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An HBO film that's Too Big to Fail

“The past isn’t dead,” the great Mississippi novelist William Faulkner famously wrote. “It isn’t even past.”  And so tonight, on HBO (the network that shows nudity and has otherwise made cable one reason other than sports to watch the tube), premieres “Too Big to Fail.”


This draws on New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin’s fabulous eponymous book. If the HBO production is half as good as Sorkin’s book, it will tell a hellish tale of a thrilling couple of weeks in September 2008. The repercussions of decisions by the financial titans in New York and Washington, D.C. during that period live with us, very much today. They live in the U.S. government debt ceiling limit now commanding debate on Capitol Hill. They live in the millions of Americans jettisoned summarily from their jobs to the unemployment rolls. They live in the millions of homeowners foreclosed upon. They live in the sad employment prospects of recent college honors graduates.

Sorkin’s book, truly X-rated for prodigious use of the F word (How did he get inside all those meetings he retells? And do those well-educated executives really know so few other expletives?), walks hour-by-hour through the intertwining lives of a distraught Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld; bicycling addict Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson;  New York Fed chief Timothy Geithner—who plays with potential merger possibilities as if he’s trading baseball cards; and a hapless Securities and Exchange Commission chair Chris Cox.

The HBO film can’t possibly contain the detail of Sorkin’s long, detailed, but riveting work. But film reaches a greater audience.

And for  those of us attempting to fight back the inevitable return of a high tide of banking influence in Washington politics (they spend $1.4 million a day on lobbying), we welcome the HBO premier.  After the 9:00 p.m. EST show, we can settle ourselves with some Faulkner, warm milk and cookies to calm ourselves to sleep.

Bart Naylor is a financial policy analyst for Public Citizen.

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