Audit Notes: WSJ Calls Out AT&T; Goldman and Qaddafi; Banks Hit the Road

I wish more papers would do what The Wall Street Journal does today in its story about antitrust concerns over AT&T’s bid to gobble up T-Mobile and create a duopoly in cellphone service.

Here’s AT&T’s top lobbyist, Jim Cicconi (emphasis mine):

Opposition is not growing,” Mr. Cicconi said. “If anything, it seems fairly confined to the usual people and the usual organizations and does not seem to be growing beyond that.”

The Journal calls out that weaselly fib by going with this lede:

Opposition is steadily growing to AT&T Inc.’s proposed $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile USA, as competitors, state regulators and elected officials have come out in recent days expressing concerns about the acquisition from Deutsche Telekom AG.

And this headline:

AT&T’s Critics on Deal Growing

Nicely done.

And speaking of calling out AT&T’s lies, check out Deal Journal’s post on Sprint’s filing with the FCC.

— The Journal also has a fascinating page one scoop on how Goldman Sachs got into trouble after the Libyans lost 98 percent of a $1.3 billion investment by their sovereign-wealth fund.

Qaddafi’s goons were so mad at Goldman that it had to hire a bodyguard for its bankers in Tripoli until they could be spirited out of the country the next day.

Libya said Goldman lied about what it was doing and lost its money. Goldman says it just placed trades on orders from the Libyans. The sad thing is: Who you gonna believe here?

To soothe feelings, the bank offered the Libyans a sweetheart deal that would have made Qaddafi one of the biggest Goldman shareholders, but the deal never went through.

Some commentators are upset with Goldman for doing business with somebody like Qaddafi, but where were these people when the Bush administration forgave one of the world’s most notorious terrorists for murdering 189 Americans in an airplane over Lockerbie?

If the U.S. can do business with a tyrant like Qaddafi, then why would we expect our amoral corporations not to do business with him?

— The Associated Press has a good piece on how public companies are hiding from their investors by taking their annual meetings to out-of-the-way locales. This is a fun lede anecdote:

When it’s time for the annual meeting and things might get ugly, there’s no place like the road.

Marshall & Illsley Corp., a 164-year-old Wisconsin bank, usually meets with shareholders each April in its hometown of Milwaukee. But that was before the bagpipe-playing firefighters and marching teachers descended on its branches by the thousands earlier this year to protest contributions from executives to Gov. Scott Walker. And it was before the board decided to sell the bank to a Canadian company, a deal that includes $65 million in severance for those same executives.

M&I postponed its regular annual meeting and decamped for New York, 900 miles away, for a hasty special meeting last week. It would be the bank’s last shareholders’ meeting - and it only lasted seven minutes. Attendees say executives promised to take questions at the end but never did, and exited quickly through a back door after holding a vote to approve the acquisition by BMO Finance Group, the parent of the Bank of Montreal.

Other banks that have taken their meetings on the road: Goldman Sachs, which went to New Jersey and JPMorgan Chase, which went to Columbus, Ohio.

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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: , , , ,