The Internet: It's a terribly vulnerable place. Here we all are, a bunch of quivering egos, flailing around in cyberspace, unencumbered by our physical bodies. With a mere click of a mouse, even the most reasonable adults can find themselves in flaming, finger-pointing bitchfights or long, boring arguments that then remain there, online, for all the world to see. Financial journalists, it seems, are perhaps more prone to getting into these kind of contretemps, since most of their job consists of telling people they're wrong about stuff. This week, an online scuffle broke out between two titans of the field: flame-haired Business Insider upstart Henry Blodget and the dark prince of the financial blogosphere, Felix Salmon of Reuters. Here's what went down.
Opening Shot: In a post about Michael Whitney, who until yesterday worked as a Bloomberg reporter after being fined by the CFTC for false reporting and attempting to manipulate the energy market, Salmon in passing mentioned that Blodget's Business Insider bio makes scant mention of the fact that he was indicted for insider trading. "Is it OK for a financial services professional who has run into major trouble with the law to simply move over to journalism and cover the same asset class there?" he writes. "Henry Blodget certainly thinks so: the former technology analyst is now publishing earnings estimates on his website despite being barred from ever doing exactly that for the securities industry."
Opponent Reaction: In response, Blodget was moved to write a 1,400-word piece headlined: "Felix Salmon: Henry Blodget should be banned from the industry." In the piece, the tone of which vacillates between defensive and self-deprecating, he frets repeatedly about the "king of financial bloggers" being "annoyed with him," provides a rundown of facts about his "alleged depravity," and suggests that Salmon's concerns were merely fueled by bitterness: "Felix is ... irritated on behalf of journalists everywhere who have been downsized and now have no place to ply their trade," he writes. "If there was any justice in the world, Felix seems to be saying, one of these journalists would be sitting in my chair instead of me." He finishes with heartfelt words about how the Business Insider is a selfless bid on his part to save journalism. "If we defy the odds and make that happen, will it erase my scandalous past? Of course not." God's work.
Round Three: Salmon responds in the form of a letter directly to Blodget on the website of his employer, Reuters, the 150-year-old news organization. "Dear Henry," he begins. "I’m not annoyed by you! I think you’ve created a powerful, innovative, and disruptive franchise in The Business Insider, which employs some very smart people and publishes some great journalism — even if sometimes it’s neither checked nor correct." He went on to point out that in fact the blog entry wasn’t even about Blodget, "as you might have surmised from the picture at the top and the lead paragraph, which were all about Michael Whitney."
I just thought that if you were going to get into the business of publishing earnings estimates for technology companies — exactly the business you were banned from by the SEC — then it might be worth mentioning the ban as you did so.
So far, Blodget has not responded to questions on this particular issue.
Backstory: As you might expect, Salmon and Blodget are perfectly civil in real life. 'We even had breakfast together in September," Salmon tells us via e-mail. When asked if there were any other exchanges between them that had gone unpublished, Salmon revealed that after it was all over, they'd even exchanged pleasant e-mails, below:
To: Henry Blodget
From: Felix Salmon Subject: your readers
love you! And feel ever so protective of you, too, judging by my comments...
From: Henry Blodget
Date: November 20, 2009 7:09:20 AM EST
To: Felix Salmon
Subject: Re: your readers
Quite startling! Usually all piss and vinegar.
CEO, The Business Insider
Garbled by iPhone.
Kicked Out of Finance, And Into Journalism [Reuters]
Felix Salmon: Henry Blodget Should Be Banned From The Industry [Business Insider]
Disclosing Journalists Pasts [Reuters]
Earlier: Battle of the Blowhards: Matt Taibbi and Charlie Gasparino Prepare to Face Off