Z e t e o
Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

Matt Taibbi’s Vision of Justice, Part I

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR


Matt-Taibbi2As a journalist and author, Matt Taibbi does not hesitate to express his opinions. Often, those opinions are both clear and scathing in their judgment. His recently published book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, certainly contains its share of snark and disbelieving affectation. As I continue to read it, however, I find more and more instances where the facts—relayed directly to the reader without comment—represent Taibbi’s sharpest rhetorical weapon. Perhaps knowing his readers well, Taibbi (sometimes) allows the angry rhetoric to be implied.

As the book begins, every other chapter describes and analyzes how the American criminal justice system (specifically, the US Justice Department) has handled the reckless and arguably criminal actions of some of the nation’s largest financial institutions. Each alternating chapter then delves into our nation’s treatment of different crimes—the petty thefts, trespasses, and personal drug use among our poorest citizens. The contrast is evident.

In the book’s first chapter, Taibbi seeks to explain how the Justice Department ultimately decided not to criminally prosecute any of the high-profile CEOs of the institutions responsible for the financial crisis:

The key thing, the one thing that almost every current and former federal prosecutor who lived through this period talks about, is that in the early years of the Obama administration, a huge premium was placed on not losing . . . [Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department] became attracted to a cost-benefit analysis vision of law enforcement, where the key questions weren’t “Who did what?” and “What the hell should we do about it?” but “Will we win?” and “How badly will the press screw us if we lose?”

In the next chapter, a drastically different approach to law enforcement is revealed. Taibbi tells the story of the other side of the wealth divide, and the frequency with which poor people are arrested and aggressively prosecuted:

The basic principle . . . is volume arresting. It’s fishing for crime with dynamite. In bad neighborhoods, in parks and alleys, you arrest first, ask questions later.

The specific examples, on both sides of this vast chasm, are disheartening. As Taibbi examines them in depth, I will read and relay his thesis in this space over the next two weeks, facts and snark alike.

— Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer

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