OLD Media Moves

Let's lay off WSJ's Wilke

February 13, 2009


Conde Nast Portfolio writer Jesse Eisinger wrote the following for Talking Biz News about recent criticism of Wall Street Journal reporter John Wilke, who apparently received a tip several years ago about the Bernie Madoff fraud case.

Eisinger writes:

“I’m pretty jaded, so typically when I see journalists eating their own, I barely pause from my daily routine. But I¹ve been flabbergasted by comment about The Wall Street Journal’s John Wilke, my former colleague, regarding his role in the Bernard Madoff scandal. It’s way out of line and verges on the delusional.

“None of the bloggers and assorted critics seem to have researched what Wilke was doing during the period he supposedly missed the Madoff story. Wilke is one of the finest investigative journalists in the country and he continued to prove it in the time he was in contact with Harry Markopolos, the Madoff critic.

“Converting a speculative tip from someone like Markopolos is vastly harder than it looks in retrospect. Markopolos was an outsider who figured out something was wrong with Madoff — but wasn’t sure exactly what that was. Nobody ‘tees up’ stories about financial frauds ­as one of Wilke’s detractors wrote on Romenesko, misspelling both his and Markopolos’s name. Ever.

“As all journalists, Wilke was likely conducting constant triage at the time, deluged by tips, story ideas, editor pressure and breaking news. Nevertheless, here’s a partial list of what he wrote in that period:

  • On Dec. 27, 2005, Wilke broke that legendary mutual-fund trader Mario Gabelli, then a bigger name on Wall Street than Madoff, had set up what appeared to be sham minority and small-business firms to bid for discounted FCC spectrum licenses. Six months after the story appeared, Gabelli settled civil fraud claims with the government for $100 million.
  • On Feb. 10, 2006, Wilke did a page-one story about alleged price-fixing by China’s vitamin makers.
  • On April 7, Wilke revealed a network of West Virginia non-profits set up by former staffers and supporters of Rep. Alan Mollohan, funded by congressional earmarks. (The New York Times followed the next day.)
  • On Oct. 11, the Journal reported that most of the earmarks won by Rep. Charles Taylor, a North Carolina Republican, also benefited his family banking and timber interests.
  • On Nov 1, Wilke exposed that a wealthy Nevada defense contractor had funneled nearly $100,000 in campaign cash to Gov. Jim Gibbons through a network of his companies, side-stepping state campaign-finance laws and treating his patron to a lavish, undisclosed Caribbean cruise.

“I could go on about Wilke scoops. But the point is clear: For a year after December 2005, Wilke bagged a series of journalistic trophies that would make any self-respecting investigative reporter proud. Yes, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see that he should have demanded that his editor give him the rest of the year to do Madoff, and nothing else. But let’s get serious.”

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