Bernie Madoff and the Crisis
The Public Trial of Capitalism
Colleen P. Eren



A Crisis in Search of a Villain

As you are aware my crime had nothing to do with causing the Financial Crisis. It was however a direct reflection of the culture of Wall Street and the banking system and hedge funds. It was easy to put a face on the Crisis, which was mine.

—Bernie Madoff, personal interview

Bernard L. Madoff's arrest at the close of 2008 could not have come at a more darkly poetic moment, nor played out on a more dramatic stage. With the year drawing to an end, the United States economy was reeling. In fewer than two years, previously unimaginable financial upheavals had plunged the country into the worst recession since the Great Depression, with a global ripple effect. Starting in late 2006, a deluge of foreclosures on homes purchased with risky subprime mortgages and adjustable rate mortgages, which had proliferated in the 2000s when they were peddled to the less-than-creditworthy, led to a catastrophic domino effect. Housing prices plummeted, and fear spread. Clogging the books of major institutions, and derived from the toxic subprime mortgages, were complex financial products such as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), synthetic CDOs, and credit default swaps (CDS), now worthless financial kryptonite. By March 2008, revered investment bank Bear Stearns had been bailed out of a liquidity crisis and subsequently acquired for a fraction of its previous worth by J.P. Morgan with the full backing of the Federal Reserve. Faced with the uncertainty of how much exposure to these assets other institutions had, creditors began to pull back on lending. In July, the government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, pivotal players in the housing finance system, together guaranteeing 70 percent of new home loans,1 were staggering under the weight of losses incurred by the subprime crisis. By September, Lehman Brothers, with its storied 158-year existence, filed for the largest bankruptcy in history. Credit markets became even more cautious, with repercussions for all firms that needed to borrow in order to conduct their daily business.

There was little respite from catastrophic collapses. A week after the fall of Lehman, the international insurance behemoth American International Group (AIG) also teetered on life support, with the Federal Reserve coming to the rescue—and yet another multibillion-dollar bailout. And on October 3, President George W. Bush signed the largest bailout package in history with bipartisan support. At an initially approved cost of $700 billion, reduced after the Dodd-Frank Act to $475 billion, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 created the Troubled Asset Relief Fund (TARP), which was intended to “help stabilize the U.S. financial system, restart economic growth, and prevent avoidable foreclosures.”2 The act used the bulk of its resources to ensure the resuscitation of those institutions deemed “too big to fail.”3

It was a long year of gargantuan saves and casualties at the institutional level. But the collective impact on millions of individuals in the United States and Europe was staggering. The United States lost 3.6 million jobs in 2008, the largest decrease since recording began in 1940.4 Unemployment soared and reached its highest level in fourteen years; historical records were set for the number of young people unemployed (ages 16–24).5

Evidence mounted that the causes of the crisis could be discerned at least partially in the illegal or unethical actions of those in the mortgage-lending industry and recklessness throughout the financial sector, not to mention grotesque negligence by regulators and ratings agencies like Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s. Blame had not fallen on discrete targets: despite the magnitude of the crisis and its close connection with financial and policy choices, no individuals were being charged with wrongdoing. Then, on December 11, 2008, amid fear, anger, and fatigue, the same factors which had brought Lehman, Bear, and AIG to their knees also brought down the most costly and longest-running Ponzi scheme in history.

Former NASDAQ chairman and Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff’s investment management firm, run out of the Lipstick Building in Manhattan, had its own liquidity crisis—his investors’ requests to withdraw funds had multiplied, and soon exceeded a billion dollars. Despite its long run of seeming credibility, a decades-old charade could not be maintained. The capital to keep it going simply did not exist when panicked clients asked Madoff to pay out their redemptions en masse. Bernie Madoff confessed to his brother, Peter, on December 9, and then to his adult sons, Andrew and Mark, on December 10, 2008.6 Within twenty-four hours, he was at the center of an international media frenzy.

The Madoff Case in Brief

What had led the then seventy-year-old Madoff to that moment?7 “He didn’t need to resort to crime to be successful,” Erin Arvedlund writes in Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff.8 Indeed, without the final chapter of the exposure of his fraud, Madoff’s life would have appeared to be a classic Horatio Alger story, one that would have been emblematic of the American Dream. He grew up in a middle-class family in Laurelton, Queens, attending the local PS 156 and then Far Rockaway High School, where he met his future wife, Ruth Alpern. In 1960, after a previous failed attempt at obtaining a degree from Brooklyn Law, he graduated from Long Island’s Hofstra University9 with a bachelor’s in political science; he would later joke it was the “Wrong” or the “Other ‘H’ University.” That same year, with savings he had accumulated through jobs such as lifeguarding and a $50,000 loan from his father-in-law, he founded his brokerage business, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities (BLMIS). Although Bernie led a relatively unremarkable life prior to the creation of his firm, he soon distinguished himself as a talented, charismatic businessman and even a pioneer in automated trading, which was to make him very rich.

Madoff was primarily engaged in the over-the-counter (OTC) market, first dealing with penny stocks—low-cost stocks that are not listed in major exchange markets like the New York Stock Exchange. Unlike many of his counterparts operating in an antiquated world of manual trades, Madoff and his chief compliance officer and brother, Peter Madoff, recognized the business advantage to be had through technology; automated trading via computers helped him boast turnaround times that outdid his competition, still mired in paper. His was one of the first firms to join the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (NASDAQ) system, where he later served as chairman for three years in the early 1990s. His willingness to embrace and promote innovation in trading technology proved highly lucrative when, starting in the 1970s, “changes in the rules allowed for his firm and others like it to trade more expensive and prestigious blue chip stocks.”10 Encroaching on territory previously occupied by the big exchanges, he created a “third market” and his business thrived. BLMIS handled 5 percent of all trading on the New York Stock Exchange in the 1980s.11 At one point, he was also the largest market maker on the NASDAQ and the sixth-largest market maker for Standard & Poor’s 500 stocks, with the firm boasting $300 million in assets.12 Madoff’s rise to prominence was remarkable. He was lionized in magazines like Forbes and Financial World for his tech-savvy trading practices and commanding salary. He was a darling of regulators, helping them with advice on how to break up market monopolies, and was asked to serve on a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) advisory committee on stock market trading rules.13

Yet this account of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities carried with it a dark parallel tale. Around the same time as his market-making firm was founded in the 1960s, Bernie began a “side” business of investing money for his father-in-law Saul Alpern’s friends and clients at the Alpern & Heller accounting firm, as well as for family members.14 Madoff carefully cultivated affinity networks in the high societies of New York City and Palm Beach, particularly within the Jewish community to which he had easy access. His success at providing these clients with a stream of steady, profitable, but generally not outlandish returns15 soon earned him a widening reputation as a Wall Street wizard, able to navigate market volatility where others could not. As word spread through elite communities, a snowball effect ensued, gathering momentum.

Beginning in the early 1990s, wealthy fund managers in the United States and in international settings channeled millions—and even billions—of their clients’ money to Madoff. Notable examples of this group include Walter Noel and Jeffrey Tucker (of Fairfield Greenwich Group), Ezra Merkin (a New York philanthropist and money manager at Ascot Partners), and René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet (of Access International Advisors). In return, these managers of “feeder funds” would receive millions in fees, creating a perverse incentive for them to keep bringing victims to Madoff’s side business. The funds pooled the wealth of charities such as the now defunct JEHT Foundation and Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, universities such as New York University and Yeshiva, retirement accounts, and individual investors. Some of the victims were completely unaware of or misled as to the nature of their investments, or had never even heard of Bernie Madoff. Together with billions in investments from major banks around the globe (HSBC, BNP Paribas, and Grupo Santander to name a few), this money became the lifeblood of his colossal Ponzi scheme.

Madoff claimed that he was employing a sophisticated investment strategy—the split strike conversion strategy—with his clients’ money through the investment advisory arm of his firm. His clients were told their funds would be invested in a basket of common stocks within Standard & Poor’s 100 index, while hedging these investments with options to mitigate risk. He said he would “opportunistically time those purchases” and intermittently be out of the market, and would then place his client funds in government-issued securities like Treasury bills.16 The clients would receive in the mail official-looking monthly statements showing the trade confirmations and investments, as well as 1099s at the end of the year—all indicating the supposed legitimacy of the transactions. Some clients even received time-stamped trade confirmations on individual stock and bond transactions.17 They would earn consistent “returns” on these investments, 10–17 percent a year for the average client—not the type of return that would raise suspicions18 (although consistent returns in spite of economic downturns raised suspicions for some).

Of course, this was all a ruse. The securities were never bought or sold. Rather, his clients’ funds were simply deposited into a bank account at Chase Manhattan. (From 1986 to 2008, Madoff’s Chase 703 account would receive $150 billion in transfers and deposits, and maintained a balance between three and five billion dollars.19) When a client wished to take money out of their account, the funds would therefore come from this pool of other clients’ funds. As with all Ponzi schemes, Madoff’s swindle required growing numbers of investors with enough cash to allow him to honor redemptions quickly and not arouse suspicions. While estimates of the losses vary, the Ponzi has been estimated to have defrauded clients of well over $10 billion20 in actual losses, up to $50 billion if fictitious losses are included, ensnaring tens of thousands of victims (over 56,000 individuals from 119 countries had filed claims by 2014).21

There is still uncertainty as to when Madoff’s investment business became a Ponzi scheme—and indeed, if the business ever was legitimate. Journalist Brian Ross, in his book The Madoff Chronicles, claims to have spoken to sources close to Madoff who insist the investment business was never legitimate.22 When federal prosecutors indicted five of his employees at BLMIS in October 2012, they alleged the scam began “at least in the early 1970s.”23 By Madoff’s own testimony, it began in the early 1990s, following “the onset of the recession [of the late 1980s] and the Gulf War.”24 Whatever the truth, questions about the legitimacy of Madoff’s returns were raised long before the FBI raided his Upper East Side penthouse. In fact, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation into why it failed to uncover Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme revealed that red flags had begun to appear as early as 1992. Erin Arvedlund, a journalist for Barron’s, wrote “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Bernie Madoff Is So Secretive, He Even Asks His Investors to Keep Mum,” which raised doubts about his secretive investment practices and preternaturally consistent returns. While suggestive, Arvedlund never explicitly used the term “Ponzi” in her article. But others did. The whistleblower and certified fraud examiner Harry Markopolos gave the Securities and Exchange Commission multiple detailed warnings about Madoff from 2000 to 2008. All went ignored. Only an economic event of the order of the financial crisis and his own sons’ tip-off was able to topple Madoff’s scheme.

Bernie Madoff faced eleven criminal charges in federal court in the Southern District of New York, including securities fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, investment adviser fraud, international money laundering, money laundering, perjury, false statements, false filing with the SEC, and theft from an employee benefit plan. Not implicating any of his family members or employees, he insisted that he acted alone (although future court cases would prove otherwise, when his brother and aides received sentences for their involvement), and on June 29, 2009, he was given the maximum sentence possible: 150 years in federal prison.

Though questions still remain and the drama continues to unfold years after his arrest, the detailed history of Madoff’s Ponzi and its aftermath have already been well documented by journalists Diana Henriques in Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust and Erin Arvedlund in Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff, among other personal accounts by the whistleblower Harry Markopolos (No One Would Listen), by a claimed mistress (Madoff’s Other Secret), by the victims (The Club No One Wanted to Join), and even by daughter-in-law Stephanie Madoff Mack (The End of Normal). It is not the purpose of this book to replicate their efforts. Neither is it my intent to add further documentation to the descriptions of the causal chain of events that led to the Great Recession or its aftermath. There are over three hundred books as of this writing that attempt to explain the financial crisis of 2007–9. Bernie Madoff and the Crisis instead turns the mirror away from these events themselves, and focuses on social reactions in the United States and the United Kingdom to the Madoff Ponzi as revealed through the dominant media narratives. Accordingly, the discourses25 surrounding the Madoff case are treated as artifacts which impart cultural and sociological insights. Through these narratives, we can investigate the symbolic meaning and latent function of this high-profile case, its immediate historical relevance within the context of economic crisis, its staying power in the years thereafter, and its importance as a touchstone in the broader context of post-1970 neoliberalism.26

Crisis, Meet Madoff

As a sociologist, my intellectual fascination with this case began when I found a short article on perceptions of Madoff’s punishment featured in the July/August 2009 issue of Psychology Today. As I casually flipped through the glossy magazine, a graphic of Bernie Madoff’s head ghoulishly served up on a platter caught my eye.

Clipping from Psychology Today.
SOURCE: Psychology Today, July/August 2009.

In March 2009, New York Magazine also released its cover story by Steve Fishman, “Bernie Madoff, Monster” with the photoshopped image of Madoff grinning sinisterly as the Batman villain the Joker. Although the Ponzi had untold deleterious effects—the loss of lifetime savings, the wiping out of college and retirement funds, the shuttering of philanthropies like the JEHT foundation, and the resultant suicides of the French aristocrat and investor René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet and British investor William Foxton—Madoff’s crime was not a violent crime, the typical focal point for collective anger. It was financial. And this made it stand out to me and many others.

“Bernie Madoff, Monster.” By Darrow for New York Magazine.
SOURCE: New York Magazine, 2009. Reprinted with permission.

The explosion of interest in and anger leveled at Bernie Madoff and his crime has been extraordinary. From the time of his arrest and sentencing to 150 years in prison, to his incarceration in Butner Federal Correctional, to the tragic deaths of his two sons (Mark committed suicide in 2010 on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest, and Andrew succumbed to lymphoma in 2014), the Madoff name and legacy have been an almost perpetual source of public fascination. While the most intimate details of his personal life and consumption patterns were made publically available—the yacht named Bull, the share in a private jet, the homes in Montauk and Palm Beach, an alleged affair with a former Haddasah CFO—punitive, angry discourses raged in US and international media. Myriad creative and sadistic punishments were suggested. The lifelong cleaning of latrines was suggested by noted Madoff victim, retributionist, and professor of law at New York University, Robert Blecker. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, also a Madoff victim, proposed solitary confinement wherein Madoff would be forced to look at photos of his victims day and night. The case provided a lightning rod as the question of how to punish those who were responsible, not only for the Ponzi scheme but also for the financial crisis and its widespread devastation, became a matter of public speculation and the focus of populist anger. The virulence of these discourses during a time of general struggle, the sustained fascination by the public well after he had been sent to prison, the case’s international resonance, and the extent to which it became integrated into popular culture drew me to it and inspired the research questions that are the foundation of this book:

How and why did the Madoff case, more than any other financial crime in the twentieth or twenty-first century, become a cultural touchstone? What role did it play during a historical moment marked by financial crisis and economic recession? How did the backdrop provided by the financial crisis play into the case? What narratives, themes, symbols, and discourses emerged? Why do they matter? What lessons can we learn?

To begin to answer these questions, I first read and then performed a content analysis27 of the thousands of articles in four major newspapers in the United States written about Madoff or referencing Madoff from the time of his arrest on December 11, 2008, until June 29, 2010, one year after his sentencing. This eighteen-month period was delimited in order to capture the immediacy of the responses to the case as the financial crisis and the case simultaneously unfolded, rather than include more retrospective accounts that issued when the storm had passed. In the process, I coded for recurrent narrative content and concepts in these articles, later examining these and categorizing them into the broad topics presented in the book, which thematically summarize this vast amount of coverage. I purposefully targeted two “elite” US papers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, and two tabloids, the Daily News and the New York Post, to cover the high/low media split. In addition to looking at the US coverage, I chose to comparatively evaluate the social construction of Madoff’s crime in the United Kingdom. I wanted to know if the discourses about Madoff in the US media were reflective of distinct cultural attitudes, indicative of American “exceptionalism,” or if they were found internationally and thus reflected transnational sociopolitical and ideological trends. The sociocultural similarities between the United States and the United Kingdom stemming from their common language, their mutual liberal democratic tradition, as well as areas of political and economic convergence—especially since the Thatcher-Reagan era—made these two countries an ideal pair. For the content analysis of UK media, I chose two broadsheet papers, the London Times and the Guardian. Two tabloids were also included, the Sun and the Daily Mail. These newspapers have exceptionally large circulations of over 250,000 on weekdays; they represent both right/conservative-leaning and left/liberal-leaning papers, as well as “highbrow” and “working class” readerships.

This initial content analysis provided a departure point for in-depth, semistructured interviews, which I conducted with the dozens of journalists and editors intimately involved in presenting the case to the public (see the Appendix for a full list of interviewees and their affiliations), as well as SEC public relations director John Nester and others. Once completed, these interviews were transcribed and, like the media coverage, coded for narrative and thematic content. During the interview phase of my research, it was suggested that Bernie Madoff might be interested in contributing to the project. A letter of introduction was sent to Butner Correctional explaining the book and giving my contact information. Within a few weeks, Madoff reached out to me through the prison’s closed e-mail system, Corrlinks. This first brief but courteous letter asked me to give more details about the project and about my affiliation. He expressed skepticism toward those who would attempt to write about him, given the universally negative portrayals that had been rendered thus far. He added, “I have limited my correspondence to those that deal with the education of business students.” Fully cognizant of the rich irony present in seemingly applying to an exclusive club, which had been Madoff’s modus operandi for securing his “marks,” I described the work and its aims, my institutional affiliation, and a few coincidental commonalities: we had both lived on Long Island, both attended Hofstra University (although some forty years apart), and both graduated from there with social science degrees. He agreed to participate. Although Madoff granted permission for me to visit him in prison to conduct an interview, my request was denied by the prison warden on the grounds of “security.” So although an in-person interview was not possible, excerpts from my conversations via letters, phone, and e-mail will be interwoven throughout the chapters that follow, giving Madoff a voice in the ongoing social interpretation of his case.

Sociologist Jack Katz, in his work The Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil, anticipated criticisms to his exploration of murder from the perpetrators’ point of view. He aptly countered, writing, “Morally as well as sensually, it is likely that some readers will feel personally victimized by [my] effort to convey the offender’s experience . . . [But] a trip to ‘the other side’ does not have to be a permanent change in spiritual address.” By including Madoff as a voice in the book, I do not intend to argue for the veracity of his perspective in contradiction to other narratives or facts. Nor do I attempt to psychoanalyze him. However, Madoff’s voice is important for several reasons. He offers a rare first-person, subjective account of an individual who has committed large-scale financial crime. As such, he presents scholars and readers access to essential insights. At a practical level, Madoff speaks as a witness to his own acts and motivations. If we are to understand (and thereby perhaps prevent) massive financial crimes, we must at least listen to the narratives of perpetrators. However odious and painful to his victims, Madoff’s account is essential. And from a research perspective, without firsthand accounts theories of white-collar crime offending will remain that—purely theoretical.

Ample scholarship examines those who have committed horrendous violent acts, allowing their voices to emerge, whether through qualitative individual case studies or veiled quantitative survey data—including Abby Stein’s Prologue to Violence, Les Sussman and Sally Bordwell’s The Rapist Files, Douglas Pryor’s Unspeakable Acts, and Hervey Cleckly’s The Mask of Sanity. Furthermore, as the chapter epigraph illustrates, the subjective account Madoff provides in the forthcoming pages offers a counter-narrative to the individualistic accounts of his crime that have prevailed, which have attributed his criminality solely to internal pathological qualities. However self-motivated, he brings systemic considerations and influences on his crime to the forefront—considerations often offered in explanations of street crimes from a liberal ideological point of view, but ignored or downplayed when discussing white-collar offenses.

With the financial crisis slowly fading in our cultural memory as we creep up on a decade since its start, readers may wonder why it is essential to return to Madoff. There have been ample journalistic and sensationalistic accounts of this crime, but with the exception of a pittance of articles—notably Jock Young’s “Bernie Madoff: Finance Capital and the Anomic Society”—it has not undergone sufficient sociological treatment. This may be because of the perceived “low brow” infotainment value of analyzing a case that seized the attention of the masses. Certainly that’s a critique I’ve fielded in the preparation of this work. But other crimes (albeit violent ones) which have had mass appeal (such as the O. J. Simpson murder case or the killing of Trayvon Martin) certainly have not been ignored by the academy. Even postcrisis, it seems social scientists continue to privilege the study of crimes of the “pathological” poor over the wrongs of affluent men like Madoff. Yet public interest in white-collar crimes—including the Madoff case—has not been lacking, as evidenced by popular culture. Major films featuring A-list actors have hit the box offices since 2007 with plots focusing on white-collar, financial crimes, including The Informant! (2009), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), Margin Call (2011), Arbitrage (2012), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), American Hustle (2014), and The Big Short (2015), as well as the TV series American Greed (2007–), White Collar (2009–), and Billions (2016–).

Bernie Madoff and the Crisis aims to offer insight into this ongoing fascination, seeking to unveil significance in the themes and symbols that emerged through public discourse about the Madoff phenomenon. It is not a rehashing of already familiar information about the Ponzi. Rather it is an exploration of how and why a high-profile economic crime made it easier for the public to participate in difficult conversations about abstract financial forces in a free-market economy; it also considers the implications of this discourse for changing systemic flaws and inequalities.

This book will argue that the Madoff case ultimately served two very specific roles. First, “Madoff,” in a time of economic crisis wherein the complexity of our failures was beyond the full comprehension of most and blame was diffuse, provided an intelligible, individualist narrative about one man’s transgressions with culturally familiar archetypes. This interaction (between individual and archetype) allowed the case to be transformed into a vehicle for contentious conversations about issues related to the financial crisis and our conflicted relationship with free-market capitalism. The new discourse took place through discussions of his fraud because the two were conflated in the public imagination and by the media, even though, of course, they were not synonymous. These conversations involved key issues that were addressed, personified, and exemplified by his case, on which I elaborate in separate chapters. In particular, Madoff’s story led the public to confront questions about the desired scope and role of governmental economic regulation, the perceived need for harsher punishment for financial criminals, as well as what we consider to be “permissible” levels of greed and social inequality in a capitalist system.

The second role that the Madoff case played during this period was to provide to the public a temporary symbolic resolution to the dissonance that emerged as a result of the financial crisis. In other words, Madoff’s pillorying and punishment gave the impression of justice for the morally dubious behavior that went unpunished, for class inequities, even for the crisis and recession itself. Those frustrated with the status quo could now direct their anger at a clear target. While the word “scapegoat” is inappropriate for Madoff (as it implies that he was not guilty of a crime), I contend that he nevertheless performed a similar social role. His own guilt came to represent the guilt of an entire system, an outcome consistent with a culture that seeks individualist explanations for social problems. During the course of my research, I concluded that free-market capitalism itself was critiqued in the media through its discussion of Madoff. This critique was to advocate not for revolutionary change but rather for tinkering with the problems, difficult people, and institutions that were represented as responsible for the failures of our financial system and for its injustices. Ultimately, the “Ponzi culture” (to use criminologist Susan Will’s apt term) which surrounded the Madoff case—“the hegemonic arrangement that facilitates and encourages speculations, unsustainable debt, and bubbles”28—was left intact, although there were interesting developments in social consciousness and discontent about pernicious class inequality and the role of laissez-faire casino capitalism in its maintenance. These developments would, for instance, later lead to broader critiques through the Occupy movement protests that flowered around the globe in the beginning of 2011.

White-collar Crime and the Media

Although I argue that scholars have overlooked the Madoff case and its implications, this book positions itself within and draws from scholarship on both white-collar crime and crime and media which has emerged over the past eighty years. Since 1939, when Edwin Sutherland gave his famous address “The White Collar Criminality” at the American Sociological Society, work probing the definition, etiology, consequences of, and social reaction to this form of offending have formed an important (if marginalized) subdivision within sociological and criminological studies. Sutherland’s insistence that “persons of the upper socioeconomic class engage in much criminal behavior . . . this criminal behavior differs from the criminal behavior of the lower socioeconomic class principally in the administrative procedures which are used in dealing with the offenders” pointed out the harm done by white-collar crime regardless of its lenient punishment, and the inadequacy of only studying crimes associated with the effects of poverty. He asserted white-collar crime’s disruptive potential to the entire social order, as it “violate[s] trust and therefore create[s] distrust, and this lowers social morale and produces social disorganization on a large scale.” His vocabulary might be somewhat dated, but Sutherland still rings poignantly true in the context of the events of 2008.

Sutherland’s impetus for focusing on white-collar crime was at least partially attributable to his repugnance for the actions of financial elites in the 1920s, which led to the Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression, including the devastation it caused millions of ordinary Americans.29 Prominent criminologists over the past thirty years have also focused on large-scale financial frauds creating significant socioeconomic fallout, perhaps with the same motivation. Kitty Calavita, Henry Pontell, and Robert Tillman’s Big Money Crime documents how the intersection of the casino economy, the collusion of the thrift industry with elected officials, insider fraud, and structural problems with the state (such as deregulation) “brought the American financial system to the brink of disaster” during the 1980s savings and loan crisis. The resultant rescue bailout cost the American public a staggering $500 billion.30

The next massive white-collar crime scandal to shake the United States—the accounting debacles of 2001–4, infamously involving Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom—was studied by sociologist and critical criminologist David Friedrichs and a few others (although, notably, many more scholars of business, law, and accounting provided analyses). Friedrichs attempted an integrated theoretical approach, looking at how structural, network, organizational, and even individualistic factors like personality played significant roles in the crimes. The financial crisis of 2007–9, the most recent but certainly not the last instance of a paradigmatic white-collar crime debacle, has been investigated by sociologists and criminologists like Neal Shover and Peter Grabosky, who in “forestalling the next epidemic of white-collar crime” suggest policy initiatives to rein in “the worst excesses of capitalism” and reduce the likelihood of another crisis—initiatives such as bolstering the credibility of external oversight, encouraging internal whistleblowing, and even using shaming tactics to arouse public anger.31 An excellent compilation of essays by David Friedrichs, Gilbert Geis, Susan Will, Laureen Snider, and Saskia Sassen—How They Got Away with It32—provides multiple accounts of the crisis, focusing primarily on structural influences born of the economic system and their impact on culture.

Bernie Madoff and the Crisis follows these scholars in at least one important way: it focuses on an era-defining, massive financial crime that happened to dramatically unfold during an economic crisis with severe societal repercussions. However, unlike many of the works identified above, it is only tangentially concerned with explanatory factors (structural or otherwise) triggering such crimes, or how policy changes might prevent future frauds. Rather it is primarily concerned with societal reactions to the crimes within their sociohistorical context, and the significance of those reactions. In this way, the book leans additionally on the broader literature about white-collar crime, especially contributions from a critical criminological perspective like those of Jeffrey Reiman, Laureen Snider, and others who have made social reactions to crime and the importance of ideology in these reactions a primary focus of their work. In his classic The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, for example, Reiman posits that the goal of the criminal justice system is to distort, like a carnival mirror, the threat presented by the “crimes” of the poor vis-à-vis the rich and thus uphold the capitalist ideology of the powerful.33 Such ideology often diverts our attention away from the powerful to those of the underclass in a veritable legerdemain. Writing on the same theme, Snider notes, “Many of the most serious antisocial and predatory acts committed in modern industrial countries are corporate crimes . . . Corporate crime costs far more than street crimes.” She is concerned, like Reiman, with the power of ideology and, for instance, takes on the critical issue of regulation. Her article “The Sociology of Corporate Crime: An Obituary”34 argues that corporate crime itself can “disappear” (e.g., be defined out of existence) through the intervention of powerful groups and business elites, through their neoliberal claims that masquerade as truth. “The reception of these [neoliberal] claims . . . can only be understood by relating it to the hegemonic dominance of those interests who stood to benefit from their acceptance as ‘truth.’” Without invoking the same type of Marxist language or mentioning capitalist ideology, Henry Pontell has pointed out how “fraud minimalists,” when focusing on the causes of economic crisis, have avoided terms like “crime” or “fraud,” and have downplayed that role in major financial debacles like the savings and loan scandal or the corporate and accounting scandals of the early 2000s. Public policy that attempts to prevent or control these instances from occurring in the future while ignoring the “white washing [of] white collar crime” are therefore doomed to fail.35 Indeed, Neil Fligstein and Alexander Roerhkasse, when looking at the causes of fraud in the financial crisis of 2007–9, argue that fraud was widespread and that “the structure of firms and markets caused fraud”; “market breakdowns tend to be understood in terms of myopia and misrecognition rather than strategic or malevolent abuse.”36

Bernie Madoff and the Crisis’s focus on social reaction to the Madoff case, however, does not deal abstractly with social reactions; its deepest theoretical grounding is in literature that has analyzed actual media coverage of crimes. Scholarship focusing on how coverage produces meaningful cultural dialogues that expose attitudes, beliefs, and configurations of power during specific sociohistorical periods is especially significant. For those who have written with this orientation, news coverage is not seen solely as a reflection of hegemonic corporate power over media outlets which in turn present biased reportage.37 Nor do they present the coverage as a form of social control.38 Rather, media coverage is seen as dialectical: the public with its collective attitudes and beliefs influences it, and the public in turn is influenced by the coverage. In the end, the coverage is imbued with collective meaning. Among those who have broadly theorized this Möbius strip-like relationship between the symbolic representation of crime in the media and cultural beliefs and values are Gregg Barak and Jack Katz. Barak, speaking from this perspective, writes, “Commodities of news production and the images of social reality that they invoke are inseparable from their cultural histories . . . Mediated characterizations of crime and criminal justice, of criminals and social control, projected in news presentations are representations themselves of culturally shared visions accessed through commonly unfolding historical narratives, in which average people and most journalists come to know crime and justice in developed societies.”39 In Jack Katz’s “What Makes Crime News,”40 he uses content analysis of newspapers to answer the question, what is the social means of news about crime and what makes for “newsworthy” crime stories? He found several recurring themes in the reportage, all of which underscore the need for crime news to appeal to the moral sensibilities of the readership. Although Katz implies there is a top-down, didactic quality to the news, he also implies there is a process through which moral issues raised can elicit responses not predetermined by news agencies: “People recognize and use the moral tale within the story to orient themselves towards existential dilemmas they cannot help but confront . . . Crime news is taken as interesting in a process through which adults in contemporary society work out individual perspectives on moral questions of a quite general yet eminently personal relevance.”

Among the works that have gone beyond general theorizing about the social meaning of news on crime to examine specific media representations of crime from this perspective, notable are Lynn Chancer’s High Profile Crimes41 and Helen Benedict’s Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes.42 Chancer, basing her analysis on hundreds of interviews and content analysis of newspapers, explores how violent crimes receiving national attention, such as the O. J. Simpson murder trial and the Central Park jogger case, allow for controversial racial, class, and gender issues to be contested. Benedict, also utilizing content analysis and interviews, focuses on sex crime cases that received national attention in the US media—for example, the Mike Tyson rape case. Her book illustrates how the news media reveals the existence of rape myths in American culture, but also perpetuates those myths.

As can be expected, most of the literature exploring crime in the media has focused on violent crime and “street” crimes. Prominent UK criminologist Michael Levi writes, “When seeking to account for social reactions to ‘crime,’ criminologists hardly ever use crimes by or even against business as anything other than homogeneous outliers against which to juxtapose the severe reactions to ‘crimes of the underclass.’43 Journalists too have concentrated on these crimes, mostly associated with the poor. The sociological literature in fact has tended to theorize why white-collar crimes are ignored by society and the media, and about the ways agencies of power in a capitalist system ensure that the harshest punishments are reserved for those without capital. Earl Quinney, in “The Study of White Collar Crime: Towards a Reorientation in Theory and Research,” insists that “although the violation of laws and regulations is defined as crime . . . the white collar offender is likely at most to regard himself as a lawmaker rather than a criminal . . . Even the public is unlikely to regard the violation of such laws as a crime.”44 When white-collar crime such as the Madoff case has been addressed, we so often assume apathy on the part of the public, and laxity on the part of penal institutions.45 Those working on white-collar crime have tended not to focus on its representation in the media (except to describe the lack of discussion about white-collar crime therein). Prominent sociologist Gilbert Geis, for instance, dedicates a meager two pages in his White Collar and Corporate Crime to “mass media” and “corporate scandals.”46 And only a few sparse examples exist prior to the 2000s of work that talks about the social meaning of white-collar crime in the news.47

Only within the past fifteen years have critical articles emerged on how white-collar, and specifically financial, crimes are portrayed in a given sociohistorical context. In “The Lessons of Enron: Media Accounts, Corporate Crimes, and Financial Markets,”48 James Williams encourages white-collar crime scholars to “move beyond a narrow realist stance and engage with discursive and symbolic aspects of markets, corporations, and crimes.” Here Williams was able to demonstrate how the media limits possibilities for alternatives or critical responses to white-collar crime. In other words, the media can reveal to us that which can be expressed or realized within capitalism, but it never looks outside of that paradigm. Consequently media depictions naturalize and make self-evident the ineluctability of capitalism. Although he describes “vigorous debate and competing interpretations” in media accounts, “underlying the accounts of the scandals [are]. . . a clear investment in a broader set of cultural scripts regarding the value and effectiveness of the American form of capital.”

More pioneering work on the media construction of financial crimes has been performed with a comparative approach by Levi. Perhaps the most prolific scholar on the topic in the United States and the United Kingdom, his “Social Reactions to White-collar Crimes and Their Relationship to Economic Crises”49 argues that the media and public are now made routinely aware of white-collar crimes. They therefore merit more investigation, particularly into the way media and institutional manufacturing of fear pertains to these crimes, as well as the effects of social reactions on policy making. Additionally, in “The Media Construction of Financial White-collar Crimes,” Levi looks at representations of white-collar, organized, and cybercrimes in both the UK and the US media. His interviews with British and American print and TV journalists and his culling of fraud stories, television news programs, radio, and other sources over the past twenty years present an excellent departure point for more in-depth content analyses and empirical work.50 Unlike Chancer and Benedict, Levi and Williams do not investigate in depth cases that have received national and international attention, or the social meaning of such crimes, the themes that emerge through these cases, or the way responses are indicative of larger cultural issues. By focusing on a case that in spite of its international notoriety has not been studied from a sociological or critical perspective, Bernie Madoff and the Crisis fills these evident omissions.

Organization of the Book

Looking ahead, and as I have suggested already, the following chapters are organically structured around the most salient themes and narratives which emerged from my content analysis of the case and through the interviews I conducted. Organized to read as a coherent narrative, the chapters each explore a central theme, interweaving the quotes culled from the media coverage itself with the words and insights of the journalists and editors most involved in the transmission of the story, as well as from the public relations director at the Securities and Exchange Commission, and from Bernie Madoff himself. Although the themes were by no means separated within the media coverage, this presentation facilitates the isolation and equal treatment of common themes that may at first appear disconnected or cacophonous.

Departing from the groundwork of this chapter, Chapter 2 presents the major elements of the Madoff story that enabled the Ponzi to become a locus of public debate for themes related to the financial crisis, themes which will be traced through subsequent chapters. First, the case involved a sum of money—tens of billions of dollars—that was large enough to be unusual and shocking to most. A Ponzi involving “only” hundreds of thousands or even millions simply couldn’t have had the same ability to capture our imagination, to inspire bewilderment, wonder, anger, or intrigue. Second, the scam had a high level of comprehensibility, even to those without extensive knowledge of the markets, and it involved (purportedly) a single criminal, which played into existing individualistic tendencies in US and UK culture. Third, there was recognizable human appeal, which played out through an epic family drama, tapping into familiar archetypes in Western culture. Fourth, the case had among its victims well-known figures and celebrities in the United States and the United Kingdom, but it was not confined to celebrities or the rich; it also affected more “sympathetic,” ordinary people, lending the case a broader class appeal during a time when class resentment was reemerging. Last, there was an ethnoreligious dimension to Madoff’s targeting of fellow Jews in the affinity fraud. Because many of the victims were members of a religious minority group that had been betrayed by a member of their own community, readers’ sympathies were evoked. At the same time, though, certain aspects of the coverage played to extant anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews. This chapter therefore explicates the Madoff case’s exit from the business pages and its entry into mainstream public consciousness.

Chapter 3 presents the contentious discourses surrounding the theme of government regulation that emerged through the Madoff case in light of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s failure to discover the Ponzi over several decades. Questions that arose and were contested included the following: Should more regulation be enacted, or were the problems that arose through the Madoff case merely anomalies that did not require extensive change? Were the failures of the SEC systemic, or were they the failure of specific leadership? Would free-market capitalism benefit from more regulation or is the “invisible hand” sufficient?

While some divergence or disagreement was evident, I argue that the narrative of “SEC failure” was by far the most dominant narrative, and that consensus around this narrative allowed for the exculpation of larger, more systemic structural problems, as well as cultural issues on Wall Street and in other hubs of finance. Bernie Madoff is presented in dialogue, as it were, with John Nester of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and with the voices of the public expressed by the reporters and narratives culled through content analysis, as he reacts to the SEC controversy and weighs in on the debate about the role of regulation.

While Chapter 3 explores how the Madoff case laid bare issues of regulation—which, while made comprehensible to the public through the Madoff case, are often remote from the lived experience of civilians—Chapter 4 turns to aspects of the Madoff story which hit closer to home for many US and UK citizens. In this chapter I ask, how was the social problem of class disparities, a growing issue under neoliberalism, presented in public discourse through the Madoff case? Elements of the Madoff story described in Chapter 2 made his Ponzi an ideal vehicle through which to discuss the issue of growing social inequality during a time of economic crisis. In this chapter, we also learn how class consciousness has been historically less salient in the United States in comparison to the United Kingdom. Yet such consciousness was awakened through the Madoff case and the financial crisis, as populist narratives rose to the surface, challenging the status quo, creating fertile ground for the Occupy movements of 2011, and fostering the centrality of a renewed salience around inequality, as evidenced in the unexpected popularity of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in 2014,51 and the US presidential election of 2016. Class resentment and indeed a strong sense of schadenfreude for the losses of “undeserving” wealthy victims, rather than sympathy, were evident in the media coverage. Inequalities in the treatment of “street” offenders versus white-collar offenders, for example, were highlighted in the coverage. I interpret this focused public anger as displacing a more general anger in search of a target over responsibility for the financial crisis. At the same time, the coverage demonstrated an unwillingness to give credence to meritocratic myths of the American Dream itself, premised on the idea of working hard to gain one’s fortune through saving, grit, and innovation.

Logically intertwined with this discussion of inequality is my exploration of how—premised on endless accumulation of capital—the topic of greed came to the fore in the Madoff case. How much greed is socially permissible? Are there any innocent investors in the marketplace or are we all in some way responsible for the fallout when something goes wrong? I show how narratives of greed-run-amok flourished as part of a new skepticism toward the wealthy, particularly in the United Kingdom, where media consciously played to stereotypes of greedy Americans. Here I allow Madoff to contribute to the dialogue in a controversial manner by incorporating his perceptions of the greed of his wealthy clients. He broaches their complicity in his scheme, their awareness and culpability. Chapter 5, exploring the last crisis-related issue that was contested through the Madoff case, focuses not only on white-collar criminals but also on those involved more broadly with ethically dubious financial dealings. I present several competing narratives culled from content analyses and interviews, which offer gripping perspectives on how and for how long Madoff should be punished and what goal this punishment should serve. These narratives are presented as providing crucial insights into how individuals in US and UK societies feel transgressions within the financial system should be punished more generally. I conclude by arguing that the cultural performance surrounding Madoff’s imprisonment attempted to provide a symbolic resolution of the collective cognitive dissonance that emerged in the United States and United Kingdom as a result of a crisis. In other words, the Madoff saga seemed to provide a temporary sense of resolution for the criminal and ethically dubious behavior in the financial industry, the class inequities and resentments that the crisis brought to light, and the nebulous anger of that time which was seeking a target. By punishing Madoff, we attempted to find closure for larger, more systemic issues. While doing so may have been ultimately unsatisfying, in the moment Madoff allowed for a certain degree of catharsis. In this chapter, Bernie Madoff offers his own thoughts about his punishment and the charges brought against him, the lack of punishment for other financial crimes, such as those committed by HSBC, and intimate personal reflections on his own guilt and imprisonment.

As evinced through the narratives presented in the preceding chapters, there was strong support for sending Bernard L. Madoff to prison for 150 years—an almost unheard-of punishment for a financial offense. Yet what were the consequences of this punishment? At a minimum, was there any change in the way financial crime was reported? What should social scientists and journalists glean from the lessons of the Madoff case? In Chapter 6, I explore how the urge to make individuals accountable for systemic problems with global capitalism has proven itself to be a futile strategy, with few substantive changes to be observed as a consequence. The Madoff case in fact deflected attention away from a system inherently fraught with problems, away from the free market and its endless accumulation requirement for continuance. Why US and UK societies would displace blame onto one man demonstrates the strength of our individualist culture as well as the level of mystification that exists around, and the ideological investment in, our financial system.

In this chapter I also argue that to begin to understand the impact of structural conditions on financial wrongdoing, social scientists must not ignore the lived experience of those, like Madoff, who engage in financial wrongdoing. I therefore present Madoff’s narrative of his Ponzi and link his emphasis on risk taking and greed to the neoliberal push of the last forty years.

The renewed class awareness and resentment brought about as a result of the case—the angry responses which brought a white-collar crime the same notoriety as a serial killing, the way Madoff was linked to the financial crisis even though he was not implicated in bringing it about, the ridiculing of regulation and demand for changes—all indicate a rising discontent with free-market capitalism. That discontent, however, requires more critical vehicles through which to enact greater change if we do intend to solve the problems of capitalism. I conclude that criminologists, social scientists, and journalists have an important role to play—arguably as important as that of industry and policy makers—in transforming anger into meaningful action, in educating the public about and demystifying financial crime, allowing for the possibility of meaningful action to rectify the precipitating causes of crisis, many of which still lie in wait.


1. A. Zibel, “Fannie, Freddie Loans Deemed ‘Safe’ under Mortgage Rules,” Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2011.

2. U.S. Department of the Treasury, “TARP Programs,” 2015,

3. U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Asset Guarantee Program,” 2013,

4. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, Financial Crisis Inquiry Report (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2011), 390–91.

5. “UK Unemployment Climbs to 2.47 M,” BBC News, September 16, 2009.

6. D. Henriques, “New Description on Timing of Madoff’s Confession,” New York Times, January 9, 2009.

7. For much more extended treatments of the case from journalistic perspectives without sensationalism, see E. Arvedlund, Too Good to Be True: The Rise and Fall of Bernie Madoff (New York: Portfolio, 2009); and D. Henriques, The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011).

8. Arvedlund, Too Good to Be True.

9. Madoff would later have a seat on the Hofstra board of trustees, even serving as a Gala Dinner Committee member, although Hofstra never invested with him.

10. J. Cresswell and L. Thomas Jr., “The Talented Mr. Madoff,” New York Times, January 24, 2009.

11. M. de la Merced, “Effort Under Way to Sell Madoff Unit,” New York Times, December 24, 2009.

12. D. Lieberman, P. Gogoi, T. Howard, K. McCoy, and M. Krantz, “Investors Remain Amazed by Madoff’s Sudden Downfall,” USA Today, December 12, 2008.

13. B. Appelbaum and D. Hilzenrath, “SEC Didn’t Act on Madoff Tips,” Washington Post, December 16, 2008. See also A. Lucchetti, K. Scannel, and Amir Efrati, “SEC to Probe Its Ties to Madoffs,” Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2008.

14. Henriques, Wizard of Lies, 96; and Arvedlund, Too Good to Be True, 26–27.

15. Several of his long-standing clients, including businessman Jeffrey Picower, had Madoff accounts with annual rates of return of up to 950 percent. See C. L. Lewis, “How Madoff Did It: Victims’ Accounts,” Society 48 (2011): 70–76.

16. Transcript of United States of America v. Bernard L. Madoff, filed as Case No. 09-cr-213 in U.S. District Court, New York, March 12, 2009.

17. Z. Kouwe, “A Look at Madoff Trading Records,” New York Times, December 15, 2008.

18. A. Berenson, “Even Winners May Lose with Madoff,” New York Times, December 18, 2008.

19. D. Henry and E. Flitter, “Decades-long Ties to Madoff Cost JP Morgan 2.6 Billion,” Reuters, January 7, 2014. See also H. D. Chaitman and L. Gotthoffer’s independently published JP Madoff (2015), which is an excoriating indictment of J. P. Morgan, going into great detail of the bank’s alleged knowledge of Madoff and other improprieties such as the London Whale incident.

20. Former SEC chairman Harvey Pitt is quoted as saying, “There’s no question the amounts are probably north of $10 billion,” but indicated they were probably under the $17 billion estimated by the Madoff trustee. See S. Shamir, “Extent of Madoff Fraud Now Estimated at Far Below $50b,” Haaretz, August 3, 2009.

21. K. McCoy, “Estimate of Madoff Victims Grows,” USA Today, May 14, 2014.

22. B. Ross, The Madoff Chronicles: Inside the Secret World of Bernie and Ruth (New York: Hyperion, 2009), 31.

23. “Manhattan U.S. Attorney Files Additional Charges against Former Employees of Bernard L. Madoff Securities LLC” (press release), Federal Bureau of Investigation, October 1, 2012,

24. Madoff, personal correspondence.

25. Discourse has been defined as “the particular ways of talking about and understanding aspects of the world” by M. Jorgensen and L. Phillips in Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002). At its most basic level, discourse analysis—a method on which this book relies—is the study of language in use (see J. P. Gee, An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method [New York: Routledge, 1999]). In a statement that relates importantly to this book, Gee wrote in a blog post: “Our job, as discourse analysts, is not to judge . . . and not to reach definitive truths. Our job is to deepen the conversations among frameworks.” See Gee, “The Importance of Discourse Analysis,”, accessed August 25, 2016.

26. D. M. Kotz, “Globalization and Neoliberalism,” Rethinking Marxism 12 (2002): 64–79, offers a good summary of neoliberalism’s key ingredients. As an ideology, neoliberalism saw rapid expansion in the 1970s. Among its precepts it holds that laissez-faire, minimally regulated free-market capitalism will swiftly, efficiently, and effectively maximize economic growth and lead to rapid social and technological progress. The role of the state, therefore, should be curtailed and noninterventionist, both in terms of its regulation of business and its provision of social programs and benefits. At the international level, capital, goods, and services should be allowed to flow freely without regard to traditional state boundaries or interference from governments.

27. Social science has long accepted content analysis as a key tool in deciphering social meaning, although over the past one hundred years it has seen variegated definitions. Lasswell, one of its early developers, writes, “Content analysis operates on the view that verbal behavior is a form of human behavior, that the flow of symbols is part of the flow of events, and that the communication process is part of the historical process” (quoted in K. Neuendorf, The Content Analysis Guidebook [Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002]). Krippendorf’s seminal text on the subject presents content analysis as a “research technique for making replicable and valid inferences from text . . . Texts have meaning relative to particular contexts, discourses, or purposes” (K. Krippendorf, Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology [Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2004], 18).

28. S. Will, “America’s Ponzi Culture,” in How They Got Away With It: White Collar Criminals and the Financial Meltdown, ed. S. Will, S. Handelman, and D. Brotherton (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 48.

29. D. Friedrichs, “Enron et al: Paradigmatic White Collar Crime Cases for the New Century,” Critical Criminology 12 (2004): 113–32.

30. See K. Calavita, R. Tillman, and H. Pontell, “The Savings and Loan Debacle, Financial Crime, and the State,” Annual Review of Sociology 23 (1997): 19–38; and the authors’ Big Money Crime: Fraud and Politics in the Savings and Loan Scandal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) for a more extended treatment.

31. P. Grabosky and N. Shover, “Forestalling the Next Epidemic of White-collar Crime,” Criminology and Public Policy 9 (2010): 641–54.

32. Will, Handelman, and Brotherton, How They Got Away With It.

33. J. Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2001).

34. L. Snider, “The Sociology of Corporate Crime: An Obituary,” Theoretical Criminology 4 (2000): 169–206. See also Snider, “The Regulatory Dance: Understanding Reform Processes in Corporate Crime,” International Journal of the Sociology of Law 19 (1991): 209–36.

35. H. Pontell, “White-collar Crime or Just Risky Business? The Role of Fraud in Major Financial Debacle,” Crime, Law and Social Change 42 (2004): 309–24.

36. N. Fligstein and A. Roehrkasse, “The Causes of Fraud in Financial Crises: Evidence from the Mortgage-Backed Securities Industry,” 2015,

37. For example, see E. Sutherland, White Collar Crime (New York: Dryden Press, 1949); and Reiman, Rich Get Richer.

38. R. Ericson, P. Baranek, and J. Chan have made this claim in Representing Order: Crime, Law, and Justice in the Media (Open University Press, 1991).

39. G. Barak, “Media and Crime,” in The Routledge Handbook of Critical Criminology, ed. W. Dekeseredy and M. Dragewicz (London: Routledge, 2012), 373–85. See also G. Barak, ed., Media, Process, and the Social Construction of Crime: Studies in Newsmaking Criminology (New York: Garland, 2004).

40. J. Katz, “What Makes Crime ‘News’?” Media, Culture, and Society 9 (1987): 47–75.

41. L. Chancer, High Profile Crimes: When Legal Cases Become Social Causes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

42. H. Benedict, Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

43. M. Levi, “The Media Construction of Financial White-collar Crimes and Their Relationship to Economic Crises,” Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance 16 (2011): 87–105.

44. E. R. Quinney, “The Study of White Collar Crime: Towards a Reorientation in Theory and Research,” Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Political Science 55 (1964): 11. All emphasis in book is mine unless indicated.

45. K. Holtfreter, S. van Slyke, J. Bratton, and M. Gertz, “Public Perceptions of White-collar Crime and Punishment,” Journal of Criminal Justice 36 (2008): 50–60.

46. G. Geis, White-collar and Corporate Crime (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2007).

47. Wright et al., “The Social Construction of Corporate Violence: Media Coverage of the Imperial Food Products Fire,” Crime and Delinquency 41 (1995): 20–36, is one such example.

48. J. W. Williams, “The Lessons of Enron: Media Accounts, Corporate Crimes, and Financial Markets,” Theoretical Criminology 12 (2008): 471–99.

49. M. Levi, “Social Reactions to White-collar Crimes and Their Relationship to Economic Crises,” Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance 16 (2011): 87–105.

50. M. Levi, “The Media Construction of Financial White-collar Crimes,” British Journal of Criminology 46 (2006): 1037–57. See also his “White-collar, Organized and Cyber Crimes in the Media: Some Contrasts and Similarities,” Crime, Law and Social Change 49 (2008): 365–77; and “Suite Revenge?” British Journal of Criminology 49 (2009): 48–67.

51. J. L. Yang, “Here’s an Unlikely Bestseller: A 700-page Book on 21st Century Economics,” Washington Post, April 22, 2014.