Episode Information

FRONTLINE: Breaking the Bank

In this episode:

Bank of America and the Government’s New Role in the Banking System



Breaking the Bank

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Ken Lewis, the CEO of Bank of America, is in trouble — a stock collapse; a rocky merger; the worst fourth-quarter losses in at least 17 years; a stockholder revolt; an urgent need to raise more capital despite a $45 billion infusion from the federal government. On top of that, he effectively has a new boss: President Barack Obama.

In FRONTLINE “Breaking the Bank producer Michael Kirk (“Inside the Meltdown,” “Bush’s War”) draws on a rare combination of high-profile interviews with key players Lewis and former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain to reveal the story of two banks at the heart of the financial crisis, the rocky merger and the government’s new role in taking over — some call it “nationalizing” — the American banking system.

It all began on that fateful weekend in September 2008 when the American economy was on the verge of melting down. Then-Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, his former protégé Thain and Lewis, one of the most powerful bankers in the country, secretly cut a deal to merge Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.

The merger was supposed to help save the American financial system by preventing the imminent Lehman Brothers bankruptcy from setting off a destructive chain reaction, but it became immediately clear that it had not worked. Within days, the entire global financial system was collapsing. Learn more...

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