The Phil hearings could use more focus (and maybe a midget)

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I just did an interview on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that will air on public radio’s Here and Now today a bit after noon Eastern time (or whenever your local station happens to carry it). As I prepared for it, I found myself paying less attention to this week’s hearings than to the transcripts of the 1912/1913 Pujo hearings and 1932/1933/1934 Pecora hearings that the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is nice enough to host on its Website.

Those hearings were each characterized by sustained, focused, in some cases prosecutorial questioning of witnesses by an experienced trial lawyer hired on expressly for that purpose (Samuel Untermyer in the Pujo hearings, Ferdinand Pecora in the Pecora hearings). And while I generally liked the parts of this week’s FCIC hearings that I saw, they didn’t have anything like that kind of relentlessness to them. They were more of a dabble. Which maybe makes sense in the first few days of hearings. But FCIC Chairman Phil Angelides really needs to find a way to move away from the dabbling if his commission is going to have an impact.The FCIC has also not seen any dramatic appearances by circus performers. Yet. Here’s the account from the June 12, 1933 edition of TIME the single most famous moment of the Pecora hearings, when a midget sat on J.P. Morgan Jr.’s lap:

One day while the committee was holding an executive session in another room, a female midget, Lya Graf of Ringling Bros. Circus, wriggled through the waiting crowd and headed straight for Banker Morgan. Leading the 21-in., 22-lb. creature in her gaudy blue satin dress was Charles Leef, assistant to famed Press-agent Dexter Fellows. “Gangway!” Leef cried. “The smallest lady in the world wants to meet the richest man in the world.” Before Banker Morgan knew it, Leef had plunked Lya Graf down on his lap. Newscameras went into frantic action. The spectators roared with amazed amusement. Banker Morgan grinned diffidently as he went through the act.

Morgan: Why, I’ve got a grandson bigger than you.

Midget: But I’m older.

Morgan: How old are you?

Midget: Twenty.

Pressagent: She’s 32. Midget: I’m only 20.

Morgan: Well, you certainly don’t look it. Where do you live?

Midget: In a tent. sir.

Lya Graf slid off the banker’s knee. Pressagent Leef plunked her back again as the photographers yammered for more. “Lya, take off your hat,” he commanded. She did not want to. Mr. Morgan backed her up: “No, don’t take it off. I think it’s pretty.”