Mark Pittman was right

By Felix Salmon
November 28, 2009
Bob Ivry has the definitive obituary of Mark Pittman, a giant in the world of financial journalism, who died far too young on Wednesday. He's polite enough not to call me out by name, although I deserve it:

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Bob Ivry has the definitive obituary of Mark Pittman, a giant in the world of financial journalism, who died far too young on Wednesday. Ivry is polite enough not to call me out by name, although I deserve it:

His June 29, 2007, article, headlined “S&P, Moody’s Hide Rising Risk on $200 Billion of Mortgage Bonds,” was excoriated at the time by Portfolio.com for “trying to play ‘gotcha’ with the ratings agencies.”

“And that really isn’t helpful,” said the unsigned posting.

Pittman’s story proved prescient.

I wrote the blog entry in question, and it hasn’t stood the test of time nearly as well as Pittman’s article. At the time — between the collapse of Bear Stearns’s subprime hedge funds and the collapse of the bank itself — I was well aware of subprime alarmism, not only because of the Bear news, but also because I’d spent five months working for Nouriel Roubini. So I concentrated on the way that the story tried to back up its headline, dismissing its damning litany of problems with subprime credit ratings more generally as “2,000 words of throat-clearing”.

Sorry, Mark. In hindsight, your story was indeed prescient, and helpfully aggregated a lot of the well-founded worries that the subprime crisis was going to get much, much worse, and that none of the ratings on subprime CDOs could be trusted. It wasn’t until a good six months after your article was published that I finally understood the importance of what you’d been saying.

Pittman was an aggressive, old-school journalist, who was in his element going after big Wall Street institutions. Like most of the journalists I’ve criticized, he never responded to my blog entry, and I never met or spoke to him. That’s very much my loss: I’m sure I would have learned a lot. But Pittman had bigger fish to catch. His loss to the profession is irreplaceable.

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Comments
9 comments so far

Felix,Your tribute to Mark is fitting and also speaks to your measure as a man. Thank you.It is unfortunate that you never met Mark, he was an amazing guy – no pretense, no false praise, no interest in trends, no pulling punches, nobody could impress him other than with their good character. He was a rare one (and a great joy to eat or drink with), willing to take on all comers if that is what it took to deliver his goods to the public.Be well,Josh

Posted by josh rosner | Report as abusive

Bravo for coming clean. I thought that might be your piece (can’t tell since Portfolio disappeared you).Pittman will be missed.

Felix,Thanks for the post. It’s a shame you never met Mark. You would have enjoyed him. He was a great journalist and also a great person.

Posted by Ted Merz | Report as abusive

Thanks for your commendation of Mark…Pittman is to be lauded for the incalculable service he was doing for the country and for history in illuminating the events of the financial crisis and the actions of the Federal Reserve.Shining light on the financial industry is very difficult. It’s important that we learn and share from each other.

Felix, one happy consequence of your portfolio.com piece (and the link to Doris’ comment) is that it preserves the key points of Mark’s original 2007-06 piece, which were gone by the 6th update. The focus of public narrative has since shifted from rating agencies to the Fed, but it’s all one story, complex and disillusioning. Thank you for the history.

Fifty-two is awful young. I hope they do a thorough autopsy–lots of things can be passed off as “heart problems”….

Posted by Igor | Report as abusive

Mr. Pittman will be missed.

You’re brave and honest Mr. Salmon. Good for you and the people that read your articles. I have been reading Mr. Pittman’s work and I hope there are people out there that will follow in his footsteps.. One of the articles I read after his untimely passing mentioned that he was working on something big… hopefully somebody finishes it..

Posted by Raul | Report as abusive

I salute you Felix – its takes a special kind of man to do what you have done

Posted by David | Report as abusive
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