Audit Notes: Rattner Gets a Pass, NYT’s Golden Parachute, No Rhodes Scholar

New York Times reporter Geraldine Fabrikant writes a column for Reuters, oddly, on the pass former New York Times reporter, private-equity financier, and Obama car czar Steven Rattner is getting in elite company:

Always an avid courtier of the media, among the guests that night were Charlie Rose, Financial Times U.S. managing editor Gillian Tett, journalists Alexis Gelber and Mark Whitaker and literary agent Amanda Urban as well as Rattner’s friend and champion Mayor Michael Bloomberg…

How exactly does one come back from being publicly dragged through the mud? Why do some from the land of the formerly disgraced manage to launder their reputations, while others disappear? Part of the answer is that you’ve got to work at it, and-with the possible exception of Michael Milken, the disgraced junk bond guru, or Eliot Spitzer, the former governor who resigned in the wake of a prostitution scandal—few have worked as assiduously as Rattner has to put themselves back in the limelight. He asked to write for both the New York Times and the Financial Times and actively promoted his book “Overhaul” chronicling his role in bailing out the auto companies.

By many measures, he is succeeding. Rattner, 59, now contributes regularly to both publications . He is frequently on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and has appeared on The Charlie Rose show and other TV programs.

I’ve noticed this myself. Apparently forking over $16 million to settle a kickback investigation isn’t enough to tarnish a reputation these days.

Ira Stoll of Future of Capitalism notes that Fabrikant’s column “seems a somewhat unusual public airing of internal dissent at the Times.”

More importantly, he makes this catch (emphasis mine):

Second, it reports that Mr. Rattner “works actively” managing about $5 billion of Mayor Bloomberg’s money with a team of his former colleagues called Willett Advisors. Then the article says, “At the time of the settlement he was not allowed to be paid for his work at Willett Advisors, although that ban has since been lifted.”

The ban to which the article refers is apparently what the SEC refers to in a November 18, 2010 press release by saying, “Rattner also consented to the entry of a Commission order that will bar him from associating with any investment adviser or broker-dealer with the right to reapply after two years.”

The SEC tells me that the bar is still in place. Perhaps Mr. Rattner’s work helping to manage $5 billion of Mr. Bloomberg’s money doesn’t technically qualify as working as an “investment adviser” or associating with one because Willett Advisors qualifies as a “family office” that, under an SEC rule approved June 22, 2011, grants family offices an exclusion from the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.

— Reuters’s Peter Lauria reports that outgoing New York Times CEO Janet Robinson’s golden parachute will be much bigger than her $4.5 million yearlong consulting gig.

In addition to a $4.5 million consulting fee, the Times Co will pay Robinson $10.9 million in pension benefits that she accrued over 28 years of service, they said.

According to a regulatory filing, Times Co’s policy previously stipulated that Robinson, 61, would not be eligible for full pension benefits until she was 63 and had been with the company for 30 years. But people familiar with the matter said the Times Co agreed to pay out the full amount as part of her separation agreement.

That’s an awful, awful lot of money for an executive whose stock plunged 80 percent on her watch, even if she was facing massive economic and sectoral headwinds. This is a $1.2 billion company that was cash-strapped enough to have to borrow at 14 percent interest not so long ago.

How about a Gretchen Morgenson column—or an editorial—on this one?

— Yale’s football coach Tom Williams claimed he was a Rhodes scholarship finalist, until The New York Times told him last month that it knew he wasn’t.

Then he said he was really only a Rhodes applicant and hadn’t meant to confuse anybody—especially the quarterback who skipped his Rhodes finalist interview to play a game against Harvard.

Then the Times reported that Williams wasn’t even an applicant. Yesterday, the paper got a scalp.

Fine reporting by the Times, of course, but it shouldn’t be surprising that the coach wasn’t any kind of Rhodes finalist:

In his first meeting with Harvard, in 2009, Yale was holding a 10-7 lead with two and a half minutes to play when he ordered a fake punt on fourth-and-22 from the Yale 25-yard line. The call mystified almost everyone. Harvard stopped the fake, took over in Yale territory and went on to score with 92 seconds left to post a 14-10 victory.

That may be the worst play call in the history of college football.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,