The Goldman Sachs Hearings on Capitol Hill
8:30 a.m. Arrived early for a 10:00 hearing. There are already 15 or 20 photographers and a slew of writers and TV already in the room. Thankfully it is a bigger room than the one that held the Toyota hearings a few months back. First thing is to get laptop space set up and stake out a spot in front of the table for the first images if the witnesses as they arrive and settle in.
9:00 a.m. The waiting begins as photographers mingle and make small talk. I make a few images of the stack of exhibits before they are passed out to the Senator’s positions. There is a lot of talk about how this is going to be a long day. There are 3 panels of witnesses. The first has 4 executives that either work for or did work for Goldman Sachs, including whiz kid Fabrice Tourre who, as Dana Milbank of The Post says, “is fast becoming the poster boy of the financial crisis, a Michael Milken for the current times.” The SEC recently filed fraud charges against Goldman Sachs and the 31-year-old Frenchman who calls himself Fabulous Fab. The second panel has the CFO and the Chief Risk Officer. The final panel has the money shot: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.
9:45 a.m. I am in the middle of 30 or so photographers waiting for the first panel to arrive. I ask Melina Mara from The Washington Post if she thinks this initial scrum is worth it. Does anyone ever get a great photo from this ritual? She says it is normally hit or miss. You just have to be ready in case something happens. What that is, I am not sure.
9:50 a.m. I am feeling impatient and unconvinced. Besides, everyone will have whatever shot I get just from a different angle. So I decide to take the advice of many a great old photographer. “If all the photographers are in one place, go someplace else.” It also dawned on me that we, the photographers, were the picture. If this was the CEO I might feel differently, but this was a panel of 4 executives that either work or did work for Goldman Sachs. I extracted myself from the crowd to look for a better vantage point of the whole scene.
As I got out of the crowd, I noticed that 4 protesters had shown up at the back of the hearing room dressed in convict clothes and carrying signs. I moved in and was one of only about 3 or 4 of the group that did since the rest did not want to lose their positions at the table. Already I have a photo that most who are there do not. Cool.
10:00 a.m. The first panel arrives and I get the shots of the mass of photographers enveloping the 4 witnesses.
10:02 a.m. The gavel falls and we take our places for the opening statements by the committee chair and the swearing in of the panel.
10:46 a.m. Now, just to give an idea of how long this could go, we finally get past opening statements from the Senators and we are to the swearing in of the first panel. Of course I spent most of this time working up the first photos and transmitting to both ZUMA Press and my Photoshelter archive. One of the things I like most about Adobe Lightroom is that I can do two different exports at the same time and then do two uploads at the same time from Lightroom while I walk away and return to shooting.
I shoot the swearing in and return to the workspace to transmit that photo.
11:00 a.m. – 3:25 p.m. Yes you are reading that correctly. FOUR AND A HALF HOURS of questions and not too many answers from the FIRST PANEL! That is over four hours of shooting. I am trying hard to anticipate good reaction or facial expressions. I shoot for a while and then transmit. Then back to shooting.
We get to move around a bit during the testimony, which is good. It gives the opportunity to try for unique (as they can be) angles and work to clean up backgrounds.
The problem is that as tedious as this can be, you hate to leave since you never know when there may be a heated exchange between a frustrated Senator and a witness who is tip-toeing around a question. Which happened almost every 5 minutes with the first panel.
There were times when I was sure that Senator Levin was going to blow a gasket. It was particularly fun to hear the Senator use the word “shit” so many times in a hearing. He was quoting the Goldman Sachs email transcripts that said things like: “Look what your sales team was saying about Timberwolf: ‘Boy, that Timberwolf was one shitty deal,’ ” Levin quoted. “They sold that shitty deal. . . . How much of that shitty deal did you sell to your clients?”
3:25 p.m. As I said, you hate to leave, but at about 3:10 I needed food. So I took a quick break for lunch and of course when I returned I found that the first panel was done and I was about to miss the swearing in of the second panel. I managed to make a quick frame or two from behind the two witnesses as they gave their “I dos.”
This panel was not very exciting, but it did go by faster. It was becoming obvious that the Senators were getting more and more frustrated by the semantics and the non-answers as well as the answers they did get from the witnesses. The day was getting longer and longer and we still had the main event to come. The Goldman CEO.
There was a short recess in the action when the Senators needed to leave for a vote on the Senate Floor. This provided another opportunity to get something a bit different. The Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, David Viniar, was consulting with his legal team and the protesters came up as close as they could from the back of the room and filled in the background for a good frame.
5:00 p.m. As the session with the second panel was winding down, the Goldman Sachs’ CEO enters the hearing room with his entourage. Of course the photographers want to get photos of him but it was a bit surreal in a way since the hearing was still going on and all the photographers just herded over to where he was sitting. The Senators never missed a beat, and kept on asking questions through what was obviously a bit of a distraction.
5:17 p.m. The main event has arrived. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is sworn in and begins to answer questions.
5:17 – 6:15 p.m. I shoot the CEO for about an hour. I have had enough. All I hear over and over all day is “selling short,” “being short,” “being long,” “selling long,” long and short, short and long. Between that and the “please stand clear of the doors,” and “the doors are closing” mantra on the metro, I may never sleep again.
All I know from the day is this… The long of it was the day. Long and tedious but very interesting. It is always fascinating to sit through Congressional hearings. It is most often a learning experience.
That happened today. I learned about the short. The short of it is that the Wall Street types who work at Goldman Sachs and all the other high-end investment firms are all smarter than the average person. Way smarter. Smarter than the Senators who had a surprisingly good grasp of the concepts behind the financial markets.
The problem is that Wall Street types know that they are smarter. And because of that fact they feel they can get away with what they had for so long. They are smart enough to know that we will not notice and if we do, we won’t understand it anyway.