I felt compelled to repost the following comment made on a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, “Quattrone Revisits ‘Friends’,” posted on September 12, 2011. When journalists make a concerted effort to combine editorial with online advertising, purely to sell a copies of an out-of-date book, it fosters biased media leading to potential falsehoods and misinformation. It negatively impacts both the implicated and those who work so hard to bring us — the people — authentic and genuine news.
Columbo, or Inspector Clouseau?
WSJ sleuth Randall Smith had “big news” to share recently about Frank Quattrone. An analysis of the hundreds of executives and directors of Qatalyst’s 24 clients to date revealed quite a correlation: three people — or about 1% — formerly had brokerage accounts at Mr. Quattrone’s former employer, CSFB, over a decade ago where they were able to purchase, among other things, IPO shares. “Aha!” Inspector Smith barks, “A conflict!”
Seriously? In addition to the non sequitur nature of this “correlation,” Smith didn’t even bother to investigate how many of these hundreds also had similar brokerage accounts at Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, or other Qatalyst competitors years ago, and not surprisingly, could not find any who chose Qatalyst for recent M&A work due to the ancient CSFB brokerage accounts.
But the lack of any statistical significance or relevance did not stop Mr. Smith from using considerable real estate in the WSJ’s news pages — half of his story — to repeat the false accusations against Mr. Quattrone that were long ago dismissed or withdrawn. Now, here is the real “Aha!” These same false and dismissed accusations take center stage in Mr. Smith’s unauthorized biography of Mr. Quattrone. And, on the same days that two of his recent articles appeared at the top of web search results for “Frank Quattrone,” an ad for his book about Mr. Quattrone appeared directly adjacent to them.
The WSJ is turning a blind eye to its own serious and direct conflict of interest. How can it ethically permit Mr. Smith to continue to cover Mr. Quattrone in its news pages without disclosing that Mr. Smith’s reporting could be negatively biased due to the economic interest he has in generating controversial coverage that helps sell his book? The article at the top of the search results, and the ad just across from it, represent a picture that’s worth a thousand words.