So much ink has been spilled already over investor Bernard Madoff’s multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme — the largest stock fraud in history — that it’s perhaps time for a sober, streamlined look at what “Frontline” calls “The Madoff Affair.” The modest breakthroughs include an exclusive interview with a former Madoff accountant, but the real service here simply involves meticulously laying out the magnitude, structure and collateral damage of Madoff’s crimes.
To anyone who has followed the story, much of this PBS documentary will be familiar. Still, how Madoff perpetrated his theft — insulating himself from clients with the help of financiers who served as a conduit to moneyed constituencies, including Hollywood — remains a cautionary tale of greed gone terribly wrong.
In addition, writer-producers Martin Smith and Marcela Gaviria detail the TV-movie-worthy tale of Harry Markopolos, whose repeated efforts to alert the Securities and Exchange Commission and news outlets to Madoff’s misdeeds went unheeded. As Markopolos testified, fund managers were “willfully blind,” paid “to look the other way.”
As investor Burt Ross notes, the irony is that Madoff could have escaped detection considerably longer, having been exposed primarily because “at one given point in time, the economy did so badly that people wanted — needed — to get money out of Madoff’s investments.”
Madoff faces sentencing in June, and in that respect, “The Madoff Affair” qualifies as a rare foray by “Frontline” into feel-good TV. Because after watching this, it will be hard not to crack a great big smile when they finally throw the book at him.