Monday 12 March 2012

Citibank and the big airbrushing of history

The brilliant Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk suggested a few months ago that the banks were the ‘Dictators of the West’ – the parallels of the tyrants of the Arab world who are being turned out one by one.

That sounded like a clever soundbite at the time. But that was before I came across the new Citibank timeline published with their new app, which sets out the key dates in the bank’s 200 year history. Under 2008 – the year of their near bankruptcy and $45 billion bailout – they put “launches mobile phone banking service”.

There is not just a hint there of Dictators of the West, there is a strong memory of Soviet-style airbrushing of photographs and the manipulation of history.

Inspired by this, Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review has written a better timeline of Citigroup that sets out the whole sorry history a little more clearly. It is worth a read.

It is also perhaps worth comparing with my own alternative history of Barclays, published in my joint book with Andrew Simms, Eminent Corporations.

None of this would come as a surprise to Fisk, who was making a sophisticated parallel between the Arab uprisings against fake democracy and our own failures to take on our own dictators.

“The Arabs have at least begun to shrug off this nonsense. But when the Wall Street protesters do the same, they become ‘anarchists’, the social "terrorists" of American streets who dare to demand that the Bernankes and Geithners should face the same kind of trial as Hosni Mubarak. We in the West – our governments – have created our dictators. But, unlike the Arabs, we can't touch them.”

We can start by getting the history correct.

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