LONDON, England — Hey, Aaron Sorkin. This is how it’s done.
A real news reporter’s on-screen meltdown has finally captured a generation’s anger at the banks and the bankers who hold our economic fortunes in their hands with such callous indifference.
When Paul Mason, the economics editor on Britain’s Channel 4 News, was asked to cover yet another massive fraud perpetrated by bankers against their own customers, he could keep his cool no longer. He bested Will McAvoy’s Newsroom rant with fewer rhetorical flourishes, but more furious indignation.
“I’m just sick of it,” he began; demanding that bank regulators and the police start catching the crooks who are allowed to thrive, virtually unchecked, in the rotten financial sector.
“All we ask, all we can ask, is that the regulators do their job proactively. That they actually get on the case,” he spluttered. “They get on the case and stop wrong doing – what’s so hard about it?”
The impassioned and impromptu rant was recorded on the street outside the London offices of the Royal Bank of Scotland hours after it was announced that six banks on both sides of the Atlantic had been fined more than $4 billion for rigging foreign currency exchanges without any sign of forthcoming prosecutions.
The two minute clip posted on Channel 4’s Facebook page has attracted well over a million views and hundreds of supportive comments ranging from “Good lad” to “What a bunch of shysters.”
It was recorded as a little online extra while Mason and his crew waited to film a stand-up for the broadcast news program. They had just been asked moved away from the main entrance by the bank’s security guards.
At several points in the edited video, Mason looks as though he is about to lose it altogether and unleash a stream of foul-mouthed abuse. A network insider insisted: “No expletives were uttered by Mr Mason in the recording of his rant.” But it must have been close.
Mason’s epic monologue may not have had the elegance of the opening speech in The Newsroom, but it was dripping with an authenticity that evokes our own anger, and our impotence, in a way that Sorkin will never manage.
He was shouting up at the darkened windows of banking executives who could not hear a word he was saying. He may have looked like an old man yelling at the clouds, but the power of social media will have forced his scathing words right up inside that building.
"I’ve sat in a room with the bosses of this bank and all the other banks over the--it’s six years now--since it nearly went bust," he said. "I’ve sat in their rooms where they’re pleading in the most genteel tones, 'Don’t over-regulate us, please don’t make a criminal offence possible to commit in the boardroom, don’t make it possible for us to go to jail, otherwise nobody talented will come and run these banks.’”
After mocking the executives’ pleading voices, he called for criminal sanctions against the worst offenders. “At the end of the day: no criminal charges and yet they’ve even got transcripts of the chat room discussions where the rigging of the market took place,” he said. "What about the managers who ran this place since 2008 to 2012-2013? They walk away with what? Reputation unscathed."
Mason’s brusque and strident voice is still a rarity on British television screens, where reporters still tend to speak in the upper class tones of the traditional BBC English, which they honed at Oxford or Cambridge. His gruffer, northern accent became well-known during more than a decade on Newsnight, one of the BBC’s most respected news programs.
The Sun newspaper has described Mason as “unashamed leftie” and the books he has authored Live Working or Die Fighting, How The Working Class Went Global and Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed, spell out both his working-class roots and liberal sympathies.
His appointment as the economics editor at Channel 4 News, demonstrates quite clearly how the financial world does not have to be reported on by the kind of sympathetic insiders that dominate networks like CNBC. Mason has become the Left’s answer to Rick Santelli.
Santelli’s famous anti-bail out rant on CNBC in 2009 is credited with kick-starting the entire Tea Party movement. "“We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party,” he shouted from the trading floor. “All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I'm going to start organizing."
The dire warnings about Obama’s bailout from a former trader and hedge fund manager never materialized, but five years later there is still a seething frustration all over the world. People believe that the financial sector has been allowed to return to its pre-bust excesses.
As Mason explained after posting the video: “If you think I was angry at RBS and the other transgressive banks...this was only made after I'd calmed down!” He is not the only angry one.