Typically, reader mail is a pleasure. Just occasionally, however, the natives get restless. This is never more so here at Going Private than when offended members of the financial media emerge from their lairs, fangs drawn, to lunge at my criticisms of the slop that, too often, passes for financial journalism today. Obviously, I've edited this letter prior to posting it here. It is true that this letter is written to a specific journalist who spat at me across the ether, but it might as well be addressed to any one of dozens. (Not that all financial journalists are so careless, but the diamonds- Bess Levin, John Morris, Vipal Monga, some others- get rarer and rarer every day).
From: Equity Private <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: [Member of the Financial Media]
Date: Tue, 08 May 2007
On Tue, 08 May 2007 17:22:47 -0500 [Member of the Financial Media] wrote:
>I have to say, I was pretty put off by what you wrote about [ ]. I just got around to
>reading it now.
>Why the need to be such an ass hole?
>I think you're a woman, but the term still applies.
I believe that's contracted, as in "asshole" not "ass hole," but perhaps both uses are enshrined in "American English." I wouldn't be the best authority here, as English is my third (or arguably, fourth) language.
Actually, I believe the gender equivalent you are searching for would best be accomplished with "cunt." (Or perhaps, "See you next Tuesday" if you are squeamish in a Victorian way). The shock value of the word has recently been diluted by its overuse by financial professionals of the British persuasion who wield it to describe everything from corked wine to a bad sandwich, but I think it still has some impact in the United States. Still, if you think you are the first with this bit of profanity, or that I am impressed by it, you are sorely mistaken.
>Who knows? Maybe some English teacher at your Ivy League school told you you
>couldn't write and you thought [ ] was the man to lash out at.
Actually, I was always encouraged to pursue a career in the humanities. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately) I'm not enough of an aesthetic for this to have appealed.
>What you wrote was downright mean.
In my view, [ ], such as he is, wrote a totally brain-dead peace on the ills of private equity that was so poorly reasoned and lacking in facts (or even understanding) that he is quite fortunate that Justin Fox of Time just happened to offend me more. So much more, in fact, that I did not award [ ] Going Private's Maxwell Smart Prize for Mediocrity in Financial Journalism because Mr. Fox deserved it so much more richly.
His offense was complicated by the fact that he purports to write for [ ], (Fox does not) a position that would tend to suggest some passing familiarity with the economic forces that drive such transactions and (perhaps this is a stretch) a basic knowledge of statistics, sample size, confidence intervals and logical argument derived therefrom.
It is highly incumbent on members of the Fourth Estate (which, perhaps unfortunately, even [ ] happens to be) to preserve their franchise thereof. This is, after all, a franchise granted by the people. Abusing it is done at one's peril. Instead, the Fourth Estate should jealously guard this franchise with the utmost reverence and zealously protect ethical standards of factual discourse and rational, critical discussion when exercising it.
[ ]'s piece exhibited none of these qualities. In fact, it was among the more fear mongering and poorly reasoned works I've read on the subject. I won't go into his rather wanton butchering of the English language specifically, as that I think I covered quite well [before], but one assumes he is a native speaker (journalists writing in a given language should be) and so his excuses for sub-par performance here are limited.
As for his wounded pride, well, perhaps there are less public endeavors that might appeal to him more directly if public criticism of his writing is too difficult to bear. (As a note, it wasn't long ago when the Japanese would commit ritual suicide in the face of such shame, but, alas, these are less chivalrous times).
>And it's a lot easier write things like that when you're anonymous.
You will be interested to learn that anonymous speech has a long and prestigious history among English writings, particularly those of the political and economic variety. Perhaps you were unaware that the most of the Federalist Papers were written anonymously, but, as a member of the financial press, you should be keenly aware that many if not most of the Economist's pieces are written anonymously (the outgoing editor of the Economist had a wonderful op-ed on the value of anonymous writing last year, I think it was. You should really endeavor to review it).
[And technically, Going Private's author is pseudonymous, not anonymous].
Anonymous writing, anonymous speech, as it were, permits the reader, even the critic, to concentrate on the words, rather than the author. I understand that in modern critical thought it is felt important to focus on the biases of the writer, but this is a fall-back for the feeble-minded and dull-witted. (Your use of it here is instructive). Those who cannot critique arguments on their merits but, rather, must rely, as is quite American in tradition, on attacks "against the man," (or, perhaps, as it is in my case, "against the woman") do not deserve much respect in my eyes. This brings us nicely to my point:
>I doubt you'd have the guts to say that stuff to [ ]'s face.
Please. I have called more than one Fortune 500 CEO, and more CFOs than that liars to their face. You will get little reaction from me by accusing me of having a problem with "speaking truth to power." The issue is the truth, not the speaking or the power. This is what the press, through instruments like [ ], has lost sight of.
Shall we discuss courage? Grant me consent to publish your letter on the blog. Then you might consider lecturing me on anonymous writing. Actually, the more I consider it, I might redact it and publish it anyhow. [I have now done this].
You have [ ] as your forum. Write your own critical discussion of Going Private, if you wish. Surely, your readership is larger than mine. (That should be self-evident, but on reflection I guess it might not be).
>You should be ashamed of yourself.
And yet, I am quite proud to critique poor writing and a lack of reason.
>Call me any time you want to talk about it.
Thank you, but I will have to pass.
I do not, as a rule, speak to press in person. I have too many personal experiences with the hatchet jobs that pass for "journalism" in this day and age. You have only your colleagues (and the profession) to blame for the fact that "The Media" is the least respected and the most hated institution in the United States today (even when the IRS is offered up). The Gallup poll on this is fascinating. You should read it.
The days of automatic respect attached to being a member of "The Media" are, thankfully, over. High time too, given the feces that has, hitherto, been the normal excreta from such organizations.
>You KNOW who's writing this email.