The Wall Street Sorry Scale: From Repentance to Nonapologies

In this week’s Observer, I wrote about Wall Street’s recent history of explicit repentance, mild semi-regret, and utter nonapologies. There has been a little bit of the first and a good amount of the third, but when Wall Street talks about what went so calamitously wrong in September 2008, the answers are usually in the middle. They’re often along the line of what S&P spokesperson Ed Sweeney told me: “We’ve said repeatedly that we are disappointed in our performance,” but “I’ve never used the word ‘mistake.'”

Wall Street tends not to blame Wall Street. “The basic fundamental problem occurred at the kitchen table, where the borrower got a mortgage that they couldn’t afford to repay. So if you’re fixing the system,” the banking lobbyist Scott Talbott added, “you’ve got to focus on the kitchen table.”

As September 2008’s crisis drifts off into the past and financial reform pulls closer, what will it sound like when Wall Street talks about its roll in the historic calamity? Beyond apologizing or not apologizing, how will executives describe what went wrong, why the system got so bad, and how it’s going to change?

SLIDESHOW: What they’ve said so far >

The Wall Street Sorry Scale: From Repentance to Nonapologies