Opinion

Felix Salmon

Did Charlie Gasparino get Teri Buhl fired?

By Felix Salmon
March 20, 2010

It’s well known that Charlie Gasparino likes getting into mini-feuds with reporters who write about him, myself included. It’s part of what makes him Charlie, and he’s welcome to call me a twerpy nutjob as much as he likes. But he and former Trader Monthly publisher Randall Lane now seem to have gone far beyond name-calling on blogs: it looks as though they have gone so far as to get a full-time reporter fired from her job, in retaliation for her writing about them.

What’s worse, the reporter in question, Teri Buhl, hasn’t just been fired from her job at Greenwich Time, a Hearst newspaper in Connecticut; her entire archive of blog entries there has disappeared, leaving only a message saying “This blog has been archived or suspended”. It’s as though Hearst wanted not only to fire her, but to make it seem as though they’d never hired her — although there is still an archive of stories she wrote for the newspaper itself.

What caused this vindictive and aggressive behavior towards a reporter who is, after all, now going to be looking for freelance work based on the quality of her clips? To erase all of those clips is harsh punishment indeed, which would only be conceivably justifiable if there were very serious questions indeed over the accuracy of lots of her work.

But in fact, according to Buhl, when she was fired on Thursday by David McCumber, the editor in chief, the reasons he gave for firing her were mainly about the rough quality of her writing, and the fact that it needed a lot of editing. (He also, she says, told her that he didn’t know what was going to happen to her blog archive, or why it was taken down.)

The complaint about writing quality, says Buhl, was very odd indeed, since neither her editor nor McCumber had ever complained to her about such things in the past, let alone indicated that they might be a fireable offense.

I talked briefly today to Buhl’s editor, Jim Zebora, and to McCumber; both of them politely declined to comment, so the only source I have to go on here is Buhl herself. But I’ve been following her stuff for some time, and I consider her to be a very good, very dogged financial reporter, with an intuitive understanding of the blog medium. Nothing I’ve ever seen from her would seem to merit this kind of punishment.

So what happened here? Buhl wrote about Gasparino a couple of times on the blog she was hired to write at the beginning of this year — the blog entries are now down, of course, but for the time being the Google cache can be seen here and here. They weren’t particularly nice about Charlie, and they called him “Gas-bag”, a common nickname which he doesn’t like. Angered, Charlie called up Zebora, Teri’s editor, and accused her of “stalking” him; Zebora, like any good editor, had her back.

But it didn’t end there: Charlie then called Zebora’s boss, McCumber, and made the same complaint. Once again, he didn’t get very far. And then Charlie went further still, calling Steven Swartz, the president of Hearst newspapers, again with the same complaint. (Again, I only know about these calls because their substance was conveyed to Teri, who told me about them, but I do believe her when she says they happened.)

Meanwhile, another media bigwig was getting annoyed by Buhl. Buhl had written a story about Randall Lane for Dealbreaker in July 2009, saying that he would find it difficult to sell the assets of his bankrupt company, Doubledown Media, and that he’d given his cousin access to Doubledown’s subscriber list after promising his subscribers that he would never do such a thing.

Teri wrote about Lane on her Greenwich Time blog in February (Google cache here), and immediately Lane, too, started calling her superiors, complaining that she was “stalking” him.

It’s worth noting here that Buhl used to fact-check Gasparino’s column at Trader Monthly, which Gasparino wrote for Lane: all these people know each other. And if Gasparino was complaining about Buhl being a stalker to various Hearst executives, it’s easy to imagine him telling Lane the whole story after Buhl’s story on Lane came out.

In the wake of writing the story about Lane, Buhl says that she started fielding some very weird accusations from higher ups, saying that she was stalking Lane, or that she had written things in her blog entry which simply weren’t there. Shortly thereafter, she was fired, and although the stalking accusations were brought up, they weren’t cited as the main grounds for dismissal. Needless to say, a single blog entry on a person hardly constitutes stalking, and nobody ever came up with any evidence to support the stalking accusations. And it’s also worth noting that all of Buhl’s blog entries were edited by Zebora before they went up on the site, and that he was happy with everything that was published.

Back in February, the Greenwich Roundup blog published this letter:

Teri Buhl is probably the best thing that has happened in a long time at the Greenwich Time.

Dear Greenwich Roundup,

I hope she doesn’t get fired for stepping on too many toes or copying too much from others!!

Well, she certainly didn’t get fired for copying too much from others — that’s one accusation no one has made. But getting fired for stepping on too many toes? That seems to be exactly what has happened.

Update: I’ve now spoken to another source — someone familiar with the situation who said that Gasparino only complained to Swartz once, when she published a Mapquest link to his house on her blog, which was then taken down. The source says that there were no complaints when Buhl wrote about Gasparino subsequently, and that Gasparino never talked about Buhl to Lane.

Update 2: Buhl has left a pair of comments below, saying that Gasparino made multiple complaints and that my anonymous source is “either unfamilar or not telling the whole truth“. I put the update up just because it moved the story along and made clear that there is a fundamental disagreement here, but I am not saying I believe my anonymous source on this one. Without saying anything about this one in particular, I’m certainly comfortable saying that anonymous sources in general are dangerous and unreliable things, and deserve to be treated with skepticism.

Update 3: Buhl takes to Twitter to add a bit more detail:

I’d like to make a point re publishing Gasbag’s weekend address. My editor had to approve that and it was never mentioned as a reason to fire me. Gasparino had just been bragging about having a second home in Rowyaton, CT at a New Canaan book talk. I actually didn’t think he’d mind. When Gasparino got verbally abusive about the mapquest link to his street-I agreed with my editor it should be taken down. But when he kept calling up the editoral food chain that I was stalking him- I thought that was really odd- besides being untrue. I remember my editor Zebora saying well if Gasparino can get Head of Hearst news ear you will have to be careful what you write about him. Lincoln Millstein, vp of interactive, asked what did you do to Gasparino-what’s between u two-just make sure u dont just write negative abt him. It was just really odd to see how some Hearst ppl were afraid of Gas-Bag. At least both my editors admitted he’s a ‘professional asshole’.

Comments
24 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Nicely done Salmon. Any chance of getting that “just a kid who gets to spout off” subheader back again?

Posted by ottorock | Report as abusive
 

I’m confused. The update contradicts the text.

Posted by maynardGkeynes | Report as abusive
 

He thinks *that* is stalking? Wall Street flacks have no idea what they’re in for in the coming months. (That being said, does seem a little aggressive posting the location of his home. Perhaps all these lovely characters who were involved in pumping up and popping our economy would do well to just leave now)

Posted by Uncle_Billy | Report as abusive
 

The update is garbage. You need to name the source or take it down.

Posted by fredmertz | Report as abusive
 

I’m no fan of Gasparino, but if the update is not “garbage,” I think the proper thing to do is to withdraw or qualify the main post in a major way. Putting a reporter’s home address online is completely off limits. People have kids, family. He would have a right to complain about that. Anyone would.

Posted by maynardGkeynes | Report as abusive
 

“I’ve now spoken to another source — someone familiar with the situation who said that Gasparino only complained to Swartz once, when she published a Mapquest link to his house on her blog, which was then taken down.”

Yikes. This is a fireable faux-pas. Publishing someone’s home address on the internet, where there might be nutters? Where his wife and kids are? Looks like Terri has a bit of an prosecutor/Messiah complex.

Posted by SGKingsley | Report as abusive
 

I’m not happy about the update either; I’ve spoken to Teri, who denies it vehemently, and who I believe will be leaving a comment to that effect shortly. I did feel that after hearing another version of the story, albeit from someone who would only speak off the record, I should put something up. But the problem with anonymous sources in cases like this is that they can say anything they like and no one will hold them to it.

As for Gasparino’s home address, yes, that happened, and he complained, and the link to his house was taken down. But having been on the receiving end of a few of Gasparino’s complaints myself, I’m sure there was more to it than a polite request to remove a link. The question is how much more there was.

 

Felix:
I’ve picked more than a few fights across the financial spectrum (ask Goldstein if you need a refresher) and I always saw Teri as a kindred spirit. She was a hard-working fighter who fell for no flak spin and wrote what she found. You know all too well the business press doesnt have a ton of her in all of NYC’s newsrooms combined.

She is a damn good reporter who actually, well, reported things that needed to be reported. She did a lot of good work on things that reporters at bigger, more established places missed.

I in no way can defend publishing a map to someone’s house, but in the pantheon of stupid reporting moves, this is no firing offense. All due respect to SGKingsley, it shouldn’t cost someone their job. A retraction and apology is certainly in order, both publicly and privately, but I know Charlie and I doubt he would have angled for her dismissal.

My local paper punched above its weight with her on board; now, i can look forward to more Bloomberg copy, no reporting on the dozens of local PE and HF shops and ample happy fluff on the local guys who open up 1000sf hot dog stands in New Canaan, or the cunning new strategy at the florists.

For real. Greenwich is a global business center and the Hearst corp. had one person willing to write critically about its funds, brokers and businesses. She is gone.

A supreme, crying shame and a total loss to the public’s knowledge base.

Hope youre good,
Roddy Boyd

Posted by rodboyd | Report as abusive
 

I don’t think I am every going to know how much of an influence Gasparino had on getting me fired but I do know I was told by my EIC David McCumber that with Gasparino and Lane complaining together that I was stalking them it created doubt in him and it didn’t help that both of them went to
Gasparino first complained to my business editor Jim Zebora about adding a link to his weekend end home in Royawton. This home had been talked about in his book talk when he came to New Canaan to promote his book and is often mentioned in Dealbreaker reporting on Gasparino. I do applogize if this caused any discomfort to Charlie – it wasn’t up very long. Zebora made the choice to take out the link to his weekend home right after Gasaprino called him. But Charlie kept calling up the editorial chain and complaining about me calling him gas-bag in my reporting (he wanted it taken out of the story) and contined to complain to Hearst executives and editors that I was stalking him. That is simply not true- I have never ‘stalked Charlie’ and I would like to ask Gasaprino to come on the record and explain what ‘stalking’ means. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to write about him? Did he have a problem when I wrote his book was a sell-out and worth the read or when he out reported his rival at CNBC, David Fabor, on a story?
But the even more aggreious accusations and falsehood made by Randall Lane, who bankrupted his media company (Doubledown Media) and left over 300 creditors unpaid with debts of $3mn dollars, is what I believe was really the tipping point for McCumber to suddenly fire me. I believe Lane has been reckless in what he said and has lied to my editor because of the reporting I have done on his media company and the news I plan to continue to report on regarding what really happen that lead his company to bankruptcy. Lane and Gasparino both write and edit now for the Daily Beast- and of course knew each other from when Gasparino wrote for Lane’s Trader Monthly. I do question if they talked about using a ‘stalking’ complaint together to try and discredit my byline. I don’t think I will ever know the truth.
I also think Hearst and McCumber owe us all an explanation on why all of my online blog/reported column was taken down today and if it will be back up. I have requested copies of my reporting and hope McCumber is professional enough to get those to me right away.
I want to thank all my readers who wrote in to comment on my work at the Greenwich Time and the fellow journalist who followed it. I hope you continue to read.

Posted by tbuhl | Report as abusive
 

Regarding the update from a person who will not go on the record. They are either unfamilar or not telling the whole truth. Based on what I was told by my editors – Gasparino complained multiple times to Hearst and spoke with at least three people. Zebora, McCumber, Swartz. If the update gave anyone the impression that Gasparino only called one person or complained once that is not true. It is also not true that he only complained about his address being linked.
Teri Buhl

Posted by tbuhl | Report as abusive
 

Teri, I know that you probably didn’t spell check your comment and that you probably have a lot on your mind, but the misspelling of egregious lends some credibility to the fact that your work needed heavy editing. Just saying.

That being said, I thought you were a very talented writer and I hope that this is only a temporary setback on your road to success. I’m sure you will garner some sympathy from someone who can help you out. Good luck.

Posted by jmichaelshoes | Report as abusive
 

How many times could she print the home address of people she writes about before realizing it probably wasn’t a good idea?! Who is she kidding? She might be good at digging out a story but is that all there is to good journalism?

Posted by JustSaying123 | Report as abusive
 

Are you JustSaying that Buhl printed a home address more than once?

 

@jmichaelshoes – unless you where the reporter’s editor how can you even comment on if her work needed editing. I am pretty sure only Zebora or McCumber could make that call.
IMO – Buhl’s job was to source and find interesting and news worthy topics to write about. From what I read she did that well. Isn’t it the editors job to shape up sentences? I can only assume you’ve been one of the targets of her investigative stories. When you break news on finance firms, which effects millions of dollars and could ruin a career.. you have plenty of high powered haters.
I read her reporting during the financial storm of 08 at the New York Post and have trusted it ever since.
I hope we see her in print soon and it’s not sympathy she needs – it’s an editor with some wall street coverage experience and guts. Mr. Boyd is right – this is a terrible loss to the local business coverage in Fairfield County.

Posted by oldtrader | Report as abusive
 

@justsaying – Gasparino’s CT address can found in the white pages along with his phone number. It is under his wife’s name which is available to the public.
I am pretty sure they don’t have kids.

http://greenwichroundup.blogspot.com/201 0/03/032110-charlie-gasparino-has-no-com ment.html

Regardless – based on what else I’ve read about the situation – the firing had nothing to do with printing his home address. Gasparino should be thankful Buhl even wrote about him. It got his name out to Greenwich housewives.

Posted by oldtrader | Report as abusive
 

I feel very bad for the Greenwich Time and journalism in general. I have been reading Teri’s work for over 2 years and her scoop gathering is as good as anyone’s. Often her stories have led to state and federal investigations. She has been doing the job of incompetent regulators, save for say the headline friendly ambitions of Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo.

If the editors were satisfied with Teri’s reporting, they should have made an effort to look it over before the news was posted. Or at the very least hire a freelance editor to look it over. Also, blame the economics of journalism. News organizations, now known as “content providers,” have been engaging in a race to the bottom. More original stories, more site hits, more potential ad revenue, produced for as little as possible in cost. I don’t know how much Teri was paid at the GT, but her stories required intensive reporting. Stories of her caliber usually run once a week, not once or twice a day. Teri’s best work has been her long form investigative pieces, which take weeks and months to complete. I look forward to seeing more of them. In the interim, I hope there are editors out there willing to work with her.

Posted by TraderMonthly | Report as abusive
 

Yes Mr. Salmon, she also printed the home address of that Metter guy in the article she wrote about Spongetech. Worse yet, in the same article, she mentioned that he was away on vacation. It was bad enough to list his specific home address but to also state he was away on vacation? Why didn’t she just post an open invitation to anyone who wanted to rob his house?
Sorry but that is just plain wrong.

Posted by JustSaying123 | Report as abusive
 

Posting a Mapquest link to his house???

Very very dangerous!

Posted by LurkerDood | Report as abusive
 

Metter’s home address in backcountry Greenwich is listed on his some of business applications with the state of CT. Sounds ligit to me. There are still photos of his house on the Greenwich Time website so it looks like Hearst stands by publishing home listings if they are in the public domain.
Also Metter’s street address is mentioned in the story The Big Money reported on him.
That was a great report by both Journalist and I think Greenwich citizens should know that their local radio President (Michael Metter) is being investigated by the SEC for a pump and dump stock scam.

@justsaying123 you are likely a penny stock holder of Spongetech or work for Metter if you didn’t enjoy that story.

Posted by oldtrader | Report as abusive
 

Sorry for a late posting, but as an inveterate fan of Teri Buhl’s blunt and honest reporting, I must comment.

I’ve followed Ms. Buhl’s writing for about a year now since first seeing her stories on the NY Post and Dealbreaker.com et al, and although I don’t agree with everything she writes, I think the true journalistic service she provides to the public – and specifically the investing public – is invaluable.

I’m in the real estate finance area of the investment arena myself and certainly everyone hates bad publicity in their own space – and it certainly doesn’t make it easier to raise money. That said, however, I absolutely believe that the hedge fund, private equity, etc. sector needs reporters like Ms. Buhl as a watchdog, because it sure as hell beats the alternative: the possibility of more government regulation.

And government regulation certainly doesn’t work as we saw in the meltdown of the highly regulated mortgage industry and the SEC/Madoff failure.

As tough as the medicine might be in the short-term, the best way to get the government out of the over-regulation business, and to instill greater investor confidence in Hedge Funds et al, is to hope that all the “bad” funds get cleaned up sooner, rather than later – and I can only imagine that there are many, many more bad funds out there waiting to be exposed.

[And a free, obvious hint to the investing public: when a fund, or any business for that matter, begins blaming their current or future performance on bad press: RUN FOR THE HILLS and redeem on the way… Because I have yet to see “bad press” coming early to the party - see developers blaming reporters for the crash of the Florida Condo Market.]

Print media has for years been blaming the Internet for the loss of readers (and advertisers) and perhaps there is some truth to that explanation, but maybe it’s also true that the quality, and as importantly, independence, of this media is getting worse by the day – e.g. it’s still inexplicable that the major business press ignored the numerous red-flags for years and missed the massive Madoff fraud, largely because he was “well liked and respected”.

However, although Ms. Buhl is still a relatively new journalist, I understand from very good sources that her reporting has led to at least 1 or 2 ongoing fraud investigations, and probably will lead to others in the future. So it’s unfortunate that she wasn’t around early enough to catch Bernie…

The obvious fact that the financial press – and again the public – needs more investigative reporters makes it all the more disconcerting that although I admittedly don’t know the specific, real reasons why Ms. Buhl was let go, it does appear to lean to an explanation that some people didn’t like what she wrote about them.

Unfortunately, and tragically, millions of people have lost their jobs in the last couple of years. However, what is at issue here is not the loss of just another job. It’s a reporter being discharged under very questionable grounds – and a reporter’s job is the only private sector job where the freedom to discharge their responsibilities is specifically protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The “rough writing” explanation doesn’t make sense, because I think Ms. Buhl’s writing actually improved in her short stint at Hearst/Greenwich Times, as I’m sure they had good editors.

Also, to be a devil’s advocate, if Ms. Buhl’s writing was a little “rough”, I would think that Hearst/Greenwich Times knew that going in and that was the job of their editors to correct and improve upon her skills.

Ms. Buhl’s strengths are that she has good instincts for a real story. And more importantly, she has the courage to report it.

Courage and instincts are qualities that can’t be coached.

Basically, the once-great news organization Hearst/Greenwich Time has made a deliberate decision to continue ever downward on their path to mediocrity, if they’re not already below that level.

In the end, I’m very sure Ms. Buhl will do very well in her career and I wish her the best.

Frank Harrison

Posted by PAF | Report as abusive
 

Hmmm… Seems like Buhl used to be at the New York Post but no longer, used to be at Dealbreaker but no longer, and now, Buhl used to be at Greenwich Time but no longer. A pattern?

Maybe I need to spend more time with her work to be be on the same page as all of these admirers here but from what I’ve seen, she’s not much of a journalist. She’s an inflammatory rumor-monger. (And no, I’ve never been a target of any of her stories nor anyone I’m close to.) A long list of people probably wanted her fired.

Posted by BJWL | Report as abusive
 

Buhl’s work is seen in a lot of places in the last two years becuase she’s a freelancer.
I think her job with Greenwich Time was the first time she had been a staff reporter. I’d imagine with the type of investigative reporting she does working as a self employed journalist is the best way to get her stories sold … since the subject and tone varies so much.
I’ve always enjoyed the gritty details she pulls out of people about the deals or funds she reports on. I hope we see her work in a national publication soon. It looks like she is posting news stories at a local Greenwich Blog for now. http://www.christopherfountain.com
As a Fairfield County resident this is a sad example of what is happening to our ‘civic friendly’ newspapers. We need a non-profit funded online news publication like what San Diego did with Voices of San Diego.

Posted by PaulieJ | Report as abusive
 
 

Have you followed lately Teri? Seems she has lost her journalistic acumen in lieu personal fight and malignancy. Too much malice… Follow on her desperate fight against fund managers with her blogs on http://www.teribuhl.com/

Posted by RPS6543 | Report as abusive
 

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