Conflict-of-Interestism and Lewis/Einhorn

Over at the Instaputz blog, TS raises the potential conflict-of-interest factor in Michael Lewis’s op-ed collaboration with hedge fundie/author David Einhorn—something I ignored when I praised the piece yesterday (hat tip Romenesko).

Upon further reflection, I still just don’t have any problem with Lewis writing the piece with Einhorn. It’s not like the piece was a news story; it’s an opinion column. It also came with clear disclosure by the Times.

You could raise quibbles about what it means down the line if Lewis writes a story in which Einhorn is a player. But just because the two collaborated on this one-off thing doesn’t mean they’re joined at the hip in their thinking or that Einhorn has something to influence Lewis. And since this is very public (and believe me, there are a lot of columns/stories where there’s a “wise man” behind the curtain advising the columnist/reporter without being named), any incentive Lewis would have to puffball Einhorn in the future is mitigated—and anyway, readers will be able to discover his past association with Einhorn, however fleeting it turns out to be.

As to TS’s question about what Einhorn brought to the project: Who can tell? But the guy’s been right for a long time on a lot of things. He’s one of the wise men out there. And he’s written a respected book. Why wouldn’t he have anything to offer this piece?

And most importantly, let’s take the content for itself. We got an outstanding piece of writing and journalism out of this collaboration—a real public service.

I’ll take that just about however I can get it.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

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.