Players: Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi; New York Times business reporter and "Too Big to Fail" author Andrew Ross Sorkin
Opening Serve: It was clear that Sorkin expected backlash from his column in New York Times' "Dealbook" section earlier this week in which he defended Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein's claim that his investment bank "didn't have a massive short against the housing market," because he started it off with the lede: "The vampire squid haters won't like this column." Business Insider was a little less subtle about whom the column was contradicting, reappropriating it with the headline "Matt Taibbi Is Full of Crap--Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein Did Not Lie to Congress." That refers to Taibbi's assertion in last month's Rolling Stone that Goldman Sachs "came to Washington, took an oath before Congress, and lied about it."
Return Volley: Sorkin was right. Taibbi did not enjoy the column and let Sorkin and everyone else know it with a rebuttal of his own this week. "I've been trying not to say anything bad about Andrew Ross Sorkin. I even made a point of not watching 'Too Big to Fail' so as not to get upset," he wrote. But Taibbi couldn't resist weighing in on Sorkin's Goldman defence which, he argues, "reads like it was written by the bank's marketing department, which may not be an accident." He explains, "In November of last year, the New York Times announced that 'Dealbook' was entering into a sponsorship agreement with a variety of companies, including...Goldman Sachs." Taibbi insists at his Rolling Stone blog that "even last year I thought it was a terrible decision by the Times to take money from Goldman in the wake of an unprecedented period of financial corruption--especially to sponsor, of all things, business reporting. But now? This looks like a joke." Not only does Taibbi think that "pieces like this undermine the great work that reporters like Gretchen Morgenson have done in the paper in recent years," because of the Goldman connection, he disagrees wholeheartedly with Sorkin's assertion that Blankfein didn't technically lie. He dives into the matter in full wonkitude.
Taibbi even acknowledges Sorkin's nod to him at the start of his column and clarifies, "I don't dislike his column because I hate Goldman. I just dislike it because it's wrong, on top of being a soft-touch take on a major issue based on material spoon-fed to him by an advertiser who's just been handed a bunch of subpoenas. Aside from that, of course it's just fine."
What They Say the Fight's About: On the surface this fight is about whether or not Blankfein and associates lied to Congress about whether or not they had bet in favor of the housing market's failure. Taibbi argued, in his May 26 article, that they did, Sorkin suggests they didn't, and Taibbi says he's wrong.
What the Fight's Really About: Taibbi's first point is really what the fight is about: ehether New York Times Dealbook, dedicated explicitly to business reporting, is compromising its journalistic integrity by being sponsored by Goldman Sachs and other companies. Taibbi writes that "at the very least, Dealbook, if it was determined to take startup money from Goldman, should have stayed agnostic about the great scandals swarming round the company for a good long while," and he has a point. The Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics urges reporters to "avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived; disclosed unavoidable conflicts; and deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage."
Who's Winning Now: Taibbi isn't the only one questioning Sorkin's motives. A peak at the writer's Facebook page reveals that many commenters deride Dealbook's connection to Goldman as a conflict of interest. If whether or not Blankfein was telling the truth in front of Congress is ever determined, then we will know who won this spat. In the meantime, we agree with Taibbi that Sorkin could have mentioned his employers' connection to Goldman somewhere in his column, regardless of the strength of his arguments.