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MOLLY IVINS Missing the Big Stories One of the cliches of the savings and loan scandal is that it is so big, there’s enough blame to go around for everyone who ever touched it: Congress, Presidents Reagan and Bush, the regula tors. But I’ve always considered it a media failure in particular. We blew it. ome watchdog. And I’m not even talking about the Wall Street Jour nal’s immortal prediction about S&L deregulation: “The beauty of these solutions is that they will be so cheap.” With the exception of two newspapers in Dallas and a little watchdog group in North Carolina, the media just sat there doing nothing while the whole thing raged out of control. By the time the Establishment media looked up and said, “What ho, is that smoke we see?” there was nothing left but some cold briquettes. Because the mess couldn’t be blamed on one party or the other, there was no partisan percentage in doing anything with it as an issue except burying it. And to the enduring disgrace of the media, we let George Bush do just that in 1988. I don’t think the media even did a decent job of explaining how it happened after it was over. For that, you have to go to some of the excellent books that have been written on the subject. Somewhere in the groves of academic journalism there is doubtlessly someone counting the column inches and hours of air time the media have devoted to the travails of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan as compared to the inches and hours devoted to the S&L scandal as a whole. My guess is it’s at least four-td-one by now. We still don’t get it. Madison Guaranty has always been a singularly unimpressive specimen of an S&L failure \(cost to the taxpayers, sixty-nine million dollars, and the Clintons’ 1978 investment had nothing to do with the 1989 failon an S&L scandal is by having some prominent political figure involved, then Mother Jones magazine has done significant public service by pointing out some other interesting cases. MoJo observes that “four years of relentless investigation, forty-one hearings by two separate congressional committees and the expenditure of thirty million dollars of taxpayer funds” have been spent on Whitewater. All that’s been proven is that Senator Phil Gramm of Texas had questionable dealings with a questionable S&L owner who is now serving a fifty-five-year sentence for conspiracy and fraud;’that one cost the taxpayers two million dollars. Governor Fife Symington of Arizona was on the board of directors ‘ of a Phoenix S&L where he got an insider loan and walked off with eight million dollars; the S&L bellied up for a taxpayer hit of nine hundred fortyone million dollars. . Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois, hero of the anti-abortion movement, was on the board of directors of a Chicago thrift that failed at , a cost of sixty-seven million dollars; Hyde and the other directors are being sued by the federal government on grounds of gross negligence. The Mother Jones article on this is by L.J. Davis, but there is also an independent journalist, Tim Anderson, who has followed the tale of Hyde’s role in the S&L fiasco with great tenacity. Of course, he can’t get anyone else to write about it; the fact that Hyde is now chairman of the Judiciary ‘Committee has somehow failed to stir Senator Alfonse D’ Amato’ s investigative instincts. If you want the one-family record for costing the taxpayers money, try the Bush clan. Neil Bush was on the board of directors of Silverado Savings when it closed it a cost to the taxpayers of one billion dollars. Jeb Bush of Florida was involved with the late Broward Savings, dead at a cost of 221.8 million dollars, and Big George indirectly cost the taxpayers five billion dollars when BNL of Iraqgate fame went under. After Silverado, Neil got a two-milliondollar loan from the Small Business Administration, and walked on it. Son Marvin Bush also has a spotty business record, and our own Governor Shrub was accused of violating securities laws governing insider stock sales when he sold his shares of Harken Oil on the eve of the Gulf War. So why all the attention to a piker like Madison Guaranty? Is the Washington press corps still so besotted with Woodward and Bernstein that a mere Judiciary Committee chairman, governor or senator is beneath their notice? I don’t think so. I think the media still know so little about how S&Ls operated in the 1980s that they actually think Madison Guaranty is a story. They missed The Big One, and now they’re trying to convince us all that this dud actually mattered. I=1 Molly bins, a former Observer editor, is a columnist for the Fort Worth StarTelegram. This is Texas today. A state full of Sunbelt boosters, strident anti-unionists, oil and gas companies, nuclear weapons and power plants, political hucksters, underpaid workers and toxic wastes, to mention a few. BUT DO NOT DESPAIR! r aw .Lflii TEXAS 1, TO SUBSCRIBE: Name Address City State Zip $32 enclosed for a one-year subscription. Bill me for $32. 307 West 7th, Austin, TX 78701 JULY 26, 1996 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5