Business journalism feuds are so much fun because there is so little at stake. There's even less at stake in most business journalism than, say, foodie writing. While a restaurant review might effect where you take a date or a client to dinner, when was the last time someone traded based on, say, what Gretchen Morgenson writes about executive pay (does she write about anything else?), much less what Larry Ribstein writes about what Morgenson wrote.
One of our favorite feuds is between Malcolm Gladwell and Steve Sailer. At first glance it looks rather one-sided—Steve Sailer penning these devastating critiques of Gladwell's books and articles in the New Yorker and Malcolm Gladwell getting rich off of writing books and articles in the New Yorker. You could be excused for suspecting that Gladwell has no idea who this Steve guy is. But you'd be wrong.
Not too long ago we ran into Gladwell in a lower east side dive bar called Lolita. He was having a drink with a nice young woman, and we were having quite a few drinks with some journalist types even more dissolute than we are. In the course of our conversation, we asked Malcolm what he thinks of Sailer, half expecting him to say "Steve who?" But Malcolm knew exactly who Sailer was, and proceeded to describe him as "a nut" who was obsessed with him. So, you know, the battle has indeed been joined.
It was pretty clear that Malcolm didn't like Steve. But what we didn't know until today is that Steve likes Malcolm. He just wishes Malcolm's journalism would be, uhm, more like Malcolm is when he talks about Steve. That is, less friendly and enthusiastic and more "I'm effin Malcolm Gladwell. Who the hell do you think you are?"
Here's Steve writing about Malcolm's latest New Yorker article on movie economics:
The average business writer can't afford to make a cool-sounding start-up company wait four months to prove their bona fides in a test designed by the writer. Instead, Joe Average Journalist has to read the press release, make a few phone calls, and churn out some copy. Gladwell, in contrast, can afford to subject his subjects to whatever torture tests he devises. He can say, "I'm Malcolm Gladwell, bitch! Prove it!"
But he doesn't. Unfortunately, Gladwell isn't enough of a jerk to insist that his subjects prove their worth. His problem is that he's not egotistical enough. He's always getting wowed by the overwhelming genius of somebody with a complicated-sounding line of patter. He doesn't do simple reality checks on theories that smart-seeming people tell him because he's just not cynical enough. He really, truly admires all these people he writes about and believes they are all brilliant, even though their theories often contradict each other. (That's why Blink makes no sense whatsoever.)