Palm Beach News

Cliffs Notes Version of Vanity Fair Madoff Piece

It was only a matter of time (seven months, apparently) before Vanity Fair called in its high-society contacts to offer the authoritative account of what Bernard Madoff did to its advertisers, subscribers, and the tradition of American royalty that its pages celebrate each month. Of course, that's not quite the phrasing that the magazine itself chooses.

The story, which can be found here, comes in at nearly 13,000 words -- roughly three times the size of a New Times feature article, to give one reference point. Magazine-writing of that length is an anachronism in this media era. This being a South Florida blog, I'll attempt a single sentence that strings together the metaphors used to describe Madoff's catastrophic impact in Palm Beach. Here goes:

Madoff is like "Hitler" driving the "Titanic" who would "rape" his passengers in the middle of a "hurricane" that is a "curse of biblical proportions."

After the jump, let's consider whether the magazine's credulous, sympathetic treatment of Palm Beachers Carl Shapiro and Robert Jaffe is warranted.

In a word, nope. Not when it's clear Madoff could not have possibly done this alone. And not while Shapiro and Jaffe are being investigated by federal authorities for being accomplices in Madoff's fraud, a detail the article did not seem inclined to mention.

Shapiro refused to take questions from Vanity Fair. The 96-year-old seems to prefer the soliloquy that the Palm Beach Daily News gave him, from which the article quotes liberally.

At the very least, we know that before Madoff's fall, Shapiro and Jaffe profited immensely from referring investors to the fraudster. Even if one believes their claims to have been tricked by Madoff, they shouldn't have been. And whatever personal losses they may have sustained must be compared against the gains they made. Shapiro and his son-in-law shouldn't have vouched for Madoff unless they knew exactly how he'd delivered such wondrous investment returns.

Against a backdrop of $50 billion in investor losses, it's a sick joke to let these fellows mourn the loss of their sterling reputations or the necessity of canceling a lavish engagement party. That Shapiro and Jaffe would have the nerve to offer these absurdly petty tales of woe suggests that even post-Madoff, they still lack an appreciation for what real tragedy feels like.

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Thomas Francis