Goldman Loves This WSJ Headline

Felix Salmon is all over The Wall Street Journal this morning for splashing this story across four columns atop page one: “SEC Blasted on Goldman.”

First, as he points out, the SEC wasn’t really “blasted.” Its inspector general, H. David Kotz, told Congress:

“It would strain credulity to think it was coincidental.” He added: “I can’t give you a conclusion right now, but it was suspicious.”

“Suspicious”? Easy there, tiger!

Second, this story is barely news. Kotz opened an investigation back in July into the timing of the SEC’s Goldman probe announcement. You don’t open an investigation if you don’t think something’s suspicious.

While it’s not cool, man, it’s hardly illegal to drop news to try to top other news.

The play misled people, including its own staff, despite the subhed that qualifies the banner headline.

Salmon on this:

Yet somehow, atop this non-commital non-news, the WSJ has managed to construct a damning indictment of the SEC and its entire case against Goldman. Ashby Jones even went so far as to say that Kotz “basically hinted that there may have been more politics than law factoring into the commission’s decision to sue Goldman Sachs”.

Er, no, he didn’t. Kotz might not have like the timing of the Goldman suit. But he said nothing about the substance of it, and he did not hint that the decision to sue Goldman was a political one.

And Newser, erroneously summing up the Journal’s story:

Watchdog: SEC Sued Goldman to Bury Ponzi Probe

The dog-whistle implication is that it’s the Obama administration playing politics with the government’s investigative powers. But why would it want to do that with previous administrations’ failures? Stanford was charged less than a month after Obama took office.

It’s sensationalist
to play up a story like this and slap a headline like “SEC Blasted on Goldman” on it. The story doesn’t back up the play or the headline, and that’s the kind of thing that erodes a paper’s credibility.

And it’s slapped together, too. The Goldman timing angle is five paragraphs at the top of a news story about senators questioning why the agency hasn’t brought more cases. Five graphs hardly justifies the treatment it got.

Goldman’s PR department must be loving this.

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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.