Cohn fixes me with a look of barely controlled irritation. For a second, I think he is going to reach for one of the baseball bats collected in the corner of his office. “It’s my view that what’s going on in the press is above and beyond anyone’s control,” he says. “It’s not like, if we had ten other guys handling our press, we would end up in a much different situation. Maybe we would have ended up in a worse situation. We have our team, and we stick with our team.” Had they tried to combat the bad press any earlier, he says, “I think it would have been worse. The sails would have been shredded.”
There is an alternate explanation floating around. “The theory is that Lucas and John Rogers have Polaroids of someone in Tijuana, with a 16-year-old girl and a donkey,” jokes a former executive.
On the shelf in his office, there are no visible Polaroids, but Lucas van Praag does have a rubber squid that someone gave him as a gift. It is perched on top of a small toy boat.
Matt Taibbi is perhaps only second to Warren Buffett when it comes to profiting off Goldman’s distress; he has since parlayed the success of the Vampire Squid article into a book and a gig as a TV correspondent. But at this point, there is an entire cottage industry trading on the notoriety of the firm. There are GOLDMAN SUCKS T-shirts and Lloyd Blankfein action figures and blogs devoted to hating “the Squid,” as it has become popularly known. So many journalists have written books that last fall, Blankfein had to recuse himself from judging the Financial Times’ “Business Book of the Year” contest, which the firm sponsors.
“It’s like the pilot fish that swim alongside the sharks,” Blankfein says at the diner.
“You know what pilot fish are called in the Caribbean?” asks Van Praag. “It’s even more apt: suckfish.”
Given that Taibbi’s earlier article had been so influential, is Blankfein worried he is going to be sent to “pound-me-in-the-ass prison,” as a source in one of the author’s subsequent articles suggested he be?
“Uh. ‘Pound-me-in-the-ass prison.’ ”
Van Praag clears his throat.
“Well, that’s just outrageous,” Blankfein says. “That’s not even worthy of comment.”
While Blankfein’s primary focus, he is careful to point out, is on Goldman Sachs, the attacks against him personally are clearly a struggle. He says he doesn’t go to therapy—“I’m too blue-collar for that”—but a friend offers a diagnosis. “Lloyd did not covet a public persona,” says his college roommate David Grizzle. “And I think the vilification makes him sad.”
“Frankly, this has been going on for a long time already,” Blankfein says, sipping a Diet Coke. “And it’s not becoming less intense. Our headlines go on forever, and they’re big, while other things are one-day stories. How many times can Matt Taibbi write that we’re the vampire squid? How many shows can Bill Cohan go on?”
“He hopes a lot,” Van Praag says drily.
Blankfein tries to make a joke. “Look, the guys who were President Kennedy impersonators had a job, until he died. Then, of course, the skill set wasn’t nearly as valuable.”
Even now, he gets worked up talking about the “Page Six” item from a couple of years ago that claimed his wife, Laura, was acting “obnoxious” in the Hamptons. “That bugs me,” he says. “She’s like a civilian. And by the way, even the Mafia leaves wives alone. Does the mob go out and try to get someone’s wife because he finked on them? There’s a code. And how do you respond to it without giving people what they want? I mean, some of these pundits on TV say, ‘If Lloyd doesn’t like the dopey things I’m saying, let him come on my show and debate me.’ Yeah, you’d love me to do that. So, you’re really powerless.”
Blankfein’s friends and colleagues say that he’s held up remarkably well under the scrutiny, and cite his very presence at work every day as evidence. But it’s easy to believe, as Charlie Gasparino reported this spring, that he’s “tired of running the company.”
“I’m tired of Gasparino,” Blankfein shoots back. “I wish he would quit.”
Van Praag sighs.
“What I’d like to have is a clear head,” Blankfein goes on. “I haven’t had a clear head in a while, to be honest. You know, I have the background noise of the investigations and the inquiries, or the kind of low roar of the crowd out there, or the press in the background who’s trying to find some gotcha thing they can write about. The thing I miss most is having a quiet head.”