The Deal executive editor Yvette Kantrow muses about the strange coverage recently seen in business journalism that disclosed that Merrill Lynch’s CEO likes to golf alone, Bear Stearns CEO likes to play bridge and smoke pot and a Wall Street analyst received a death threat, but she’s going to be OK because her husband, a former professional wrestler, is going to protect her.
Kantrow wrote, “These tidbits are just the latest example of a story genre we call slightly weird facts about very wealthy Wall Streeters. The phenomenon goes back at least to the 1980s, when a still-talked-about article in now-defunct Manhattan Inc. described attempts by John and Susan Gutfreund to install a 22-foot Christmas tree in their New York apartment. And it was recently resurrected by The Wall Street Journal, which reported this summer on Steve Schwarzman’s penchant for $400 stone crabs and servants whose shoes don’t squeak.
“Fascinating in a let’s-press-our-nose-against-the-gilded-glass kind of way, the sorts of details these stories dish out provide readers with a sense â€” usually a false one â€” that they know what makes these folks tick. O’Neal golfs alone? Sinister! Poor Mother Merrill. But they can also be spun any which way, depending on the circumstance. In the early days of O’Neal’s tenure, for example, his ‘intensity’ was seen as a much-needed antidote to Dave Komansky’s ‘gregarious’ ways.
“Of course, the spin can backfire. The WSJ piece on Cayne was clearly meant to portray the Bear leader as remaining blithely absent during a time of crisis. But the story seemed to have the opposite effect, as people warmed to the image of Cayne lighting up.”
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