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The Language of Crime

Life has been particularly engaging of late! I am taking on a lot of responsibilities at work and am learning the craft. I’ve also been fortunate to meet some amazing people recently; for it all, I am grateful.

Occupy Boston may be gone, but I’m still paying attention. Recently, rouge micro-trading software from Knight Capital Group briefly messed up the stock market. On the watch of Knight’s archetypical CEO, Thomas Joyce (57), the firm found itself in need of a $400M bailout. Knight, a leader in “market making,” has all the hallmarks of a sleazy financial services operator. If this story sounds familiar, you have probably read or heard about it, and that’s what I’m writing about.

As I followed the Knight story, I began to notice a certain similarity in the tone of the articles; Knight was blamed for errors, but never publicly charged with a crime, as is every petty criminal.

So, in homage to that sociology class I took back in college, I surveyed the coverage of the story. Starting, loyally, from the:

Knight Press Release : Technical Issue

Reuters : Error
WSJ : Snafu
FOX Business : Glitch
MSNBC : Glitch
NY Times : Debacle
CNBC : Debacle
Seeking Alpha : Malfunction

My sample size is admittedly small, but it’s pretty diverse and mainstream.

Something very important and very dangerous had happened. This event laid bare, or if you will, further exposed, the rigged nature of the financial services industry. And boy was it being hushed up. Criminal conduct is vast; whether with malice or recklessness, something had happened, and it needed to be contained. Containment of such explosive news begins with deliberate verbal soft-pedaling. “Gee-whiz” type language attempts to evoke empathy and chagrin. Accordingly, the exceptional, or infamous, is rendered common.

Who hasn’t ever made an error? Haven’t we all found ourselves in a snafu? And damn, who hasn’t experienced a technical glitch and/or malfunction? Heck, maybe we laugh about it all in hindsight. That said, I must reluctantly give the Times and CNBC the win here with debacle. Defined by m-w.com in context, a debacle is “a complete failure.” Ouch.

The bottom line with Knight is that, as the very least, there was a certain wanton recklessness that any first year law student could tell you was criminal. So to start, Knight’s criminal behavior was couched in familiar language. Who hasn’t made a poor choice at a restaurant, gossiped and gotten into a bind, or attempted to re-string a weed wacker? Such errors, snafus, and malfunctions are routine. That they do not evoke alarm is the point.

In other news: New York settles with Standard Chartered for $340M on money laundering charges while the DOJ nets $300K from Barclays for same. Both banks, though they acted in direct contravention of the laws of the United States, continue to do business with and with the countenance of the government.

Complete failure is for chumps. Define the parameters of the debate, set the tone, and amplify.

Well, I think I smell skunk; I suppose I’ve said my bit.

Take care,

~WD

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