"The Daily Show" last week took a look at the biggest banks' sensitive side.
Jon Stewart, the host of the Comedy Central program, was dumbfounded by the government's tepid response to the return of precrisis bonus payments and its insistence that paying anything less than 100% of counterparty claims at the biggest firms — when some said they would accept less — could trigger a sudden failure.
"I'm not an economist, but these are some fragile … businesses," Stewart said on the Jan. 12 show, inserting more colorful language. " 'No, don't look the bank in the eye! It will fail.' What, are banks made of balsa wood held together with baby tears? Sack up, banks!"
The show played clips of past congressional hearings with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and current Secretary Tim Geithner. They tried to explain why insurance contracts with American International Group had to be fully honored, and why they figured imposing any conditions on participating in the bailout — such as requiring banks to make loans — would deter institutions.
"Oh I get it. The banks are like a wild stallion. The banks are the unrideable 'Hidalgo,' " Stewart said, referring to a 2004 movie about a mustang. "You can't put a bald eagle in a cage, man. And you can't put a saddle on Morgan Chase. So we had to bail them out, and we couldn't ask for anything in return. "
The piece started off with Stewart's incredulity at the financial sector's sudden resurgence — including the resumption of huge bonuses — while the rest of the economic picture still looks weak.
"Let me see if I got this straight: The only people who have fully recovered from the financial meltdown are the ones who caused the financial meltdown," he said.
The segment concluded with a clip of a Goldman Sachs board member explaining that, "much like professional athletes and movie stars," bankers need to be paid or "you'll lose them."
To which Stewart responded: "Yeah, I guess the only real difference between bankers and movie stars is when Nick Cage lost all his money, I didn't have to bail him out!"
This post also appears in the American Banker's "Washington People" column.