Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lewis and Einhorn. [bumped]

There's been a lot written about Michael Lewis and David Einhorn's pair of pieces in The New York Times. The praise is deserved; their work is excellent.

My problem is on a more meta, ethical level, deriving entirely from this note:

Michael Lewis, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of “Liar’s Poker,” is writing a book about the collapse of Wall Street. David Einhorn is the president of Greenlight Capital, a hedge fund, and the author of “Fooling Some of the People All of the Time.” Investment accounts managed by Greenlight may have a position (long or short) in the securities discussed in this article.

To be blunt, the split byline makes me queasy. Reasons are two:

1) What exactly did Einhorn bring to the project? This is important because, to my knowledge, Lewis -- arguably the most beloved financial journalist in America -- doesn't often collaborate and, frankly, it's difficult to see why he did so here. It's not as if Einhorn is explicitly offering thoughts on short-selling.

2) More bothersome is how this makes Lewis look. 20 years' worth of writing on the financial services industry reveals Lewis to be nothing less than scrupulously honest. When he reaches prescriptive conclusions, we assume it's done after much thought, research and a weighing of all sides of the given issue -- and that, ultimately, Lewis's views are his own. (He's earned this assumption largely because we know he's knowledgeable.)

This is different. He has now publicly attached himself to a major player in an industry he covers -- a pretty significant line to cross. Can we expect a similar collaboration with, say, John Meriwether?

...CJR's Ryan Chittum responds here.

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