Since their appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday, Ruth and Andrew Madoff, wife and son of Ponzi fraudster Bernie, seem to have got what they originally wanted: a whole lot of media attention for their new, tell-all book. Because what they haven’t got, despite their sad TV faces, is anyone’s sympathy. By KEVIN BLOOM.
“Your mother, what was her reaction?” Morley Safer asks. The camera pans onto the face of Andrew Madoff, who takes a breath, and through his expression gives – or attempts to give – the millions of viewers an insight into his pain. “She, uh, she looked shocked. She asked, what’s a Ponzi scheme? It was her first question, she didn’t even understand that. I think it was me that answered, and said that it means that it’s all fake.”
Not, mind you, it means that he’s stolen billions of dollars and ruined hundreds of lives, but “it means that it’s all fake.” And there the only surviving son of Bernard L. Madoff, who’s currently serving 150 years for 11 federal felonies, reveals what must have been his own initial reaction to the news of his father’s crimes: dad’s going to lose it all; the mansions, the jets, the yachts, everything.
Why, if they did not intend to get down on their knees and beg forgiveness of the victims – and perhaps promise to do everything in their power to assist or compensate the poorest of them – did Ruth and Andrew Madoff agree to appear on CBS’s 60 Minutes? Why did they break their silence after almost three years of declining requests for interviews?
Well, for a book. Called Truth and Consequences and released on 31 October, it details, according to the publisher, the “heroism” of the brothers for handing their father over to the FBI. “Instead of being hailed as heroes, the brothers were quickly vilified, along with their mother, as knowing accomplices in their father’s scheme,” a press release received by the Daily Beast reads. “Now for the first time, with candor and courage, Ruth, Andrew, and Andrew’s fiancée, Catherine Hooper, tell their harrowing story.”
Yup, heroism and courage and harrowing stories. As the Daily Beast notes below the extract from the press release, all profits from the book will go to Hooper – because Andrew lies firmly in the sights of a bankruptcy trustee who is working to secure compensation for investors in the Ponzi scheme. And the other little problem these brave souls are facing is competition from within their own ranks, in the form of a book called The End of Normal, released on 20 October. Written by Stephanie Madoff Mack, the widow of Mark – who committed suicide last year – this one is punted as “an explosive, heartbreaking memoir”.
Still, with Madoff Mack, who has been garnering good reviews for The End of Normal, it appears that cynicism is the far less appropriate response. Interviewed by Anderson Cooper on Wednesday 2 November, she had the following to say about Ruth’s 60 Minutes revelations that the elder Madoff couple had attempted suicide shortly after the charges were filed: “She sort of causally talks about it and then chuckles. I don’t think that’s a way you talk about suicide or an attempt at suicide. It’s not a laughing matter. It’s what killed my husband.”
Cooper also noted that during Ruth’s interview with Safer, she spoke of Bernie’s extramarital affair as “the worst thing that ever happened” to her – not Mark, her son, taking his own life. “I found that stunning,” said Cooper. “I do, too,” Madoff Mack responded. “I’m a mother. I can’t even imagine the pain Ruth must feel about losing a son, but to say that the affair was worse? It doesn’t make sense to me. She doesn’t make sense to me.”
Neither, apparently, does she make sense to millions of Americans. By all accounts, the reactions to Ruth’s confessional on 60 Minutes have been unsympathetic. While the mainstream media seems to have bought Ruth and Andrew’s insistence that they were unaware of Bernie’s fraud all along, commentators have been arguing that that’s beside the point. Arguably the most strident of these commentators has been Michael Daly of the Daily Beast, who offers this astute observation: “Andrew and his ill-fated brother missed a chance at redemption that would have been far more cleansing than turning in their dad if they had decided early on just to start over. They could have announced that they could not in good conscience keep stolen money even if they had not known it was stolen. They would have made themselves broke, but on the way to healing if they had then voluntarily turned over the millions to the victims.”
They didn’t, of course, and while Mark hung himself by a dog leash, three years later Andrew is doing all he can to keep his still considerable fortune out of the hands of the bankruptcy trustee. And while the book is destined to sell extremely well – this, after all, is the inside story on the biggest Ponzi fraud of all time – no sad faces on TV are going to make anyone feel a whole lot of pity.
“That’s because,” as Meghan Daum puts it in the LA Times, “the Madoffs’ disgrace isn’t your everyday variety. It’s a symbol of the disgrace of something much larger than them or even Bernard’s towering crime: the whole banking industry, the government that enabled it and a lot of other practitioners of ‘irrational exuberance.’ The Madoffs are absorbing the hatred not just of those who were defrauded by Bernie but the resentment of a nation that feels defrauded by schemers that are not as easily rounded up and placed in the public stockade.” DM
Photo: Accused swindler Bernard Madoff exits the Manhattan federal court house in New York January 14, 2009. REUTERS
Some firing squads are all issued with blank cartridges with the exception of one person. This helps alleviate personal responsibility for the execution squad.