Opinion

Felix Salmon

China expert of the day, Benjamin Wey edition

By Felix Salmon
November 23, 2010

In September, one Benjamin Wey, calling himself “Chinese American Financial Expert Foremost Expert On Chinese Business in U.S.”, put out a press release announcing that he’d engaged a PR company. And it wasn’t just any old PR company: it was 5WPR. Go on, look them up.

Amazingly, the gambit worked. Before you knew it, Wey was on Fox Business! He was on TheStreetTV! He was a speaker at the Bloomberg Hedge Funds Asia conference! His In the Media page, with absolutely nothing in the three-year gap between August 2007 and August 2010, suddenly came to life, with 13 different media appearances between September 8 and November 15 of this year. I daresay more are on the way.

The point here is, basically, that you really shouldn’t listen to people quoted in the media just because they’re quoted in the media. After all, Benjamin Wey got all this attention just by hiring an incompetent superflack — and despite having been comprehensively exposed back in 2006 by Herb Greenberg:

Before getting his MBA in 1999 from the University of Central Oklahoma, Benjamin Tianbing Wei became an investment advisor and started an investment advisory firm in Oklahoma…

In 2002, he ran into trouble with securities regulators, including a brief suspension and fine by the NASD…

Last year, after several years of legal wrangling, he was censured by the Oklahoma Department of Securities. While not admitting or denying the charges, he agreed he wouldn’t ever again seek to do any brokerage or investment advisory business in the state…

Wey had been founder, majority shareholder and CEO of Benchmark Global Capital in Oklahoma, which like New York Global, specialized in Chinese stocks. When I first asked, through his spokesman, whether he had ever been associated with “Benchmark Capital” — not Benchmark Global Capital — and whether he changed his name from Wei to Wey, his email response was, “No.”

He moved the company to New York in June 2002 through the purchase of his Oklahoma operations by a New York-based entity of the same name. Within six months he was fired as CEO and as a director by his board.

In an era when television stations and other media outlets are desperate for “experts” they can wheel out on any subject at all, but especially stocks, and especially China, and extra especially Chinese stocks, it seems that anybody with any kind of PR firm can get themselves booked and quoted all over the place, by people who probably never even bothered Googling the guy, and who almost certainly never got around to reading his bonkers rant against Greenberg over at 10Q Detective. The media, it seems, can be much more gullible than, say, the public at large: Wey’s Twitter profile has exactly zero followers. (Not even 5WPR, which links to it.)

So the next time you see someone quoted from a firm you’ve never heard of and you have no idea who they are, feel free to ignore everything they’re saying. There’s a good chance they’ve simply been planted by a PR firm rather than chosen for their expertise by a conscientious journalist.

(Full disclosure: the last place that Wey was quoted, before he went dark for three years but after the Greenberg exposé, was Reuters. And it was Greenberg who tipped me to Wey’s reappearance on the media circuit.)

Comments
7 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Felix –

You and Wey should get together and have a pot and kettle party.

Seriously, are you going to take down some Chinese guy for talking about China? He sounded reasonably intelligent. The guy lived much of his life in China, and frankly we don’t know what he was up to. 99.999% of humanity is not on the media circuit. That doesn’t mean they are up to nothing in the mean time.

Is this that different from you feigning expertness on every imaginable topic under the sun and never ever admitting you are wrong when people spot your frequent and comical errors? Such as your hilarious made-up description on this blog of American coal mining country as predominantly black?

You do a good job much of the time and come off pretty well even though you are very often winging it! Yes you have credentials but not on the majority of what you blog on.

Actually if you and Wey ever met at a party you should give each other a high five!

Posted by DanHess | Report as abusive
 

Must concur with the previous commenter, Felix. The only thing that qualifies you as an expert is the fact that Reuters is willing to pay you an above average salary for a blogger. If you would actually write about something rather than interpreting the financial media, the perception might be different. At least Wey has experience in what he is talking about.

Posted by eortiz | Report as abusive
 

If you believe anything you hear on television, you deserve whatever you get. There is a reason the business is classified as “Entertainment”.

Sounds to me like Wei/Wey (the actual spelling of his name in Chinese of course is neither or both) has substantial background and contacts in China. He may be a bit shady, but that is S.O.P. for mainland China. If he weren’t shady, I’d have grave doubts about his experience there.

His US qualifications are barely relevant, unless you believe they represent the greater part of his experience.

Ultimately, who really knows one way or the other? (pardon the pun) I wouldn’t accept his word for anything, but listen to what he says and evaluate it in the larger context.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive
 

dog pile on Felix!

Good post though; Journalists in general are supposed to make people cynical and bitter. Making people cynical and bitter about the quality of reporting, priceless.

I am intrigued: what is the average salary for a blogger; what is an above average blogger salary; and, I’d always heard Reuters didn’t pay all that well.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive
 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Salmo n

http://www.milkeninstitute.org/events/gc program.taf?EventID=GC08&SPID=3092&funct ion=bio

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2009/11/fel ix_salmon_vs_henry_blodget.html

Comparing Wei and Salmon (neither of whom I know but one of whom I read regularly via the Daily Blague) is ridiculous. I appreciate the comments though as they remind me of one reason why we are in the current mess: the devaluing of judgment and the confounding of expertise.

Posted by tjell20 | Report as abusive
 

ARJTurgot2, depends what your position is. Tom Glocer did pretty well for himself as did his predecessor for running the company into the ground.

I have to say it is a bit rich to pick on this guy in a week when you have happily quoted Chris Whalen out of his depth, Noam Chomsky(??!!) and Yves Smith. If Whalen was on some very specific bit of banking or Chomsky on 1950s linguistics and Smith on Xeroxing, power powerpoint and pitchbook preparation then the pot and kettle comments would be less fair.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive
 

Wow. Looks like someone (5WPR?) is busy with the sock puppets here…

Posted by MBS83 | Report as abusive
 

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