They say ”journalism is the first rough draft of history.” Our guest today Jesse Eisinger’s rough drafts – the news stories he’s written for the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, and now ProPublica – have won him a Pulitzer Prize among other major awards.
In his new book, The Chickenshit Club, he spreads his stories out, looks at them in comparison and context, and turns them into a history.
A history of what, you ask? Many things, but a lot of them are wrapped up in this one sentence from early in the book.
“Since the early 2000s,” Eisinger writes, ‘Big Law corporatized white collar defense, working more often in symbiosis with prosecutors rather than as adversaries.”
The Chickenshit Club is the history of the last 20 years during which the economy of the legal profession has been transformed. Where once there were brilliant practitioners, or synergetic legal teams of a few personally-connected partners, there are now corporation-sized law firms built to serve extra-large size corporate clients.
The Chickenshit Club is also the history of how Big Law has legally transformed corporate lying, cheating and stealing from a cycle of white collar crime and punishment to white collar crime and a slight increase in the cost of doing business.
This perversion of justice could not have been achieved by the mega-lawyers alone. They needed a lot of help from judges, and politicians, and prosecutors. The Chickenshit Club is also the history of how many of those folks have come to see themselves as part of a club of past, present or future legal colleagues. This unholy alliance is part of the answer to The Chickenshit Club’s subtitle: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.
Jesse Eisinger is a senior reporter and editor at ProPublica. He is the author of the “The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives.”
In April 2011, he and a colleague won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for a series of stories on questionable Wall Street practices that helped make the financial crisis the worst since the Great Depression. He won the 2015 Gerald Loeb Award for commentary. He has also twice been a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
He was a regular columnist for The New York Times’s Dealbook section. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The NewYorker.com, The Washington Post, The Baffler, The American Prospect and on NPR and “This American Life.” Before joining ProPublica, he was the Wall Street Editor of Conde Nast Portfolio and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, covering markets and finance.
He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the journalist Sarah Ellison, and their daughters.