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Bethany McLean: your benefit of the doubt is hereby revoked


There’s no sense denying it: reporters depend on sources, and in the mind  of most business journalists, a connected hedge fund manager will always prove a more valuable source than even the CEO of a public company.

Hence, as I’ve reminded my fellow market reformers time and time again, it is not necessarily a sign of corruption that some business journalists — Bethany McLean included — regularly toe the hedge fund line.

However, as I’ve very recently learned — at least in the case of Bethany McLean — I was wrong.

What changed my mind?

Christmas.

Rather, the early Christmas that arrived for me in the form of about 1,000 pages of discovery just unsealed in the Fairfax Financial (NYSE:FFH) vs. SAC Capital, et al, lawsuit, in which Fairfax claims a conspiracy (or “Enterprise” as it is termed in the suit) involving multiple short-selling hedge funds, financial analysts and business journalists intent on destroying the company for monetary gain.

Included in this mass of documents are hundreds of emails and instant message transcripts between hedge fund managers, their operatives and such “journalists” as Bethany McLean, Herb Greenberg, and Roddy Boyd.

Almost without exception, each of these is immensely useful in understanding how these folks all relate to each other. But among them all, the most revealing — to say nothing of damning — are those between Bethany McLean, then of Fortune, and the upstanding folks at hedge fund Copper River Management.

The emails appear below in blue, with my comments in black.

Sent: Thursday, December 7, 2006 3:21:12 PM
To: Bethany McLean
Subject: ffh

FFH is the Canadian Enron and it could even be worse…We are sending you stufff.. I suggest since [Copper River employee and former SEC attorney Richard] Sauer is on the East Coast (for now) that you 2 meet, and soon… there is an “enterprise” here and he can lay it out clear as day.

It bears noting that, according to filings in the Fairfax suit, the various participants in the attack on Fairfax stock referred to their effort collectively as “the Enterprise”. Whether or not this is what is being alluded to when using the term — which might not otherwise belong within quote marks in this context — is not clear, but certainly suggestive.

From: Bethany McLean
Sent: Thursday, December 7, 2006 3:48:43 PM
Subject: Re: ffh

Makes sense. Send me whatever you can think of – the more documents the better!

Without receiving a bit of proof to back his Enron/Fairfax comparison, McLean finds it “makes sense” and commits to move ahead.

Sent: Thursday, December 7, 2006 3:51:37 PM
To: Bethany McLean
Subject: Re: ffh

don’t you worry…where do you want the stuff fed-exed to… I would set up a time for Sauer to come and see ya.. His code name is “Lavaman”…

This exchange is then forwarded to employee  Rick Sauer, who schedules a meeting between himself and an unusually eager McLean, set for one week thence.

The outcome of that process was McLean’s scathing March 6, 2007 Fortune piece: The inside story of a Wall Street battle royal.

How can I be certain that this particular story was the direct result of these efforts? The answer to that question is where the situation becomes particularly disturbing…sufficient to leave me feeling physically ill, and prepared to officially add Bethany McLean to the short but distinguished list of truly captured and corrupt journalists.

Sent: Wednesday, March 21, 2007 9:51 AM
To: Bethany McLean
Subject: ffh

you hear anything there??? the stock is up 45 points since your piece and I dont understand it…

Of note: on March 5, 2007 FFH closed at $190.09, and on March 21, 2007, FFH closed at $234.53, a difference of $44.43.

From: Bethany McLean
Sent: Wednesday, March 21, 2007 11:51:57 AM
Subject: Re: ffh

I’m getting the same question from other people. No, I don’t have a clue. I’m worried they’ve gotten the SEC or the Southern District to take them seriously – the Spyro [Contogouris] stuff makes you realize anything is possible – and they’re leaking the news to shareholders ahead of time. What do you think?

A day later, McLean receives email with nothing more than a cell phone number.

Sent: Thursday, March 22, 2007 5:12 PM
To: Bethany McLean
Subject: Re: ffh

415-350-****

Based on McLean’s reply, we can presume she followed this tacit demand, and that the conversation was less than pleasant.

From: Bethany McLean
Sent: Thursday, March 22, 2007 6:12:48 PM
Subject: Re: ffh

Sorry to be a little bad-tempered. This FFH story almost killed me, so I hate hearing that it was pointless. Maybe it’ll be a long, slow thing..

I suspect the emails you’ve just read are the real reason Bethany McLean made a sudden departure from the world of business journalism earlier this year.

As for me, it’s been nearly 24 hours since I first encountered this exchange, and yet I still cannot read it without feeling like I’ve just taken a blow to the solar plexus.

Seeing proof that both a hedge fund manager and an ostensibly reputable business writer viewed the sacred institution of journalism as a means of wrecking a company, and that they both also felt disappointment when their efforts proved insufficient, with the “journalist” finding solace in the prospect that the company’s eventual destruction might simply be a “long, slow thing” literally leaves me breathless.

Stay tuned for still more of the explosive revelations found within the reams and reams of discovery in this case.

If this article concerns you, and you wish to help, then:

1) email it to a dozen friends;

2) go here for additional suggestions: “So You Say You Want a Revolution?

Posted in Journalists Tried to Be Players But Became Pawns, The Deep Capture CampaignComments (56)

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