OLD Media Moves

UPDATE: BusinessWeek reporter calls and is mad; Overstock head responds on Internet again

January 15, 2006

The exchange between BusinessWeek e-commerce editor Tim Mullaney and Overstock.com president Patrick Byrne continued on late Friday, with Mullaney apparently calling the company’s Salt Lake headquarters upset that Byrne had posted his responses to Mullaney’s e-mail questions on the Internet.

Apparently Mullaney didn’t learn his lesson the first time. Byrne has again responded online, on www.thesanitycheck.com with quotes from his receptionist as to what Mullaney said during his phone calls, and Byrne’s reply.

The reply included this: “As if by posting your email I lost the fair treatment that I am sure you intended, as is amply reflected in your letter. And my experience of your ‘professional courtesy’ is to be spoken at like…. well, like one reading your letter at high speed with pauses brief enough to say ‘uh-huh uh-huh’ before rushing on.”

You can read the latest here. In case you missed what set off this initial fray, read this post from Friday. A quick summary is this: Mullaney sent a detailed list of questions to Overstock’s PR person on Tuesday. Byrne replied by posting the e-mail on the Internet and by posting his answers for all to read. Byrne then did the same thing to a New York Post business writer who sent a similar e-mail.

If Mullaney’s quotes to Byrne’s receptionist are accurate, then I think he’s got an objectivity problem that will need to be addressed. And while I defended Mullaney earlier, I’m beginning to wonder. Did he expect Byrne to take his phone calls on Friday without responding in a very public way — in other words, the same way he responded earlier? This does not make the business journalism profession look very professional.

I never thought I’d say or write this, but it appears that the New York Post has handled the appearance of its reporters e-mailed questions to Byrne and Byrne’s public response on the Internet with much more professionalism. Its story about Overstock’s cash problems appears in this morning’s paper. It’s available here.

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