‘Times’ vs. ‘Journal’ on Bailout Drama

By
Photo: Getty Images

Both The Wall Street Journal and the Times today carry dramatic reenactments of Monday's Treasury meeting with banking executives, based on interviews with government officials and bank executives who were there. As you might expect, the Times account is more high-minded and writerly, where the Journal's is pleasantly gossipy. But both papers do their best to provide details to immerse the reader in the sights, the smells, the sheer emotion of the latest dramatic episode of the Greatest Depression. Who does it best? We rate their dramatic achievements after the jump.

Eating and Drinking
WSJ: The participants were "lunching on sandwiches from Potbelly Sandwich Works."
NYT: The participants were "sipping coffee and Cokes."

Winner: The Journal, obvi, is the far more detailed and sensual in this regard. We can practically smell the bologna in the air and see Ben Bernanke coveting Jamie Dimon's roast beef as he dejectedly unwraps his own "skinny" turkey wrap.

Set Description
WSJ: The meeting took place in "the Treasury secretary's conference room, which faces a courtyard and is outfitted with mahogany chairs, antique wall sconces and chandeliers."
NYT: The meeting took place in "a gilded conference room" with "a dark wood table" and "a soaring rose and sage green ceiling."

Winner: "Rose" and "sage"? The Times, for effort. You know that Mark Landler and Eric Dash mulled over those adjectives. "I always thought it was more mauve." "No, it's lighter than that."

Action
NYT: "With the discussion becoming heated, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, who was seated next to Mr. Paulson, interceded. He told the bankers that the session need not be combative, since both the banks and the broader economy stood to benefit from the program. Without such measures, he added, the situation of even healthy banks could deteriorate."
WSJ: "It struck some of those in the room as fortunate that Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo are so far apart in the alphabet. The two firms just last week were locked in a bitter battle over control of banking giant Wachovia Corp., a fight Wells Fargo eventually won. Citigroup is still seeking billions of dollars from Wells Fargo in damages for swooping in on the Citigroup deal after regulators had already blessed it. With the firms sitting alphabetically, at least the heads of the two rivals, Mr. Kovacevich and Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit, wouldn't have to sit next to each other."

Winner: The Journal, for use of a subplot.

Humor at the Expense of John Mack
NYT: "In an interview on Monday, before the meeting, John J. Mack said his bank, Morgan Stanley, did not need capital from the Treasury. It had just sealed a $9 billion deal with a large Japanese bank. During the meeting, Mr. Mack, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, said little, according to participants."
WSJ: "Morgan Stanley Chief Executive John Mack, whose company was among the most vulnerable in the group to the swirling financial crisis, quickly signed."

The Journal, because brevity is the soul of wit.

And the Journal takes it! We have to say, we're not surprised. Knowing them, they probably have the Potbelly's delivery guy on retainer.

At Moment of Truth, U.S. Forced Big Bankers to Blink [WSJ]
Drama Behind a $250 Billion Banking Deal [NYT]