The Deal executive editor Yvette Kantrow writes about how some business journalists such as Fortune managing editor Andy Serwer are dealing with writing fawning stories about Lehman Brothers in recent years now that the investment bank has troubles.
Kantrow writes, “Part of ‘Fuld’s magic,’ Serwer explained, was ‘to ignore doomsday predictions that Lehman was too focused on bonds.’ Now we don’t point this out to engage in gotcha. After all, in 2006, Fuld was on the right side of a wave; today he’s clearly on the wrong side. And we can’t expect Serwer or any other journalist to be any better than anyone else, including Fuld, at predicting when that wave will turn.
“But why not fess up? Blogs allow journalists to talk directly to readers in unstructured ways. Why couldn’t Serwer say in his blog, ‘A couple of years ago, I wrote something of a valentine to Fuld; now he’s disappointed me.’ Instead, Serwer engages in the kind of revisionist history the media so often resorts to when covering the ups and downs of Wall Street titans. (Another example: Stan O’Neal’s transformation from turnaround genius to mean-spirited dunce.) ‘As far as where Lehman stands today, if it isn’t Dick Fuld’s fault, whose is it?’ Serwer wonders.
“Fortune isn’t the only outlet to cope with once-happy coverage of Lehman and Fuld. In October, The New York Times ran a lengthy — but impressively nuanced — feature on Fuld in which he was dubbed ‘The Survivor.’ Written by Jenny Anderson, the story came later in the cycle than Serwer’s 2006 offering; by the time it appeared,Â Merrill Lynch & Co.Â andÂ Citigroup Inc.Â had already taken huge write-offs andÂ Bear Stearns Cos.’ earnings were plummeting. So the piece, though laudatory of Fuld and the performance of Lehman — at the time, it appeared to be steering clear of credit problems — was carefully hedged. Phrases like ‘at least thus far’ and ‘at least for now’ peppered the copy and potential problems, including Lehman’s size, were discussed.”
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