Tag Archives: Eliot Spitzer

It takes one to be one

Remember as a kid when you learned a clever response to someone’s calling you names was to say “it takes one to know one”.  Eliot Spitzer represents the adult variation on this theme. In his case it takes a fraud to be one as the following column by Seth Lipsky reprinted from the New York Post on August 8, 2013 reminds us.

Libel Case Puts Spitzer on the Spot Over Bullying

by Seth Lipsky

If Eliot Spitzer wins the race for city comptroller, his first job may be defending himself in court. Last month a libel suit was quietly filed against him in a state court in Carmel by Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the biggest of the tycoons Spitzer targeted as state attorney general.

The case doesn’t involve a lot of money, at least at this stage — the lawsuit simply says damages exceed $25,000. But the issue it raises is crucial: Will the courts countenance Spitzer’s penchant for taking to TV and the press to declare his targets guilty of wrongdoing, even before they’ve been convicted of anything? In other words, does the bully pulpit mean he can be a bully, even long after he’s left office?

Greenberg was the chairman of the huge insurance combine AIG when Spitzer launched his attack, which eventually forced Greenberg to leave AIG. The new management took enormous financial risks and imploded during the 2008 crisis, and the company had to be bailed out by the Federal Reserve (raising issues at the center of separate litigation also launched by Greenberg).

The tycoon’s libel suit centers on statements Spitzer made after he resigned the governorship. One was in May 2012, as Spitzer reacted to a state Supreme Court ruling that his private e-mail account would be subject to New York’s freedom of information law because Spitzer had used it for public business.

The ex-governor told The New York Law Journal that the decision was part of an effort by Greenberg and a colleague to “clear their names” for their involvement with the “corrupt company” AIG. He said they couldn’t “escape the simple reality that they were running a crooked company.”

He went on to say that Greenberg had been “thrown out by his own board and his accounting was fraudulent.” It was classic Spitzer, in that neither he nor any other law-enforcement agency has managed to convict Greenberg of any fraud — a point that was pressed by Maria Bartiromo in an interview that is also at the center of the libel suit against Spitzer.

In that July 13, 2012, interview, he told her that Greenberg was one in a “litany of corporate executives who defrauded the market.”

When Bartiromo pointed out that some people blame AIG’s failure on the fact that management Spitzer himself picked to run AIG had “permitted the company to take on unacceptable risk,” Spitzer again asserted that “Hank Greenberg’s accounting was fraudulent.”

This began an astonishing exchange in which the newswoman tried repeatedly to warn Spitzer that, as she put it at one point, “You just can’t throw around the word ‘fraud.’”

As Greenberg’s complaint reports, Bartiromo warned Spitzer: “You keep saying fraud, but there’s no charge of fraud.” She cautioned him against acting “like judge, jury and the executioner.” The court, she noted, “did not say Hank Greenberg committed fraud. You said it, you continue to say it, and you say it all the time.”

What a reversal: Usually, it’s the reporter trying to goad the public official into saying something newsworthy. Here, it’s the reporter trying to steer the public figure into behaving responsibly.

Spitzer’s apparently not up to that. There just seems to be some demon urging him on.

This doesn’t mean he’ll lose the libel action. It’s extremely difficult for a public figure, like Greenberg, to win a libel suit. But it will be a case to watch in the coming months.

New Yorkers, after all, are weighing whether to give Spitzer a second chance and a third bully pulpit. His successor as attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, may win on two outstanding civil counts against Greenberg. But they are a small remainder of what Spitzer ballyhooed. The real question is whether New Yorkers will be in for a new term of bullying from a public pulpit.

Pandering: A Modern Political Artform

The Democratic Party likes to position itself as women-friendly on such issues as choice, equal pay and equal opportunity. So why do so many Democratic Party men fall short in their personal relations with women? From Bill Clinton to Eliot Spitzer, from Vito Lopez to Anthony Weiner, Democratic Party men have engaged in the kind of behavior that one would think would be seen as antithetical to women’s interests. Yet women voters seem ready to forgive their personal indiscretions. Why?

It seems voters in general are swayed more by what these men say than what they do. One possible reason is that the voters do not have any personal contact with these men. They only know them through the news media and each of these men, with the possible exception of Vito Lopez, is expert at managing his image. Each appears devoted to protecting the innocent and the poor, to advancing the disadvantaged and to taking down the enemies of the people––namely, Wall Street and Republicans.

Of course, there have been Republicans whose personal behavior conflicted with their professed values, but Republicans are less likely to engage in pandering on gender, race and ethnicity.

Pandering has become a modern political art form. It benefits from the short-term memory of the voting public and from the media’s grasping onto candidates who espouse big ideals.

Thus, voters forget, if they ever knew, that the Sheriff of Wall Street, as the media dubbed Eliot Spitzer, often crossed the line as Attorney General of NYS that separates responsible investigation on behalf of the public and using the power of government to engage in ad hominem personal attacks. (See John Faso’s excellent analysis in the New York Daily News “Spitzer’s Reckless Leadership @ http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/spitzer-reckless-leadership-article-1.1401585)

People willing to run for public office certainly need large egos to stand up to constant attention and the possibility of failure, but unchecked these egos too often display the kind of behavior on a personal level typified by Bill Clinton’s denials, Vito Lopez’ harassing of female staffers (a not uncommon theme among men in the State Legislature), and Anthony Weiner’s sexualizing his relations with female followers.

It’s easy to be in favor of something when you do not have to sacrifice or give up anything personally. When a politician proposes broad legislation to aid women, minorities, immigrants, etc. his personal circumstances are not impacted. To the contrary he hopes his support for those groups will enable him to remain in office with all the rewards that go with the position. When elected officials attack businesses like Eliot Spitzer and his successors have done from the Attorney General’s office in Albany, they are not penalized if their charges are unfounded. As along as his career is advanced no price someone else has to pay is too great.

Let’s hope the voters of New York City wake up and keep Vito Lopez, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer from succeeding in fooling them once again.