Tabloid TV Goes After Bailout Babies

Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

Tabloid journalism is often worse than none at all. But now, the NY Times reports, the media business' bottom feeders are going after the corporate sleazeballs who blew up the economy.

The tabloid media, of course, have always peered into the excesses of the rich and famous with a mix of puritan disapproval and voyeurism. But these outlets and other news organizations are now recording troubling uses of taxpayer money at country clubs, private airports and glamorous retreats and, in so doing, explicitly tapping into a fierce populist anger at corporate America, and even pressuring Congress to hold companies accountable.

TMZ, a Web site better known for unflattering paparazzi shots of Britney Spears and Rihanna, drove mainstream coverage and Congressional outrage with a blog post late last month that exclaimed, "Bailout Bank Blows Millions Partying in L.A." The site reported that Northern Trust, a bank that received $1.6 billion in taxpayer money, had hosted hundreds of clients and employees at a golf tournament and a series of parties in Southern California. "Your tax dollars, hard at work," the site wrote.

Northern Trust never sought the bailout funds, but agreed to take them last fall at the behest of the government. Regardless, the photos of Tiffany gift bags and the grainy video clips of Chicago and Sheryl Crow performing for the group angered readers –as well as Congressional Democrats, who demanded in a letter that Northern Trust repay what the company "frittered away on these lavish events." The bank said it would do so "as quickly as prudently possible," news that earned four exclamation points from TMZ.