Nearly four years on, the financial crisis has yet to serve up a truly satisfying villain -- a bête noir whom we could all love to hate and who could serve as a compelling symbol of everything wrong with Wall Street. True, Goldman, Sachs & Co. was branded a vampire squid by Rolling Stone, and countless "banksters," from Richard Fuld to Angelo Mozilo to Hank Greenberg, have taken their turns in the doghouse, for crimes ranging from punching a parent at his son's hockey game (Fuld) to spending too much time in a tanning bed (Mozilo).
Despite these offenses -- and more serious ones -- none of these men have emerged as the unequivocal face of the meltdown, a single figure we could all finger for our financial woes, from foreclosures to wrecked retirements to onerous student loans. And it doesn't appear that the latest banker in the hotseat -- onetime media darling Jamie Dimon -- is going to become that villain either, or not yet, especially as he moves to claw back millions in compensation from the rascals responsible for JPMorgan Chase's huge trading loss. As Jason Goldberg, a banking analyst with Barclays told The Wall Street Journal, "Black eyes heal."
But there's now one banker whose black eye doesn't look like it will heal anytime soon: Bob Diamond, the American CEO of London's Barclays, who resigned in disgrace amid the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal. While here in the U.S., a villain-hungry media must content itself with jailhouse interviews with Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff (whose crimes are unrelated to the financial tsunami) or breathless coverage of Dimon's analyst chats, in the U.K., the press is gleefully throwing everything it's got at Diamond and his foul-mouthed fashionista daughter. A sampling of recent Diamond-centric headlines includes:
"A LOAD OF OLD BOLLINGER! Is champagne-swilling bank boss telling porkies ... or incompetent?" -- Daily Mirror, front page, July 4.
"REVENGE OF A FALLEN TITAN -- and his tweeting daughter is furious too" -- Daily Mail, front page, July 3.
"EVER GET THE FEELING YOU'VE BEEN CHEATED?" -- front page of G2, The Guardian's daily feature section, July 3.
And those are just headlines. Read the London papers, and you realize that "Bob Diamond" has become a catchphrase for all overpaid, ineffective CEOs. According to The Telegraph, shareholders of beleaguered Marks & Spencer have branded their CEO, Marc Bolland, "the Bob Diamond of retail." The LIBOR scandal, meanwhile, was dubbed banking's "Milly Dowler moment" by bloggers Ian Fraser and Nick Robinson. As one U.K. investment newsletter put it, Diamond has "replaced News Corp's Rupert Murdoch as public enemy No. 1."
Then there's the vitriol aimed at Diamond's Princeton-educated daughter Nell, who, after her father's grilling by Parliament, took to Twitter to tell politicos George Osborne and Ed Miliband to "go ahead and #HMD," which apparently is tweeterese for hold my d***. Responded the Mail's Jan Moir: "Unlike millions of youngsters in the UK today, Nell Diamond has never had to want for anything, nor worry about her future. That's what makes her reactions to this week's events so distasteful. She is the banking world's answer to Veruca Salt, the tantrum-prone, spoiled brat invented by children's author Roald Dahl." Photos of Nell partying, including a shot of her hamming it up with Dad at a Jay-Z concert, have become an Internet staple.
What gives? Why, after four years of scandal, financial malfeasance and pain, has a true villain finally emerged, at least in the U.K., not in the wake of a global collapse, but following a rate-fixing scheme? There are several reasons. Diamond has long been a controversial figure in London -- an American who brought Wall Street comp and culture to an old-line British institution and who publicly called for the end of the period of bankers' "remorse and apology" after the crisis. Then there's the U.K.'s vibrant tabloid culture and its insatiable appetite for morality tales.
But mostly, there's the nature of the offense itself. LIBOR may be arcane, but what Barclays did -- rig it and lie about it -- is not. Nor is LIBOR's role as a benchmark for rates on everything from mortgages to credit cards. That makes this scandal a lot more personal and comprehensible than the fall of Lehman Brothers or the near collapse of AIG. And a lot more entertaining.
Yvette Kantrow is executive editor of The Deal magazine.