could not refuse and now he is caught between the government and his board. I think Lewis should be given the chance to ride this out, develop a more diversified board (and keep them in the loop), and hopefully succeed in the end.

jane Weaver-Sobel
charlotte, NC


Another in a wonderful series on this economic fiasco that will go down in history. It was so nice to see both Ken Lewis and John Thain cloaking themselves in white and proclaiming that they did it all to save the world. Needless to say, both were driven by an inner greed that has caused untold suffering to millions, millions matched only by dollars that they and their minions looted from their companies, their shareholders, and the American taxpayers.

We here again and again how these companies are "too big to fail." That the economy can't afford to have them go bankrupt. Beside the obvious question of being too big to fail meaning too big to exist in the first place, what were to happen if any of these behemoths were to crumble and fall? Would the economy, the real economy, the economy where we "little people" exist crumble along with it? Perhaps it would. But perhaps it wouldn't if the government were to spread the same trillions of dollars of largesse out to the real economy, rather than propping these "masters of the universe" whose incomes were too big for us to tolerate.

I don't see Thain, Lewis, Paulson, et al. lining up at the local soup kitchen. I don't see them standing in line at the food pantry. I don't see them filing for their own personal Chapter 13s. I don't see them losing their houses, sending "jingle mail" in the way so many of our brethren are doing these days.

To those in the right-wing who see Obama as a Socialist, I would suggest that he, just like FDR before him, is just "left" enough to save their precious capitalism. Were we in South America, there would be blood in the streets if this were to happen.

Leroy Kolacinski
Burlington, Wisconsin


Hi, Bravo and well done with "Breaking The Bank". I have found, however, that with this video and with another one related to the banking crisis that Frontline did (the name escaping me at the moment), that there are far too few graphs and charts of the market and the market's reaction to different events.

Including an annotated chart of the Dow Industrials or the S&P 500, in addition to an individual bank's stock chart for the time period would put into sharp context the scope of the crises as it unfolded.

I trade stocks for a living, and this was a truly amazing time period to witness live on the screen day after day. To see dynamic and piercing retrospective documentary pieces now from the likes of Frontline is excellent, and I am most appreciative of all the work that goes into such productions. The sheer terror, depth, scope, indeed the sheer whatever of it all can often best be shown in the charts, however, and I think more inclusion of them (in different time periods) would have given the viewer a truer sense of how catastrophic it all was getting.

Thanks for all the fine work you do at Frontline.

Asheville, NC


I have just watched the broadcast "Breaking the Bank" on PBS and have read the interviews on this web site. My response to the quip by Mr. Ken Lewis that no good deed goes unpunished is that this financial mess was not the making of the Govt. It was unbridled greed of people like John Thain of Merril. Why could you, Mr. Lewis, not effectively negotiate with Mr. Thain on comp issue? That is the "good" deed that you are being punished for! And rightly so. Good riddance Mr. Lewis and Mr. Thain, or is it? These gentlemen might re-appear in some other avatar to haunt America. Scary!!

Satnam Mathur
New York, New York

posted june 16, 2009

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