Nothing about JPMorgan Chase's $13 billion mortgage-related settlement with the government is settled in the court of public opinion.
The commentary following news of the fines ranged from outrage over unfair treatment of JPMorgan (JPM) and its chairman and chief executive, Jamie Dimon, to outrage over how the deal failed to punish the bank enough. There was also satirical outrage over all the outrage.
One school of thought says Dimon and the bank are being unjustly scapegoated, partly because many of the penalties are for alleged misdeeds at Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns that occurred before JPMorgan Chase acquired them in 2008.
"He's not getting a fair shake," Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, former AIG head and current C.V. Starr & Co. chief, said of Dimon on CNBC. "We're going to shrink a great institution."
The Wall Street Journal's editorial page called the tentative settlement a "shakedown." The mortgage-backed securities at the heart of the settlement "were largely issued by Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, both of which the federal government asked J.P. Morgan to take over to help ease the crisis," the paper said. "So first the feds asked the bank to do the country a favor without giving it a chance for proper due diligence. But five years later the feds are punishing the bank for having done them the favor."
The Journal said the deal shows "how government has used the crisis to exert political control over even the most powerful private financial companies."
Then there are the pundits who argue that monetary fines do not take the place of holding financiers more directly responsible for the crisis.
"You can't send a bank to jail, can you? No, but you could place it under court supervision and empower a federal judge to order and supervise internal reforms in the megabank, perhaps even downsizing," William Greider wrote in The Nation. "Does that sound too harsh? If the feds can do this to a corrupt labor union like the Teamsters, why not to an outlaw bank like JPMorgan?"
The New Yorker's John Cassidy said "holding the CEO personally liable doesn't appear to be a feature of the new system of regulation that's emerged willy-nilly in the past few years.
"Instead, the corporation and its stockholders pay the price," Cassidy wrote. "Certainly, that's better than having no accountability at all. After this latest settlement, nobody could suggest that the Justice Department has gone easy on JPMorgan in a monetary sense. But it is people, not corporate abstractions, that break the law, and it is the people at the very top of the corporations who set the rules and the tone for everybody else to follow."
Others chose to criticize the criticism of the deal.
Comedy Central's The Daily Show played clips of outraged cable news commentators including Jim Cramer ("This was a jihad against JPMorgan.") and Lawrence Kudlow ("This is an arbitrary and political hosing."). In response, Daily Show host Jon Stewart poked fun at their indignation.
"It's a 'shakedown-witch hunt-scalping-jihad!'" Stewart said, adding that what he saw in the settlement was "a mutually negotiated compensatory agreement for outstanding liabilities related to some shady business dealings."
Interviewed on CNBC by Maria Bartiromo, former House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank disagreed with the notion that the settlement was a witch hunt.
"There were no witches," he said, adding that measuring JPMorgan Chase's culpability is complicated. "I agree that they should have been penalized for Washington Mutual. I think they were unfairly penalized for Bear Stearns," he said.
When American Banker's website polled readers about whether JPMorgan Chase was treated fairly, the results similarly ran the gamut. Of those responding, 39% said JPMorgan Chase brought the treatment on itself, 34% thought it was a witch hunt and 26% said regulators were being too soft on the bank.