Meet Dylan Ratigan, That Guy on MSNBC Who Can Talk a Mean Streak About the Scam Artists on Wall St.
Continued from previous page
Like most of Ratigan's catch-phrases, there's a lot of economic policy baked into those words: a currency struggle between the U.S. and China, labor standards, offshoring incentives, the gutting of America's manufacturing base and literally dozens of complex rules governing the banking system. It's a rhetorical lightning bolt, but a thoughtful one.
On MSNBC, Ratigan is a boisterous and aggressive anchor. He berates politicians and business lobbyists, barks questions at reporters, shouts, sputters, pounds his fists and makes no effort to hide his policy preferences from his audience. For all its vitriol, however, The Dylan Ratigan Show is also one of the best sources of sophisticated and incisive economic policy discussions anywhere—a program that takes complicated financial issues that most cable news networks run screaming from and presents them in a format accessible to neophytes and wonks alike. The Glass-Steagall dramatization was as accurate as it was colorful.
His current role is a far cry from Ratigan's last job, where he strolled the trading floor of the NYSE for CNBC and hosted Fast Money , " a rapid-paced, highly charged hour where four of Wall Street's best traders debate and discuss the hot trades of the day."
Fast Money was and remains a public poison. Even for financial journalists sympathetic to the Wall Street greed-machine, Fast Money 's cadre of tanned, flashy stock traders shouting about what stock was up and what stock was down on a given day can be a grueling psychological affair. Ratigan insists that Fast Money was conceived with a public purpose in mind. Capitalism, he says, can't work without a robust and vibrant debate about which investments can further society's interests. But if this was indeed the intent behind Fast Money, the show never lived up to it. Fast Money is business commentary at its most shallow and pointless, a celebration of shiny ties and hair gel devoid of serious policy discussion or any recognition of the effects that companies have on society at large. It's just as vapid as Jim Cramer, but instead of clown sounds, Fast Money features screaming Wall Street elites. Even the show's fans celebrate empty quotes like this from the show's traders:
"I can't help myself, I like value; I'm just a value kind of gal."
"Dylan, today they took this stock out behind the woodshed and beat it like red-headed stepchild!"
In 2007, few would have predicted that Ratigan, the ringleader of these money-crazed douchebags, would soon emerge as the public's educator-in-chief for financial corruption. But the Dylan Ratigan of 2010 sees no sacred cows in the financial system. "Bankers aren't heroes, they're middlemen," Ratigan says. "The heroes of capitalism are the entrepreneurs, the people with good ideas who risk everything they've got to make them work. Bankers just take a piece of the pie, and they feed on taxpayers to get it."
While the consensus on the causes of the crisis has shifted Ratigan's way, most televised discussions of policy responses are still presented as debates between Republicans and Democrats. We've all heard the Wall Street reform bill described as a triumphant victory for President Obama and a crushing defeat for Senate Republicans. This dynamic infuriates Ratigan, who notes that both parties have been thoroughly corrupted by Wall Street money. President Bill Clinton oversaw the dismantling of the most important New Deal-era banking reforms by a Republican Congress, which only a handful of Senators even tried to stop.
Nevertheless, he remains optimistic about the prospects for both financial journalism and Wall Street reform. The financial crisis made status quo business writers seem silly and naïve, and he believes many reporters have already learned that a meaningful career will require a more aggressive and critical perspective than what was offered in the years leading up to the crash. He celebrates Bloomberg's coverage of the crisis and its aftermath, has kind words for New York Times reporter-columnist Gretchen Morgenson, and views deep structural financial reform as a long but inevitable process. His own job, he says, is to carry a message to the public: the financial system is fundamentally corrupt, both political parties are in on the game, and ordinary citizens are paying the price with their jobs, their credit card bills, their homes and their retirement accounts every single day. Making the connection between banker excess and economic fallout for the rest of us is what Ratigan believes to be the most pressing task for business journalists in today's economy.