Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out to get you. So just because Alex Gibney is a propagandist for his point of view rather than a documentarian doesn’t mean that his point of view is always so biased that it is going to be wrong (as it was in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Casino Jack and the United States of Money). In fact, this film about Eliot Spitzer, who was forced to resign his position as governor of New York because of a sex scandal, is enlightening. Rather than attacking Spitzer, it is exceptionally sympathetic toward a man who made his name as a crusading attorney general, going after avaricious Captains of Industry, like Hank Greenberg of AIR and Ken Langone of Home Depot. These two guys had so much hubris (of which they condemned Spitzer) that they consented to sit for interviews with Gibney. They didn’t realize what Gibney could do to them. He takes their interviews and makes them look like fat, bloated, craven devils.
Gibney paints a lot of people as bad guys here. Well, everyone but Spitzer. For the record, and not mentioned in the movie, Spitzer is a down-the-line liberal, a guy born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Educated at the best schools, his father, Bernard, a real estate developer, is worth an estimated $500 million, and backed his son’s political career 100 percent.
As attorney general, Spitzer went after many people who lined their own pockets. One of the people he mentions is Sandy Weill, a man I came to loathe for the way he managed his corporate empire to line his own pockets. According to the film, Weill rewarded Jack Grubman, an analyst who worked for Weill’s Salomon Smith Barney. Grubman pumped up AT&T stock in return for which Weill got Grubman’s twins into an exclusive pre school. According to Gibney, Grubman was paid $20 million a year for this and other favors he did for Weill. Of course millions of investors lost lots of money due to the way Grubman pumped up stocks that weren’t worth what he said they were. He met his corporate demise when he pumped up the stock of WorldCom just before it declared bankruptcy. According to the film, Salomon Smith Barney paid Grubman $30 million for his silence.
Ken Langone is another guy Spitzer went after and who developed a vendetta to bury Spitzer. Gibney hangs Langone with his own rope. His interviews capture him as a merciless autocrat. Langone, who founded Home Depot, approved a hugely controversial separation package for Dick Grasso, who was the head of the “not for profit” New York Stock Exchange, of $140 million, an amount that outraged lots of people on and off Wall Street. Langone said he felt that Grasso was worth “every penny.”
Another of Gibney’s hapless victims is AIG head Hank Greenberg, who built AIG into a company worth $157 billion. He’s quoted as saying, “All I want is an unfair advantage.” How could guys so good at getting so much of other people’s money be so gullible as to be interviewed by a sharpie like Gibney?
Spitzer was way ahead of the curve in going after these avaricious megalomaniacs. But he made lots of powerful enemies; enough to persuade U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael Garcia, to take Spitzer off the investigation of Hank Greenberg. Showing hubris of his own, Garcia then led the prosecution that resulted in Spitzer’s downfall after Greenberg and Langone hired private investigators to investigate Spitzer.
There’s a lot more to this film than what meets the eye. For instance, Ashley Dupree, the girl most often mentioned as Spitzer’s main call girl, had only one date with Spitzer, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. He did have a regular prostitute, but she declined to appear on film, allowing an actress to appear and mouth her lines.
The film does touch on the dichotomy between Spitzer being forced to resign his governorship for using a prostitute when Bill Clinton got a pass for all his sexual shenanigans, only one of which was having oral sex in the Oval Office.
Spitzer is still a devoted left-winger, and has been rewarded by CNN with his own talk show. But he was on the right track when he went after Wall Street, and this film shows it.