Byron, longtime investigative business journalist, has died
Christopher Byron, a prize-winning business journalist and New York Times best-selling author, died Saturday night. He was 72.
From 1995 to 2000, his “Back of the Envelope” column in the New York Observer exposed the swindlers and con artists from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. He then wrote a weekly column for Bloomberg News and a column for the New York Post, and he wrote for TheStreet.com, all about similar subjects.
Byron wrote “The Bottom Line” column for New York magazine from 1989 to 1994 for which he was nominated for a National Magazine Award.
In Howard Kurtz‘s “The Fortune Tellers,” Byron was described as someone who “openly disdains the stock market, the financial establishment, and much of the business press, and castigates them in his weekly column. He openly takes on the biggest names in Corporate America.”
“One of his lasting contributions to journalism was using a direct, engaging narrative style to illustrate one of the more complex topics in business journalism: how self-serving management, analysts and other ‘insiders’ frequently abused the public’s trust and capital,” said Roddy Boyd, head of the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, where Byron was on the board.
His articles exposed penny-stock pumpers from the ’80s to the dubious prospects of Ron Perelman’s Drexel Burnham Lambert-backed junk bond empire at Revlon Inc. For his efforts, he was a frequent recipient of legal threats from subjects of his stories.
On a few occasions, the harassment went farther, as he was one of the initial victims of what would be known as “pre-texting,” when a company used private-investigators to obtain his phone records in the hopes of sussing out his sources. The blame-shifting backfired, and Byron was asked to testify about the issue in front of Congress, as he would also do when it came to the many conflicts of interest investment-bank research analysts hadn’t disclosed to investors.
In addition to news and magazine reporting, Byron published books, including “The Fanciest Dive,” the critically acclaimed study of corporate management. His book on personal investing in the age of the Internet, “DeleteYour Broker.Com: Using the Internet To Beat The Pros On Wall Street” was published by Simon & Schuster in 2001.
One of his books — “Martha Inc.: The Story of Martha Stewart” — was instrumental in Martha Stewart’s fall from grace. He also wrote, “Skin Tight: The Bizarre Story of Guess vs. Jordache” and “Testosterone Inc.: Tales of CEOs Gone Wild.” His first book was “The Fanciest Dive: What Happened When the Giant Media Empire of Time/Life Leaped Without Looking into the Age of High-Tech.”
“Chris gave us the roadmap for reporting on sleazy operators at public companies big and small who were hurting the public,” said Susan Antilla, a business journalist and friend. “He put up with years of threats and bullying by some of his story subjects and patiently waited for law enforcement officials to bone up on the cases he’d cracked open years before.
“I’ll miss my dear friend,” added Antilla. “If I was stumped on how to pursue a story, he’d be on the other end of the phone in an instant. He generously took time to speak to my classes at NYU and Fairfield University and was a hit with young people who appreciated his humor and his doggedness.”
Byron’s career in business journalism spanned over 40 years, including editor positions at both Time and Forbes and contributing editor for publications such as Esquire, Playboy, Men’s Health, and Worth. After covering Wall Street for Time, he was sent to Europe where he interviewed Austria’s prime minister, lived across from Princess Margaret, hid his family from dangerous gunmen and unknowingly (at the time) saw the start of the Yom Kippur War.
Byron appeared on such programs as NBC’s “Today” show, “The McLaughlin Report” and Larry King.
He graduated from Yale University in American Studies in 1968.