When we learned last week, courtesy of Fox Business's Charlie Gasparino, that Bill Ackman had managed to enrage Joe Biden at a private dinner during Anthony Scaramucci's SALT Conference by wisecracking about the death of Biden's late son, our first thought was: yeah, of course that happened. But on second thought, it might have been worth asking a few questions. Though Ackman has a habit of letting his mouth get ahead of his brain, quipping about the tragic loss of a former vice president's son seems a bit much.
As it turns out, others are telling the story a bit differently. As Michelle Celarier reports in New York Mag:
That widely disseminated version of events isn’t true, according to four people who were at the off-the-record event, which was held during the annual SkyBridge Alternatives — or, SALT — hedge-fund confab in May. These attendees told New York that Biden was talking about President Trump, not his deceased son, when the two men had the exchange of words reported by Fox’s Charlie Gasparino...
“Bill’s Ackman’s comment was not directed at the vice president’s son. The discussion was about Trump,” Robert Wolf, a Democratic Party financier and friend of Biden’s who has attended nine SALT conventions and the accompanying dinner for bigwigs, says.
In a statement to NYMag, SkyBridge called Gasparino's story an “overwhelming misrepresentation of facts and false account” as well as “inaccurate account and breach of confidentiality.”
Emily Smith at Page Six provided a few more details:
Multiple sources tell Page Six that Ackman didn’t say anything at all about Biden’s son, and the verbal confrontation happened after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asked Biden to comment on Donald Trump.
The witness told us that “Biden replied, ‘I am going to have to be careful what I say’ [referring to Trump],” and Ackman quipped, “After all these years, why start now?” Ackman was referring to Biden’s outspoken nature, we’re told.
According to a witness, towards the end of the dinner as tensions rose, Biden made a fist, held it up to Ackman’s face, and said, with forceful irony, “If I could, I’d punch you in the face.”
Normally, this might have been settled with a brief correction on the part of Fox Business, if indeed it turned out the other reporters had it right. But Charlie Gasparino does not issue corrections; he issues warnings. Accordingly, he spent Tuesday as he often does: flexing on Twitter. Everyone from Celarier to (former?) Gaspo BFF Scaramucci found themselves in his crosshairs:
(Celarier evidently did tweet this.)
Gasparino apparently deleted another tweet that singled out Scaramucci, who, it's worth noting, was one of the main subjects of a misreported CNN story on the Trump-Russia investigation that ended up getting three journalists canned.
SkyBridge has $10 billion in assets, it turns out.
What to make of all this? A story of former vice president beefing with a former hedge fund star has led to a Fox Business host beefing with a different former hedge fund star. We could say something about journalistic ethics, but these finer points look a bit silly when the journo in question is busy threatening to punch his detractors.
Of course, we here at Dealbreaker love Gaspo and wish him well. Needless to say, Gasparino stands by his reporting 100 percent. To his credit, there is a possibility (purely speculative!) that the counter-stories that dropped Monday evening stemmed from a bit of CYA (Cover Your Ackman) from those loyal enough to the hedge funder that they'd be willing to chime in to make him seem slightly less oafish than he is. Weirder things have happened.
Anyway, hopefully this all concludes without anyone getting socked.