Felix Salmon wrote that he thinks that ProPublica--Sharona Coutts, Marc Lifsher, and Michael A. Hiltzikgot--got played by California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer (who I think is an excellent guy) in its Goldman Sachs story:
ProPublica's Goldman Sachs Hatchet Job: ProPublica is a non-profit investigative-journalism shop founded by Paul Steiger, the former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. So you'd expect that when it moves into the world of finance, during a credit crisis which has thrown up its fair share of scandals, it would produce something really good. Instead, it's produced something really bad: a non-story about Goldman's sell-side research on munis, larded generously with ridiculous overreach and, naturally, a generous pinch of CDS demonization.... The only really investigative bit of the story is that ProPublica's Sharona Coutts has managed to get her hands on some sell-side research. Unfortunately, instead of simply phoning up Goldman's press office and asking for it, she clearly got it through other channels -- and as a result, her copy of the research has a "Proprietary and Confidential" stamp on it. Which is obviously all she and Steiger needed to conclude that there was scandal afoot...
And ProPublica clams up:
How Banks Need to Mollify the Public Sector: I just got off the phone with ProPublica's Dick Tofel; we talked quite a bit about the Goldman Sachs story they put out yesterday, but unfortunately they don't seem inclined to say anything on the record.... My view is that this constitutes bullying tactics on the part of California: it's trying to prevent Goldman from sharing its opinions with its buy-side clients, by kvetching loudly to the press and (presumably) punishing Goldman by no longer using them to underwrite its bond issues. Companies often do much the same thing, when analysts put "sell" ratings on their stocks and bonds, but companies don't have the political wherewithal of states...
Felix Salmon adds more:
The Semi-Daily Journal of Economist Brad DeLong: Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (ProPublica Edition): Anna, I can tell you that it wasn't me putting things off the record. Dick Tofel had every opportunity to put certain things he told me on the record, but he didn't do that. Instead, he called me, and the first thing he did was make clear that everything he was about to say was off the record, and that I was not going to be able to talk to the journalist who wrote the story. I can assure you that if they promised a source anonymity, I would never ask who that source was, let alone publish the name of that source. And equally, they would never tell me who that source was, either on or off the record. Posted by: Felix Salmon | November 14, 2008 at 05:49 AM
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?